Matt & Kim got started in the Brooklyn party-bands scene two years after the couple met at Pratt Art Institute, where Matt Johnson (keyboard and vocals) and Kim Schifino (drums) were studying film and illustration, respectively. Their energetic dance-punk tunes lofted them to national renown in the music indie stream. They released their first full-length, self-titled album on the iheartcomix label in 2006. The two have been on the road for two years, stopping off periodically since December in Vermont to record their upcoming album, which will be released in late summer. Matt & Kim recently played South by Southwest and will play two shows in Anchorage this weekend before heading to Ekko, a music and art festival in Europe. The Northern Light interviewed Matt Johnson on April 2.
Q: How did you two start playing music together?
A: Kim had never played drums before. I never played any keyboards before. She’d wanted to learn how to play drums for a while, and was having a friend give her pointers. At the same time, I was writing a couple of tunes with this keyboard I found, because I thought it looked really cool.
And we were like, ‘Well, we might as well try to figure these things out together.’ We had been dating for a couple years, and living together at the point. That was maybe two and a half years ago. Maybe longer.
Q: Could you explain the party bands concept? In your videos, you’re playing in kitchens. How did you do that without pissing off neighbors?
A: Neighbors get pissed, that’s for sure. Basically, in New York City there’s so many venues. Especially in Brooklyn, there’s so many alternative spaces, such as art spaces, warehouses, lofts. Even before we started playing music, that was where we saw most of our music.
It’s much less sterile than when you get into a venue, and it’s, ‘That’s the band I’m watching. They’re on the stage, I’m in the crowd, and I’m standing on the floor. If I try to get any closer, the bouncer’s gonna kick my ass, I’m gonna pay seven dollars for, you know, the cheap beer.’
So we teamed up in that DIY scene, in Brooklyn, and tried to do that wherever we could, when we would travel.
Q: You said in a recent interview that the last album you did was studio-produced and sounded a little sterile. What’s appealing to you about lo-fi recordings?
A: Our last recording was the first time we recorded in the studio. But we only had nine days to make the recording, and we weren’t able to try new things. We had to sit down and bang it out as fast as possible and not really change anything about how we did things, or try and experiment.
Now, with this recording we’re doing now, we’re doing it partially here, at my parents’ house, and partially at a friend’s studio, for a couple options. But we’re able to experiment, and then give things to different levels and distances.
A really hi-fi studio recording sounds like everything’s recorded in its own little box or its own little room. It doesn’t sound like music really sounds, when you’re somewhere hearing it live. I think people forget sometimes. They just want it to sound as clean as possible. That’s not what Kim and I are.
Q: If you were going to identify a moment in American independent music recent history when snarky and melancholy and jaded became less relevant than joyful and exuberant and enthusiastic.
A: A moment. I wish I could pinpoint it. I think especially in New York, it was a place where that was so prevalent not that long ago. But I think people began to get sick of that. At least in the scene I’m in, that’s totally disappeared.
Maybe it’s just the bands I’m into, but so many are coming out that are the wildest sort of – it doesn’t have to be happy, it just has to be honest.
I feel bands started trying to be more real, and then people see that, and they get more excited about music, seeing the band that’s real, and then they want to start a band, and then that band’s gonna be real. I think it’s a positive snowballing effect.
Q: What would you say about yourself and Kim that make you guys fit well musically, and as people?
A: We have a very different outlook on things. I’m very meticulous about every little detail. And Kim’s very “do it and get it done, and make a lot of quantity and edit yourself down.”
And lyrically, what happens is, if I try to write a song lyrically, which I think writing the lyrics is so incredibly hard, I will spend forever trying to find the right word. What we’ve found works, is Kim just writes down a whole bunch of lines. Then I go through those lines and pick out the ones I like, and we begin to piece a song together.
I feel the song writes itself. We tried the preconceived idea, on some songs on the last album, of what a song should be about. I think the songs work better when they write themselves.
She’ll write these rhymes, like, ‘The leftovers are kept in the fridge,’ which, by itself, doesn’t mean anything. But when you fit it into the right stanza, it works.
I think of myself as a dreamer, and she’s the doer. The first couple hundred shows, she set up, just herself. I feel we never would’ve even played a show yet if I was in charge.
Q: You guys capitalize on your differences.
A: Yeah, in that way I think our differences are really important.
But in another way, it’s completely miraculous that we spend every single day together. We work together, we live together, we sleep in the same bed, and somehow, we don’t get sick of each other. Which I think is just sort of most miraculous.
Q: Speaking of miraculous, I was watching your music video “5K Video.” At first I saw the picture and thought, “Wow. That looks really gruesome.” And then I played it. And it’s not disturbing at all; it looks like it’s a lot of fun to rip off your arm and put it back on.
A: That idea was a friend of mine’s that had a little bit of a twisted mind. He was pitching that idea to us to make that video, and I was like – I pictured it, for that band Tool, it would’ve been their video.
But then after a while, it started making more sense. And also, we get – rightfully so, to some extent – put into the “cute” category. Which we’re fine with. But I definitely wouldn’t want to see a band if someone told me, “Oh, you have to see this band, they’re so cute.” I mean, that’s a band I have to avoid.
So we try to counterbalance it somehow. We’re still ourselves, you know – Kim’s not gonna stop smiling. There’s no way we could stop that. I tried to make a bet one time of some sort. But then just kind of balance it out with having maybe, an extreme amount of blood, or something. Not in a scary way, but in a humorous way.
Matt & Kim in Anchorage:
Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m.
Saturday, April 12, at 10 p.m.
Matt & Kim online: