They’re from Brooklyn, via Vermont and Rhode Island. They’re an energetic drum and keyboard duo and the InterTubes would have you know that they’re “together.” They were born as Matthew Johnson and Kimberly Schifino, they once operated under the moniker of Matthew & Kimberly and you know them as Matt & Kim. You’ve probably toe-tapped along to their relentlessly upbeat electro-infused indie pop, and if you’ve experienced one of their grin-inducing performances, you’ve probably danced ’til uncomfortably sweaty. Or you need to visit a doctor about your sweat glands. Or you just don’t like to have fun (please seek help).
It was raining in New York, it was sunny in DC (and it was almost certainly cold and dank in San Francisco) on a recent August afternoon when Weeping Elvis interfaced with Matt via the magic of Alexander Graham Bell’s not-so-newfangled invention. Matt & Kim have a new video. They are soon to release a new album (Lightning, out October 2nd). And so, we talked with Matt about those things and about how athletics have influenced their vigorously ingratiating music. Want to know more? Read on…
Weeping Elvis: One might not ordinarily associate Pratt alums with athletics, but I’d like to talk about how sport has impacted and is a part of your musical career. My understanding is that Kim ran track. Have you had any particular athletic pursuits over the years?
Matt Johnson: As art school students, well, art schools aren’t normally known for their athletics. Kim ran track through high school and was crazy good. At her dad’s house there are tons of trophies and medals and stuff like that. She went to Penn State on a scholarship for running for a year and realized that she hated the whole situation and left to re-figure out her life, ending up at art school. I do think there’s something about the drive that she got from athletics, waking up at 5am for morning runs and then afternoon runs as well that really make her the total “doer” in the situation. I think of myself as the “dreamer,” and she’s the “doer.” We never would have gone on tour or finished an album or anything if it wasn’t for Kim. She’s so crazy driven; it will be one in the morning and she’ll be like, “What are we going to do now?” And I’m thinking of chilling out and going to bed but she’s trying to work on a song or something.
I grew up in Vermont and was more into skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX…stuff like that. Snowboarding was what I did. Any day I wasn’t in school I was snowboarding nights. When I graduated high school I was either going to go out west to college, essentially to continue snowboarding and be in competitions, or, I was going to go to film school in New York. I ended up coming to New York, and Kim took her weird relationship with track to Penn State where she was maybe 100 pounds – there’s something about distance running where you have to be really thin – and her college coach was like, “If you don’t lose 10 pounds over Christmas break you’re not going to do anything.” And she [already] weighed nothing, so that was just brutal. Whatever in this world drove us away from athletics kind of brought us together, so it’s a big part of us.
The music is almost always up-tempo, and your shows are known for being very active and definitely require stamina. Do you prepare for the vigor of those shows? Do you train?
My warm-ups are very typical of someone trying to sing and not lose their voice. I remember the first time we had a new tour manager, and Kim said “I’m going to go do my warm-up.” He walked into the room five minutes later and her warm-ups consisted of really aggressive dancing for like twenty minutes. I think that’s what gets her pumped to be on stage, she’ll break a sweat before even getting out there. But yeah, I think what we do is very physical. Our show is not two people on stage, it’s, whatever, 3,002 people on stage and all the energy that those people getting wild brings into a room.
The guerrilla video for “Lessons Learned” is unforgettable, and features a bit of aerobic activity. Between running around Times Square and the adrenaline that has to accompany the way you did that, it had to get your heart rate up a bit.
Well, yeah my heart rate was up for different reasons than actual aerobic activity, more like the nervousness of taking your clothes off in the most public place in New York! Kim swears she doesn’t even remember it, that she just kind of blacked out. Then we did the video for “Cameras” where it’s us fighting each other. We did some stunt training for that for a couple of days and it was so brutally physical that it was ridiculous. We couldn’t even walk, we were covered in bruises. It really made me realize that I needed to pick my athletic game up a bit.
And the songs themselves, a number of them feature titles and/or lyrics using various athletic terms. “Dash After Dash.” You reference baseball in “Lightspeed.” “Daylight” was licensed to NBA Live 10 and FIFA 10…It seems that athletics provide a lot of inspiration.
A song that we had on our first album is called “5K” and is actually about … we realize that a lot of our songs are more about figuring life out, and “5K” was about Kim coming from the world of the 5K race and realizing that it wasn’t what she wanted to do. Where she went to school in East Providence it became their track team theme song to an extent; she got emails from the coach saying they would listen to it while on the bus going to track meets.
Your latest video is for “Let’s Go” and features Pat the Roc’s ridiculous basketball skills. How did that idea come about? Where did you film it?
We met Pat at this Converse basketball game called Band of Ballers which was essentially musicians and what not forming teams and playing against each other on MTV for charity. Pat was on our team for that – that’s where we met him – and we kept in touch. When it came time to make the first Lightning video, we wanted to have a video up with the song, where others might just put the song up along with the album cover or something. We were trying to think of something that had the energy but wasn’t necessarily us performing the song. And then, Kim came up with this idea. When we were looking at these different players as that team was put together, we were looking at YouTube videos and we saw these videos of Pat. We put that together with it and found out that it worked really well. We ended up shooting it at a high school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We just went in, shot four takes and Pat killed it every time. He never made a mistake. The only reason we had the other takes was so that Kim and I could just sit differently. “OK, let’s act more bored on this one. Let’s act more excited on this one. Let’s just be normal on this one.” I think we ended up using the third take.
I love the seeming randomness of the oscillating fan in the back left of the frame. Most everything in the video — except your denim jacket and the basketball itself — is red, white, or black. Including that fan. The shot is framed with strong orthogonals and is strikingly minimalist. You did go to art school, after all…can you talk about how you set up this motif?
The fan…essentially was Colin Devin Moore who was shooting the camera, (he made our first music video for “5K”). He brought that oscillating fan once I told him the idea. He was like, “We need this fan. This fan is gonna make the video.” He was very particular about putting that fan in. And I love it. Our number one comment on that video was, “Up and to the left, Matt & Kim’s number one fan.” Not bad YouTube commenter, not bad! So yeah, we put that in and we tried different angles in the gym and really were looking for the simplest frame. You’ve seen other Matt & Kim videos. Generally, we think that whatever is the simplest idea that can hold your attention for three and a half minutes is the best idea. And it doesn’t involve cutting around in weird ways or thing like that…Pat is what we want to look at. So, we definitely thought through all of those things.