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The Boston Globe

Arts

Swedish duo First Aid Kit carry a torch for old Americana

Neil Krug

As First Aid Kit, Johanna and Klara Söderberg have scored a hit with “The Lion’s Roar.’’

Johanna and Klara Söderberg are two young sisters you’d never guess grew up in Sweden. At least that’s not the impression you take away from “The Lion’s Roar,” their warm new album that puts a modern spin on analog Americana.

They record as First Aid Kit, a rather nondescript band name that doesn’t do justice to the spectral magic of their voices together and the sepia tones of their acoustic songs.

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“We’ve always been singing together, but the harmonies came later,” Klara says from their home in Stockholm with Johanna in the same room. “We didn’t realize when we were starting out that the fact that we were sisters made our harmonies unique.”

Klara goes on to list sibling acts they both admire, and they all happen to be famous for their close harmonies: the Louvin Brothers, the Everly Brothers, the Roches, and, more recently, the Secret Sisters.

Those influences are only vaguely apparent on “The Lion’s Roar,” which has been a sleeper hit in indie-rock circles this year. Enough so that First Aid Kit is on a headlining tour, which stops at the Paradise Rock Club on Monday. (There was enough demand to move the show from the smaller Brighton Music Hall.)

More than any specific stories or sentiments, the new record captures the joy of two people who genuinely love to sing and play music together. Their vocals are some of the most forthright singing you’ll hear this year.

“When we went in to the studio, we wanted the record to add an extra dimension. Our first record [2010’s home-recorded “The Big Black & the Blue”] was just the two of us and guitar, basically,” Johanna says. “We wanted to build up the arrangements and go for a mystical and dreamy sound and work with the dynamics.”

They recorded the album in Nebraska with Mike Mogis, the respected producer and a member of the bands Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk. It was a natural fit.

Mogis met the sisters at Austin City Limits in 2010 and remembers watching them as maybe 200 people at their show gradually swelled to several hundred more. That’s how magnetic their performance was, and that’s exactly what he wanted to re-create in the studio.

“They immediately provided the things that I wanted to get out of them. They have a certain level of investment and excitement in their songs,” Mogis says. “They’re truly some of the most flawless singers I’ve ever recorded.”

The confidence so prevalent in their singing belies another part of their story: Johanna is 21, and Klara just turned 19.

That’s even more remarkable given the subject matter of the album’s standout track. “Emmylou” is an ode to some of American roots music’s royalty, with a chorus that references two great romances: “I’ll be your Emmylou/And I’ll be your June/If you’ll be my Gram/And my Johnny, too.” That would be Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, and June Carter and Johnny Cash.

The Söderbergs are proof that provenance and age are merely details when it comes to making music these days. (Consider that some of Americana’s biggest stars at the moment hail from England: Mumford & Sons.)

“I think because we’re Swedish we have a different relationship with your music,” Johanna says. “If I grew up in America, either I would be really into it in a different way, or I would not be into it because it would be all around me. The feeling that it’s a faraway place has always made it more interesting.”

“I never listen to Swedish folk music, for example, or Swedish music in general,” she adds. “We have a different way of listening to your music.”

A song like “King of the World,” a driving hoedown full of accordion, hand claps, and horns, will ring out beautifully at Newport Folk Festival, which the sisters will play in July. (In a perfect world, Conor Oberst, who’s also on the lineup and appears on First Aid Kit’s new album, will join the sisters on that song.)

Because they’re so in synch – and just as they sound identical on record, it’s nearly impossible to decipher their voices on the phone – it’s interesting to consider how they challenge each other. They’re stumped.

“It’s kind of the opposite, actually,” Klara says. “I like singing with Johanna because it’s natural. I don’t ever have to think about it when I’m singing with her.”

Mogis, though, got a taste of their differences while working with them on the new record.

“Their dynamic together is a very sisterly one – they’ll have tiny little arguments, but it’s hardly ever about the music,” he says. “Johanna is a little bit more serious and maybe the more critical one, and Klara seems to be the more outgoing little sister. They need each other in that respect.”

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.
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