Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WTBU Interviews Matt of Matt & Kim

Matt & Kim, the Brooklyn-based dance-punk duo best known for their infectious energy and delightfully manic live shows, have been busy. In four short years the pair has gone from playing kitchens and basements to festivals such as Siren and Lollapalooza. Their second CD, Grand (which is more fun than a gallon of ice cream and twice as sticky) has been enjoying giddy momentum, and opening for Cut Copy on their latest tour is getting the band some well-deserved exposure. Matt Johnson did a phone interview with us before their House of Blues show to discuss Grand, art school competitiveness, crayons, and most importantly that no matter how big they get, they're still just Matt and Kim.

Emma Dessau and Nina Mashurova: Hey Matt. Thanks for taking some time to talk to us on your way up to Boston. We’re really excited for the show tonight. When did you start touring with Cut Copy?

Matt Johnson: We started touring with them in Austin I think maybe 2 weeks ago. It was about a week or so before South by Southwest that we were there, but then Kim and I had a day off from the Cut Copy tour between Chicago and Toronto so we decided to go back to Austin again and we did play a show. It was very tiring.

ED + NM: We’ve heard from other bands that South by Southwest is exhausting.

MJ: Pretty much. I know Kim was definitely leaving the hotel at 3 AM to go potentially party but she found herself eating pizza with a friend on 6th Street and she just saw numerous people really drunk and crying on street. It was that kinda day.

ED: People were just so tired that they were breaking down and hysterically crying in the street?

MJ: Yeah. And it was Thursday too so it was like the first day of the festival. It was a little early to have overdone it. I mean, come on! Hang in there!

NM: How do you feel being in New York and going to school at the Pratt Institute has influenced your music? Do you feel like the scene in Brooklyn has helped you guys along?

MJ: I think it’s really helpful to be around a lot of people that are doing cool stuff. It doesn’t really matter what it is. People who are playing music or people who are writing... or making cool stuff happen with video stuff or art stuff. If one of my friends is doing something cool I feel like I have to be doing something cool. It’s a kind of art school competitiveness. We’re trained to be competitive in a creative way rather than like, beating someone in arm wrestling. It’s just inspiring to have people doing rad stuff around you, and I think there is a lot of that in New York. It’s a place to not really think about getting stuff done because it’s so expensive to live there, but it’s the place to go to get stuff done.

ED: You recorded “Grand” in Vermont in your old room in your parent’s house, right?

MJ: Yeah. Even though we are inspired by New York like I said, and a lot of the songs on the album were written there, we wanted to go somewhere where we could actually finish something. There’s no where up in Vermont to get distracted by. I grew up in southern Vermont by the Massachusetts border and there is just nothing, there’s nothing. It’s not like people are calling you saying, “You have to come to this bar, you have to come to this thing, it’s awesome!” There are just no distractions. A lot of people are always like oh yeah, I know Vermont like Burlington and northern Vermont and stuff and I just don’t know anything. Whenever we went to shows we would drive down to Boston. To drive two hours is no big deal.

ED: How does it feel to have gotten your start at warehouse parties and playing people’s basements, and to now be playing at places like House of Blues in Boston or Terminal 5 in New York which are pretty big venues? Do you feel like you’ve needed to change the way you guys perform at all?

MJ: I don’t think so. I remember we were nervous about that when we played our first festival which was Siren in Coney Island in Brooklyn. It was the first time we were playing for like 15,000 people and we were like “Oh crap.” We were used to playing art galleries and stuff like that, but we just did what we always did.

NM: I saw you guys at Siren and I thought you handled that big crowd really well.

MJ: That’s awesome. Yeah that was the first time we’d ever done anything like that, and that was two years ago. That summer we did like Capitol Hill Block Party (in Seattle) and Lollapalooza (in Chicago) and we just kept doing what we do and it worked. So many people come and tell me the first place they saw us was a festival and it made them want to come back again.

NM: I was taking pictures of the crowd and during your set there were so many people crowd surfing and having the time of their lives.

MJ: I remember at that show they had that big press barricade and that was bizarre too, for a band that’s used to playing on a floor somewhere. I told everyone to jump the barricade. The security got really mad about it, but it was half successful.

ED: Since you guys got your start with such an informal but close relationship to your fans, do you feel like you are trying to keep that relationship the way it was in terms of keeping ticket prices low, and reaching out over your website to keep that dynamic going?

MJ: That’s something that is really important to us, actually. That’s kind of why we ended up accidentally being called Matt and Kim. We basically couldn’t think of a name, and at our first show they just listed us as our first names and we were like, “Ok! Sounds good.” But I think it made a lot of sense because it’s just, you know, we’re as much about just being people as we are being this band. I hate it when they want to set the lights up at a venue like really bright on a stage and leaves the crowd in total darkness. I want them to light the crowd, because we’re all just here, doing this together. Kim and I wouldn’t be playing if all these other people wouldn’t be here. We had this banner for a while that we tried to get everyone at our shows to sign. It eventually got so destroyed, but it had thousands of signatures on it. It started to look like the inside of a bathroom stall. But the idea behind it was that we are all the ones making this show and this tour happen, so having all these people sign this thing made sense to us.

NM: Does it seem harder to connect now that you’re reaching a bigger audience?

MJ: I don’t know, it’s confusing. After a show we try to just put on some kind of usher or something so we can jump into the crowd and dance with people. But it is a little bizarre. With the Cut Copy shows its a little different because it’s not our show, we’re supporting them and there are a lot of people who don’t know us. We like the competition of trying to win all these people over, but it’s sort of a different vibe it feels a lot more disconnected. Some of these bigger venues its just like so far away, there are people on balconies like two stories up so it’s a little different but we try to connect as much as we can.

