by Chance Solem-Pfeifer
She’s the beat, and he’s the melody.
The musical and literal marriage of Matt & Kim is based on that simplicity. It’s a core and an essence that anchors the band between a husband and wife with similar views on what makes for the most entertaining art. And it’s music between a drum kit and a keyboard that don’t go anywhere without each other. Anything else would be superfluous.
Since meeting at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute in 2002, the pair have released four hyper-upbeat, pop albums. Their most recent is Lightning, with hits like “Let’s Go” and “It’s Alright” (and popular accompanying music videos) that have earned Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino dozens of summer festival appearances in 2013, including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Omaha’s Maha Music Festival this Saturday.
Matt & Kim will perform in the second-to-last slot on Maha’s Weitz Stage on Saturday night. The duo will go on at 8:55 p.m. before The Flaming Lips close out the night.
But first Matt Johnson spoke to Hear Nebraska via phone about how seeing punk shows forever made him a lively performer and why he and Kim will tell the world pretty much anything they want to know.
Listen to the full interview with Matt here:
Hear Nebraska: So you guys have the Lightning remix album coming out in the fall and I was curious, did you guys know when you were writing and recording the actual record that you were gonna do that? Was there something about the songs that seemed really suitable for a remix release?
Matt Johnson: Well, no, we hadn’t expected to make it a full remix album. Actually, I think it kind of came out of what had been coming back from the internet and stuff from people. We had commissioned some remixes for ”Let’s Go” and “It’s Alright.” And there was stuff showing up on the internet that people had done indepently or mashup stuff.
I guess that sort of showed what you’re saying, how to cater to certain parts of the dance world. Yeah, we were just gonna do something for “It’s Alright” and thought, “Man, let’s just put together a whole full-length.” There was so much good stuff out there and people we wanted to connect with.
HN: What’s it like when those songs — you guys spend so much time with them, writing and recording, touring them forever — when they come back reimagined by someone else?
MJ: I think it’s awesome. Because me and Kim, we so, maybe to a fault, want to be in control all the time. And I think every now and then it’s nice to just be totally out of control. To just send the pieces to someone you’ve trusted what they’ve done in the past and see what comes back. I love hearing choices I either wouldn't or couldn’t have made. To answer the question, it’s exciting getting to hear things come back.
HN: Let me ask you then about the actual record. You’ve talked about how Lightning is a little more stripped down and a little less layers. There's a quote somewhere from you where you talk about how when you have less going on there's less to hide behind. Why did it feel like the right time to expose your playing or the individual parts a little bit more with this record?
MJ: Well, I just think … I connect to things that are broken down to the most important parts of it. In everything. I mean, if you watch our music videos, we’ve come up with most of the ideas for them and it’s always been trying to break it down to a simple focused idea as opposed to maybe a really visual thing that couldn’t be summed up in a sentence. I really like being able to sum up our interviews in a sentence.
That sort of same reasoning goes for our music in the sense of I just want the beat and melody to be as prevalent as possible. Because I think in the end as humans what we connect to in music is beat and melody. And everything else is intellectual in a way. But the beat and melody is instinctual. So I think the more layers you can pull away to expose the beat and melody, the more focused it becomes.
HN: Interesting. Well, talking about melody — and of course this isn’t true for all your songs — but when I listen, it seems like there is often a really close link between the melody of your key line and melody you’re singing. Does that link come from the origin of the song when it’s just the hook? Or how do those parts usually work themselves out?
MJ: It’s weird. It’s hard, I guess this is just a little bit more technical about songwriting. To make the melody the clearest I think is to find one melody to it. If you try to balance a certain melody through the keyboard and creating melody through the vocals, you start losing the focus of it. I think about things I’ve learned from Weezer as a kid. If you listen to that Blue Album, most of the solos are the lead vocal line replayed. And expressed in a way that the instrument that’s played can express it. But I keep coming back to it keeps things focused.
