Brooklyn band Matt & Kim (Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino) have solidified themselves as the energetic "it" couple of indie rock. They even "pulled a Beyoncé" with videos for each of their songs before Queen Bey ever released her visual album. With four full-length albums under their belt, the duo is preparing their fifth LP and winding down their latest tour in support of their 2012 effort, Lightning.
Music Times recently chatted with Johnson leading up to Matt & Kim's set at LouFest. He reflected on the band's history and updated us on what fans can expect next.
MT: The VMAs happened a few weeks ago, and you guys won your own Moonman back in 2009. Before you had a career in music, you studied filmmaking, what did it meant to you back then to not only have your music recognized but also your filmmaking?
Matt Johnson: Music videos have always been something that I've been into. When I was going to film school, making music videos was the dream of any film student. So we've always been very involved in making our videos and coming up with ideas. In that way, I think there's been sort of a uniformity to the videos, they're very Matt and Kim.
But it's funny, the 2009 "Lessons Learned" video, I thought it was a good, simple, and intriguing idea, which is what we're always trying to think of. I didn't know it would get the attention that it did. But it was funny because it was so early on for us. We didn't go to the VMA's because we were on tour at the time. I remember we were at a college, and our manager Kevin was in the bus watching it on TV. I guess when we won, he came into the backstage area that I was in -- at the time we would blow up hundreds of balloons before the show ourselves. It's funny because in the midst of blowing up the balloons, I was lightheaded, and he was like, "Oh, we won!" and I was like, "Oh, that's awesome!" Then I just got back to blowing up balloons (laughs).
MT: It must have been nice to have both of your passions recognized.
MJ: Especially in a breakthrough video category. Plus Buzz Aldrin was the one who accepted it on our behalf. It meant a lot, especially because we were a very young band. A lot of times it's rough. Usually the awards go out to very established-yet-great artists such as your Beyoncés and what not. We love her, but I feel like to an extent if she gets another VMA, it's just added to the pile. It's more exciting to see newer artists win.
MT: How do you go about conceptualizing the music videos you make?
MJ: I think it stemmed out of the fact that when we started making music videos, we had zero money to make music videos. So we needed that $100,000 idea that we could make for like $100. You look at something earlier on like our "Yeah Yeah" video. The one line from that is "Matt and Kim get food thrown at them for three minutes." That's the thing. We want the one line that gets used but then you kind of have to take it a couple of different angles to make it fulfilling. As a film guy, with pitching ideas, you want to be intrigued by the tagline. There's so many music videos where the band is playing in a cool lit room -- some plot with a girl that we go back and forth between. There's not really an idea there.
But yeah, the first video we filmed at the college Kim and I went to. We didn't go there anymore, but we went back in there and threw food all around, made a huge mess; it smelled awful. I think after that we kept the same premise. Let's just make the idea the most valuable/expensive thing. And how do we do that in a cheaper way? That's forced us to be more creative. In the video for a song called "Cameras," where me and Kim are beating each other up in choreographed, Hollywood-style fight scene, it was our most expensive video, but it was a simple idea, "Matt and Kim beat the sh*t out of each other."
MT: So do you guys like to both be featured in the narrative of those videos?
MJ: Meaning that we're part of it? Well, I think it's not a coincidence that we're named Matt & Kim or that the name stuck. I think we're very much about being the open people "Matt and Kim" as opposed to the band. This is a platform that we as Kim and Matt can try to connect more to people who are listening more to the music. We always want to be there visually and creatively.
MT: It's been about a year since the release of your Lightning Remixes and about two years since the Lightning LP. Do you have another full-length in the works?
MJ: Yeah, yeah, we do. We realized it will be our biggest gap between any albums we've ever had. This whole year starting last December we've been working on songs and we've been getting together with a lot of producers, which for us it used to be a lot of me and Kim sitting in our underwear in the bedroom recording, producing, and writing.
Now it's kind of cool to work with other people, other than the fact that I have to put on pants. I guess toward the end of putting all these songs together there will be an album that will happen. I don't know when yet. The problem is that I am so excited about the songs; I just want everyone to hear them.
MT: Do you plan to preview any new songs on the road?
MJ: No, our policy has always been that we only play songs we've released. I think of bands who ask the crowd, "Who wants to hear a new song?" And the crowd is like, "Kinda, but we'd rather hear something we already know." They cheer, but that's what they are saying underneath. While we take pride in the fact that if you don't know any of our music and you came to see us, you could have a really good time, we present ourselves in a way that a DJ would: rework songs, shorten them, and add little bits of other songs. So yeah, we have not played any of them live yet.
MT: Is there anything you want to do differently on this next album or anything in particular you hope to try with what you are working on now?
MJ: Our goal, I feel like, as we keep going, is I wanna do less and less. That episode of Seinfeld where George is pitching the TV show and people are like, "What's going to happen on the TV show, and George is like, "Nothing, nothing is going to happen on the TV show." That's what I want to happen, but it's so hard. That's the thing, instinctually why we all love music is the beat, the melody, the lyrical content, and everything else is sort of just filler. Outside of the instinct is kind of this intellectual stuff. I've always wanted to break it down, but then we've always want it to have this energy. It's sort of a contradiction that we battle with.
MT: You and Kim have been making music together for more than six years. How has the dynamic changed over the years now that you're a pretty established duo?
MJ: It's amazing how long we've been together as a couple and as a band for as many years as we have. We spend every waking second together, we travel together, and we haven't killed each other yet. That's the miracle of the whole thing. As far as the dynamic of these bands, they grow and get more success behind them, and it starts more tension in the band. They have inner conflict and they break up. For us, it's not like that. I wouldn't recommend it for every relationship, but for us, spending every second together, it works out. I'm thankful for that.
You can check out Matt & Kim's LouFest set on Sunday from 7:15-8:15 p.m. on the Forest Park Stage.