ED: Well it seems like at BU a lot of people really like you guys and know who you are. I can’t speak for the entire city of Boston, but at the show tonight there will be a lot of people looking forward to seeing you guys.

MJ: That’s great. I have to say I love playing in Boston because like I said it’s kind of the start of my whole “going to shows” began with driving down from Vermont to Boston to go to punk shows and all that. Kim is from Rhode Island so tonight there’s going to be like 10 members of her family there. So Kim’s not allowed to swear tonight or her dad will give her an Italian slap which I guess is a tap on the back of the head.

ED: Do you feel like there are any specific musicians or bands that have influenced you?

MJ: It’s hard to say a specific band. You take something from everyone you hear, whether it be like a top 40 band or like a Snoop Dogg song or a more punk rock band or I don’t know, any music we find fun. I remember early on being like, “Hey that Destiny’s Child song is kind of bad ass!” And that’s not a good song at all.

ED: I don’t know, I think Destiny’s Child was sort of bad ass. That’s a respectable influence.

MJ: Really? You’d put Destiny’s Child in the bad ass category?

ED: Some of their stuff, a little bit... you can’t rule it out.

NM: How do you feel about your new album in comparison to your older stuff? I think it’s interesting you have a completely instrumental song on it.

MJ: We went into this album with the goal of making the best recorded album that we could. On the last album we put out, the songs sounded similar to the way we played them live. This time we wanted the whole structure of a well rounded CD. We went into it with 25 songs only wanting to make a 10 song album. We wanted it to feel diverse, kind of like how a movie feels complete is like to have its ups and down points, its intros and a conclusion and stuff like that. So we thought about it that way in choosing what songs to pick. Also lyrically, we went about the narrative process in a kind of weird way. We just wrote it like lists of sentences of whatever came to mind, and then we’d go through and start picking out sentences that I thought were cool and that resonated with me somehow and we’d try to fill in the blanks between those. It’s kind of like the song wrote itself. We didn’t want it to be too literal, we just wanted the songs to mean to people what they meant.

NM: It definitely works really well as an album. What about the decision to make “Daylight” both the intro and the outro?

MJ: We felt like it would kind of like a storybook, or like a film where the camera swoops in to begin with and then the first shot is the last shot and the camera swoops back out. I guess I talk in film terms, I went to school for film, but it made sense.

NM: “Daylight” is so infectiously great, it’s so happy and wonderful.

MJ: The outro part of it... I’m making a snap sound right now with my fingers because it just came really quickly. But “Daylight” itself took us like 7 months to work that song out. To get it to work was really hard, but now we’re so happy with it.

ED: Do you have any crazy stories from the road, anything that stands out as some ridiculous thing that happened to you guys?

MJ: There was one time I can think of. We were driving to somewhere in Kansas, and on the way there the sky just turned real, real black and the wind started picking up and we were like, “What the hell is going on?” Then we start seeing all these cars pulled under overpasses. Then, these gigantic hail balls start coming down, and we’re both from the northeast and are like, “Do these cars know something we don’t know? Why are they all pulled over?” So we turned on the radio and hear that a half mile wide tornado is coming towards exactly where we are. The radio kept saying, “Do not stay in your car, if you are in your car you should get out and find shelter, or a hole, or anything.” We were like, “F*** that,” so we keep driving and then we pull over to a gas station and they are all watching the news. Then we took a second to inspect where we are which happens to be not only a gas station but a fireworks warehouse, it was a tin can of a warehouse. We just said, “Screw this! We are not staying.” And the radio keeps saying, “Keep shelter, do not stay in your car, do not try to drive in this weather!” We swing around and point at the highway, put the metal to the metal, there were no cars anywhere, the sky was black and we finally make it through. Then we got to the venue to find out there was no power and we couldn’t even do the show anyway. But, that definitely sticks out in my memory.

ED: That is pretty traumatic, tornados are my biggest fear, I would have been crying.

MJ: People in that area just seem to know how to deal with these things but nothing they were telling us made any sense, like, get out of your car? Why would I do that? We wanted to check the news later and see if anything happened to that gas station with the fireworks, but I think everything probably ended up okay.

NM: Okay, one more question. This is pretty random, but one of our other DJs thinks this is the best and most exemplary questions to ask in an interview: If you could be any color crayon, what would you be?

MJ: I know Kim would be red.

NM: Straight up just red? Not any kind of special red?

MJ: We got out van painted red and the color we got it painted was called “super red.” That’d be like the no-nonsense red. I think Kim would be super red. I don’t even know what I’d be. I keep thinking gray but that seems kinda drab to me. Do they even make gray crayons?

ED: I think they do make gray. I don’t know if there are different variations of gray, but they do make a gray crayon.

MJ: I’m into pretty monochromatic things lately. But let me ask you a question. Is it pronounced “crayon” or “craan”?

NM: Crayon. Are you a craan person?

MJ: Yeah I am.

ED + NM: Thanks for talking to us for so long on the phone with a bad connection, Matt. Have a great show tonight.

By Emma Dessau and Nina Mashurova from Nick at Night, Emma in the Evening (Saturdays 2-4 AM)

1 comment:

Jenny said...

i bet y'all could totally tell that matt was smiling on the phone the whole time. BEAMING like lasers

-jenny h.