An Omaha State of Mind

March 30, 2012

Omaha, Neb., may better known for insurance companies than for indie bands. But visiting the Gateway to the West was a dream come true for Swedish sister act First Aid Kit (Johanna and Klara Söderberg), on par with a pilgrimage to Memphis or Motown.

That might sound surprising, but Omaha has produced its share of great indie acts whose popularity extends across the Atlantic and into the chillier climes of Scandinavia.

“Omaha has always been a Mecca for us because of the music scene,” says Johanna. “It’s always been this mysterious place where all this magical music came from.”

One act in particular has long stood out for the sisters: Bright Eyes, a band they discovered nearly a decade ago and which became a gateway for exploring older American country and folk. Those sounds became the bedrock for First Aid Kit’s harmony-rich sound.

After meeting their heroes backstage in Stockholm and giving them a copy of their 2010 debut “The Big Black and the Blue,” Johanna and Klara ended up trekking to Omaha to record with Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis. Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst provided backing vocals on a few songs as well.

“We were very shy and starstruck at first,” says Johanna. “But it was incredible to work with your biggest musical influences and find out that they are these amazing people.”

The resulting album, “The Lion’s Roar,” released in January, reveals two wise-beyond-their-years performers who have a strong grasp of Americana.

“We developed a nerdy interest in it, going as far back as we could to the Carter Family and the Louvin Brothers,” says Johanna. “Before, we had this idea of country music from the radio, but there’s so much more. Especially the old country is some raw and soulful music.”

First single “Emmylou” is a tribute to some of their idols as well as to the joys of collaborative music-making. The title refers to legendary country singer Emmylou Harris and her close relationship with Gram Parsons, and the song also invokes Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. “They’re musicians that we love so much,” says Klara, “and there’s something so special when they sing together. You can almost hear the love between them.”

Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; with Peggy Sue; Fri., Mar. 30, 9 p.m., $15; 202-667-4527. (U St.-Cardozo)
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