HN: Sure, same kind of thing. There’s like an essence.
HN: Well, let me shift gears, Matt. A lot gets made of the theatrics of your live shows. I was wondering, was there anyone you remember seeing live when you were kid or just starting out touring that make you guys think of performance in a different way? That it should be more than sitting and playing?
MJ: I think for me personally a lot of it comes from me getting into playing music through going to punk shows. And it was always smaller shows. All the biggest shows I had gone to until just recently were just the shows we had played. I had never gone to arena concerts as kid. Recently I've gone to see Jay-Z and Beyonce and fucking incredible productions. But to me, all I had known coming to this band was being in this intimate show where everyone is really tied together and the band is there crowd surfing. Different hardcore stuff with jumping around throwing your guitar sound and being very visually into the music.
Rather than certain bands of all kind of genres will look like they've looked at themselves in the full-length mirror that morning with their guitar on and found a pose and said, “Yeah, that’s the look.”
I think there’s something about punk rock that’s inherently honest about when you’re so into it you want to show it. That’s something me and Kim always believed in. And in all genres, too. But I think we’re excited to play and we show it. Or if you’re angry to play you should show it. However you’re feeling.
At one point, there became this kind of trend to look cool or bored on stage. And I find that just incredibly boring to watching. I think we just wanted to be honest and I think that came from a lot of bands that I grew up with.
HN: I wanted to ask you about one band in particular. This interview on my end is to preview you guys at Maha this Saturday in Omaha. The headliner for that show is The Flaming Lips. I know you guys had been on the same billing with them back in May. Have you ever seen those guys live?
MJ: Yeah, an incredible live band. I remember my first time seeing them, we were up on the same festival in Red Rocks in Colorado, a legendary outdoor amphitheatre. And then we did a show together a club in Rhode Island. I think that’s a band that had made great albums, but like us has found a large following from putting on a show that people love to experience and be a part of. And I think that’s a big important part of it, that you’re part of it. They put enough confetti and balloons and all of that plus talking plus visual, you just feel like you’re part of it. And I think that’s something we just try to do, get everyone involved and jumping around and dancing.
We did a festival, I forget where exactly it was, but we played exactly at the same time on two different stages.
HN: Ooh, yeah you’re up against it right there.
MJ: It was called Forecastle Festival. We had a great time and what not. But I think of them as such a legacy and great live act that I was like, “Ah, I can’t believe that we’re making people choose between the two of us.”
I actually saw Wayne earlier that day and he was like, “What time are you guys playing?” “Exactly the same time you guys are.”
So we were both pretty bummed about that. So it’s really cool that at this we get to go one right after the other on the same stage.
HN: That must have been a trip: you playing and imagining that somewhere in the distance Wayne is in a hamster ball running around the crowd.
DIY is a term that gets associated with you guys a lot, and you’ve talked about your punk background. As I’m watching interviews, you and Kim are very open. You make short tour documentaries revealing certain parts of your life. So on the one hand it seems like you guys are comfortable sharing a lot. But I’m wondering if in a way the reverse is actually kind of true. When you guys decide what you share, is there a way of keeping notoriety and celebrity on your own terms?
MJ: I think my terms and Kim’s terms as we’re are open book. I think it’s actually very interesting people who are very concerned about keeping privacy of certain things, people who keep social network stuff private. I know that to some people privacy is important.
But to me it never has been. I attribute it partially to sharing a bedroom with my brother for 17 years and then I went to college and my first two years of college was in dorm rooms where I had a roommate in my room. And then I had my own room in a house I got with a couple guys my junior year. And I lived there for three months and then me and Kim moved in together. So basically I feel like in my life I’ve never had privacy and maybe that’s a tribute to wanting to be an open book about everything. Any information or anything like that, I’m surely willing to share about this band. And Kim, she feels the same way.
Chance Solem-Pfeifer is Hear Nebraska’s staff writer. He will see you at Maha and we can all get sunburned together. Reach him at email@example.com.