Ask any fan of Matt and Kim what think they about their live show, and you’ll get a face full of hyperbolic statements: “They’re the most energetic fucking band I’ve ever seen!” “They changed my life!” “Catching Kim’s drumstick was just the greatest thing to happen to me! “Did I mention how I’m going to marry Matt?” It’s true, the Brooklyn couple tosses positive energy around like it’s a rubber football, but they also live for it.
At least that’s what I got whilst chatting with frontman Matt Johnson. It would appear that Johnson — and more specifically, the band — is always grasping big ideas. Whether it’s committing to weighty national tours, championing animal’s rights, recording another 25-30 songs, or performing multiple gigs per night, Matt and Kim maintain life in chaos. Christ, I’m stunned they can remember to put on their clothing before walking the streets of Brooklyn.
Nevertheless, Johnson found a quick moment in his day to discuss the band’s latest release, Lightning, how he escaped his shell, and the rare, darker side of Matt and Kim.
Typically, the sound and aesthetic brought to any Matt and Kim album is one tied with excitement and adolescence–with songs like “Daylight” or “Block After Block”. Yet, when listening to your latest single, “Let’s Go”, we see a different side of Matt and Kim.
It’s interesting. I’m glad the initial vibe or feeling you get from any of our songs are feelings and emotions that you connect to a certain time, place — even people, or things like that. It seems as if there’s this nostalgic quality that comes before there is even nostalgia to take place when listening to our songs. While we have songs that feel very thought out — like “Let’s Go” — we also have some of our fastest songs we’ve ever had out as well as one of our slowest.
On Sidewalks, we wrote tons of songs and edited it down to ten songs. With [Lightning], we made 25 to 26 songs and edited it down to ten songs. This gave us a lot more to choose from, which let Kim and I really broaden this album out. As much as people truly say that “An album in the music industry is dead!” or “People just put their iPods on shuffle” or “People just download the single they like”– which is true and even I do myself with a lot of bands — every now and then I get an album I just love to listen to from top to bottom.
I completely agree, though that feeling is fleeting within bands today. There are some out there that play to their single opposed to the full potential that their LP could potentially offer.
Kim and I have always been very conscious in making every song as best and as close to their own type of single– whether they’re for radio or a concert. We always wanted to make songs that would stand out on their own, and when listened to from beginning to end within the format of the album. We wanted you to want to put the album on again.
I’m really into pop music and things like that and I get so burned because some pop acts have writers and some writers are good and some are bad and than it makes an album impossible to listen to. So, It’s really important to us to make albums better. No filler.
When we look back and take a peek into certain songs in your catalogue, we get a bit of storyline and some personification for you two. What new stories or personas will we hear from Lightning?
Well, I think that some of the songs [off Lightning] are slightly…. Umm, I’m not going to say they’re dark, but while everything has maintained an upbeat quality, there are some tracks that are a little darker that are related to just… I don’t know it’s weird. People tend to say, “The more success you have, the easier things will be,” and thats not always the case. Sometimes it’s more like, “The more success you have the harder things become.”
We never play a show we don’t want to play, we always choose our shows and make sure we want to be there. If ever there’s a moment where we feel worn out– we want to take a break. We do this because we never want to be up on stage because we have to be. We love playing live shows, but things were getting really hard last year and there was so much behind the scenes that there is a little bit of that feeling in some of our newer songs and its a bit darker.
Matt, you’re pretty vulnerable on your songs. On “Let’s Go”, you sing: “I was up in my head/ for everything I said/ quote a million words/ they’re all made with lead.” This is a far cry from the traditional “tongue in cheek” style we see and hear behind that keyboard and your insane grin.
We always try to be honest. That’s the thing about being Matt and Kim: We’re never trying to put up a front, we want to be ourselves, which I think is great because we never have to be worried about how we’ll be perceived because we’re just perceived as ourselves. But, I think that lyric in particular was a call out to how I personally was before Matt and Kim. Before I was in this band I was not outgoing.
That is extremely hard to believe Matt.
[Laughs.] I grew up being very cautious all the time. I worried about everything, but after years of touring– from playing in peoples basements, to playing in people’s houses, being forced to meet new people, and things like that — all these things helped me come out of my shell and let me be myself a little more. I guess that was the first time I was really referencing that feeling with that lyric.
How does Kim feel about getting behind the mic?
Well, the issue has always been that Kim loves singing when we record, but when she’s drumming… she just wants to drum. You see, Kim isn’t the drummer that drums with her wrists — she drums with her whole body. She never wants the mic, let alone microphone stand, getting in the way with her drumming. She gets so angry when she has to hold her head to the mic. [Laughs.] In her own words, she bangs things with sticks. So when it comes to our performances and her vocals– she probably won’t [sing] as much live because she feels it holds her back from her drumming.
Do you feel this album will change your relationship with your audience?
On stage, we always want to connect with the audience as much as possible, and I think that it’s amazing that people can connect not only through music or art or anything like that—but people connect people in the deepest ways. Kim and I never wanted to be the band on stage– and you be the audience. It’s never been about that. It’s been about this whole room being a part of the show.
It all starts with just talking to your audience. We want to keep our shows as much fun as possible and I think that’s what they’ve always been about. I mean even when we’re in our worst mood that day– like if we had a six a.m. flight and the hours were crazy– we still want to have a party.
It’s not always a party, though. On tour, you two get serious sometimes, even promoting “No Kill” animal shelters.
We’ve always been strong believers in animal rights. There are so many fucked up things in the world, this thing that we brought to the tour just meant a lot to us. We see ourselves as having this “soapbox” to stand on and while I feel it isn’t our job to preach and tell other people what to think, we want to get people inspired.
That sounds about right. You’re the catalyst in making fans shake their asses — why not be responsible for saving some animals too, huh?