Sweaty, Happy People: Matt & Kim Go for a Third
MATT & KIM PLAYING AT WEBSTER HALL LAST WEEK. PHOTOS BY JACK SIEGEL.
Matt & Kim—the power-pop duo and real-life couple who rose to public consciousness after a couple of relentlessly upbeat albums (Matt & Kim, 2006, and Grand, 2009), as well as some key media placements (video games, a Bacardi commercial, Gossip Girl, Community) and an exhausting run of tour dates—haven’t let it go to their heads. Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino are as down-to-earth as ever: they still play feel-good music and feel-better shows, grinning wildly all the time. The pair (“our band life is Matt and Kim, but our personal life is Kim and Matt,” Johnson says) is whirlwind busy—they’re midway through a tour, with a new album, Sidewalks, dropping tomorrow—but Johnson still found time to chat.
ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: So you and Kim toured pretty much non-stop for the whole summer.
MATT JOHNSON: Yeah, basically. [LAUGHS] And any day we weren’t on the road was us finishing that album. We didn’t really finish it until we left on this tour we’re presently on, which, I think we left in September. So we were willing to take whatever time it took to make the best possible thing that we could make. We haven’t really taken any days off yet this year.
SYMONDS: So I’ve seen you live, and I know people that have seen you live, and I think we’re all dying to know: what do you guys do to get your energy up like that? Are you backstage doing speed or something?
JOHNSON: [LAUGHS] Kim does have one strategy, which is: she’s like, “Oh, I’ve got to go warm up.” And one might picture her with a drum pad and sticks and whatnot, practicing rolls and stuff, but that’s not what warming up for her is. Warming up is like, putting her headphones on with Top 40 hip-hop, and just dancing in the backstage room for like 15 minutes. That’s how Kim gets warmed up.
SYMONDS: What do you do?
JOHNSON: A lot of times, I’ll go watch whoever we have on tour with us—right now, it’s [Atlanta rapper] Donnis, who we’re big fans of—and that gets me excited, to watch them perform. But really, as tired as you can be, the second you get up onstage and there’s like a thousand people just super-stoked that you’re there, you can’t help but get super-excited. At least I can’t help but get super-excited! So no matter how exhausted I could be, it never fails to knock me out of it.
SYMONDS: That feeling never really wears off?
JOHNSON: No, as many shows as we do. We’re playing a bit longer set than we have in the past. But the second we’re done and offstage, I’m ready to fall directly into bed.
SYMONDS: I once read that Michael Flatley lost eight pounds every time he performed Lord of the Dance, because it’s such incredibly aerobic exercise. Have you ever weighed yourself right before and after a show?
JOHNSON: [LAUGHS] No, but both Kim and I, depending on the air-conditioning in a club, are generally completely drenched after, in sweat, like we were just standing in pouring rain. I definitely feel more physically fit. A lot of people, I think, let their physical health slide when they’re on tour, but just to be onstage for an hour with a lot of cardio going on, sweating profusely, I feel like, “Oh, wow, I’m definitely getting in shape.”
SYMONDS: Right, you don’t have to go to the gym! So you’ve done a lot of festivals this year in addition to your normal tour dates—could you speak a little bit about how they’re different? Do you feel more pressure to “convert” festival audiences, so to speak, or is it pretty much the same experience?
JOHNSON: No, no, we like that challenge—which I guess maybe means feeling a little pressure. We do the same thing we do, which is we are just Matt and Kim on stage. But when you’re playing a festival, I mean the beauty of festivals, I think, is that people go and they’re open-minded to new bands. And for Kim and I, we play simple enough music and we’re just really ourselves onstage, and I think people even on a first listen can really grasp it. So we love that challenge of, “how many people can we win over and take away with us?” And so many times people come up to us after shows in other towns and say “I saw you for my first time at Lollapalooza,” or Coachella or somewhere.
SYMONDS: Can we talk about Sidewalks?
SYMONDS: I think it’s fair to say that you guys have a fairly distinctive sound, and Sidewalks sticks to it for the most part—how you feel your sound has developed from your self-titled to now?
JOHNSON: Well, with our self-titled album, which is an album recorded in about 9 days, we were pretty fresh and new at even played our instruments, period. Kim wanted to learn drums when we started this band, and I learned how to play the keyboard when we started this band. We just recorded what we were playing, and how we were playing things live. But being that we only had a week to record, we weren’t really able to try many different things out. And we realized when we were going into Grand that a live show and an album are two very different mediums. It’s like comparing acting in theater and acting for film. You could do very subtle things in recording and have them be very huge, while when you play a show, you need to over-dramatize things to make them come across. So basically, we decided going into Grand, and we decided the same going into Sidewalks, that we would make the best recorded album we could make, and then we’d worry about how we were going to do it live after the fact.
We were terrified, after we did Grand, of how the hell we were going to do it live, but we figured it out. And now after doing Sidewalks, we’re again like, “Oh my gosh, how are we going to do this live?” But I have no doubt we will figure it out. We’re not doing Sidewalks on this tour, because whenever I go see a band and they say, “Who wants to hear new stuff?,” I’m kind of like, “I just want to hear the stuff I know and sing along to.” … At our shows on this tour, we play the album, top-to-bottom over the P.A., 15 minutes after the doors open, so everyone gets a chance to hear it, but we’re not doing it onstage.