Palomino was the first album First Aid Kit recorded in their home country since their first LP The Big Black and the Blue. Recording in Sweden, Klara and Johanna were able to take it slow, give the songs space and flesh them out. The track list feels unrushed, with a permeating joy for music unruffled by time limits.

Swedish 70s Pop

“Swedish 70s pop was the reference. Now we’re here in Sweden, let’s make it more Swedish. Why not?” This is their most pop-sounding record yet. They stray a little from the pedal-steel kind of country in other albums. It’s still there; “Wild Horses II” is an homage to country, and  Gram Parsons. But it’s also merged with a laid-back groove in songs like “Turning Onto You” and its 70s living-room gig video. They wish they could live in it, they told me – this video and the 70s. And with a deep love for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, it’s inevitable that this sound enters their music.

“No matter what, we’ll always have that in our music because it’s where we come from. We love the 70s.”

ABBA is there too. Facing such an obvious Swedish-music reference, they have leaned into it, especially in songs like “Angel,” its drama and video of side-profile camera angles and silhouetted flares. And why not? “As we’ve gotten older, we’ve really embraced that we really like pop as well, and meshed it more with our music.”

Playful & Hopeful

First Aid Kit often embrace a silver-linings balance of happy and sad in their songs. Upbeat tempos with aching lyrics. But this album emulates, more than ever, the joy of music and the fun of making it. Palomino especially stands in contrast to their previous 2018 album Ruins, which had a darker, heartbroken vibe.

“We were pretty tired of playing break-up songs that were quite self-deprecating and didn’t have a lot of hope in them, so that was an intention we had with this new record – there’s got to be a lot of hope in this.”

Palomino is joyful. The exuberance of the whole band comes through. This return to fun is especially noticeable in an album following the pandemic. Songs like “Out of My Head,” written together with songwriter Björn Yttling, stand out in this context. All about feeling trapped in and wanting to escape your own thoughts, it is relatable after the lockdown years. Again, First Aid Kit balance this heaviness with a fierce and confident sound. It’s more like a reclaiming of freedom of thought than a lament of losing it. And their Dublin-filmed, Eternal-Sunshine-inspired video perfectly matches this anthemic uplift.

We talked about the psychological power of songs that are sung over and over again on tour.

“It becomes like a mantra almost when you’re signing [these songs] every night. So it’s nice to have some hopeful songs to sing.”

In the spirit of hope, I asked about their already-vocal opinions on the male-dominated music industry. With women only representing 21.6% of musical artists, is the future looking any better? Behind the scenes, their manager is one of the wildly underrepresented women managers in their industry. On stage, First Aid Kit are inspiring women to sing, play, and write in the same way they were inspired – by such artists as Kate Bush, Patti Smith, and Emmylou Harris, all of whom they’ve covered (“Running Up That Hill,” “Dancing Barefoot,” “Red Dirt Girl”). There is hope, was the consensus, but it’s a slow process.

“Many young girls have come up to us and said, ‘I play guitar because of you.’ And it’s the best compliment.”

It’s Gonna Be Good

Photo by Olof Grind

Songwriting and instrument-playing, as well as singing, have always been a root of First Aid Kit. If Klara and Johanna began with two voices and a guitar in a forest, there have been some gradual shifts over these fourteen years – through witchy earthiness, North American influence, and 60s folk – to where they are now in the 70s-pop sounds of Palomino. Familiar aspects grip us – the rolling drums of “Out of My Head,” ache-inducing lyrics of “Fallen Snow,” and surging chorus of “The Last One.” “We’ll always have songs on our records that are guitars and vocals. And that’s also how we write all the songs.” But there’s also a clear sense of them walking, unafraid, into new genres and confidently securing the foothold.

They continue to honor the power of their voices, including in the unplugged moments of their live shows. And they also have the talent and freedom to play with that power. “What we wanted to do with this record was try something new. We’ve been doing this for fifteen years, so it just felt natural to add some synths and – it’s fun for us.” At this point, it’s a given that the quality of their vocals, harmonies, and lyrics will stay the same. Everything else feels open to change. And we trust it. Because time and time again, they show us that whatever mood-shifts happen, you know it’s gonna be good.

“You trust your gut feeling – this is good. I don’t need to prove to anyone else this is good because I know it’s good.”

And that gut-trusting freedom of self is exactly what shines through in Palomino. There’s a fierce authenticity. “Now we’re less and less bothered by what other people think.” There’s a self-confidence that comes with getting older. A firm-footed movement forward into new things. And that wind-in-your-hair kind of freedom that comes from riding off on a palomino.

Palomino is out now via Columbia Records.