Music

Dance Punk Rules: An Interview with Matt & Kim

Jane Jansen Seymour

Matt Johnson of Matt & Kim tells PopMatters about the time that Kim punched him and how the duo accidentally became a band writing songs that write themselves ...


Matt & Kim

Sidewalks

Label: Fader
US Release Date: 2010-11-02
UK Release Date: 2010-11-02
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Matt Johnson called in from a busy schedule at SXSW to update PopMatters on all things Matt & Kim. After all, not only was the band continuing their hot streak following the release of their acclaimed album Sidewalks, but they were also looking forward to catching up with friends in other bands converging on the mega-festival. As a guy from rural Vermont with a knack for a good tune, Matt once met up with Kim Schifino -- a proud Rhode Islander -- at the artsy Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and before long, the duo began making the angular indie-rock that has become their signature. That was well before the place became a hot bed for indie bands, which means that Matt & Kim helped fuel the fire. Three releases and countless tour dates later, Matt explained how it all began and even how the band got their name ... 

* * *

Your music has been labeled as dance punk -- how did you arrive at this hybrid of sound?

It's dance music not like in at a club where a DJ could just put it on but you can definitely move to it. At our shows there's still like crowd surfing, stage diving and veritable mosh pit sort of things going on -- that's that bit of punk rock energy that's going on that still lives in it.

The Matt & Kim songs are full of great hooks, I was wondering if you've always been a fan of sing-alongs?  The songs are so much fun to sing along to plus you use lots of handclaps and shout outs to add to the audience participation.

Well I remember this time Kim was upset with me at this comment I had said once in this interview, where I said how we don't write songs anymore: we write anthems. She was very disappointed -- she thought it was a very cocky-sounding line. But I said it more in the sense that there is something I think that exists within our songs. I've always been into that kind of stuff. I grew up with punk rock music, things like that. A lot of that stuff that I've liked has that gang vocals with of everyone singing these chants. You could be at a show and everyone can scream it along together or you could have your windows rolled down I your car as you're driving and shout it. That sort of thing we have wanted to keep in the music. I mean we think very much in a beat and melody composition sense and we put that forward. As in there's a beat that's a hook and a melody that's a hook, which sometimes results in singing along. 

You're known for your incredibly high energy shows -- were you two hyper kids or are you antsy people? Or does that energy just come out during the shows? 

We don't sulk around or drag our feet or whatnot, but we are pretty high energy. And Kim for sure, there's no stopping her. If she's sitting down, she's not relaxing. She has to be doing something and that's the only way she can relax. But as far as being on stage and performances there's so much during the day -- all the travel and the flights that accumulates before the hour or so of playing music. I think that's when we save it all up and let it come out at that point. Even though we're planning on our upcoming spring tour to be doing our longest set that we've ever done, which is somewhere around an hour and a half of playing music. I don't even know how we're going to be able to play that long. When we started touring we played only five songs, and it sort of droned on very slowly. But now we did our last tour we played for over an hour and by the end I was just basically falling off stage and taking a nap. I was just worn out.

As a keyboard player, I was wondering if you had a current fave to play -- maybe a vintage model or something new on the scene? 

There's actually one synthesizer, which is actually the reason I play keyboards that I still play as when I started playing. I play two keyboards on stage but one is called the Yamaha CS-5. It's an old 1970s keyboard -- I call it the poor man's Moog. It's a cheaper version of that sort of analog keyboard. But I found it in my neighbor's garage when I was 15. We were playing with it, and I remember at the time that I could only make it make sounds that sound like [he demonstrates a percussive melody that cascades down and back up]. We couldn't really make it sound like an actual musical instrument. Basically five years later I thought this thing looks so cool, I should actually learn how to play this. And that's what got me into playing keyboards at all, since I came from a guitar and bass background never really piano.

You were at the Pratt when you met Kim, what were you both studying and how did you meet? 

I was there for film and Kim was there for illustration. Kim was a couple of years ahead of me, so we had some mutual friends or whatever. Basically she ended up picking me up but the thing was she ended up giving her number to me three times. I was actually quite intimidated by someone like her. I had never dated a girl who was older than I, or who had a whole bunch of tattoos. I was very shy back then so that's why it took a while for it to actually happen. But then after we met we were living together after two months and that was seven years ago. About two years after we met, the band began. Kim had never played drums and I was still learning that keyboard. We were just learning those things separately and then just accidentally became a band.

We worked on all kinds of things together. From school and then into art installations and silkscreen stuff, we made album covers for other bands. We were kind of on the same plane creatively. We had a lot of friends who were in bands and our first show was with a friend who said, "You're playing a show with us."  And we're like, we're not even a band -- they had just heard we were learning our instruments. But they were like, "You don't have a choice, we're making it happen."  So we figured out three songs that we wrote and we couldn't think of a name so we just got listed as our name, which has since stuck. That was basically it. We tried to think of a name for so long and then in the end, Matt & Kim sort of just made sense because it's a first name basis -- you didn't have the wall of a name. Just being be your names seems very friendly.

Where was that first gig, do you remember?

The first gig was in a basement of an art gallery in Queens. I don't think it exists anymore. We were just terrified, even though there were only fifteen people there. Kim and I were like, "We shouldn't do this -- this is a bad idea. Let's not do this."  We were trying to think of anyway to get out of it. And I don't know if it was just friends who were being nice, but everyone was really positive afterwards. Then we kept being asked to play stuff.

After your first self-titled release, you retreated to your childhood home in Vermont to write the songs for Grand. Where were the songs for Sidewalks written?

 They were written broadly over time between finishing Grand and recording Sidewalks. We came up with a bunch of ideas at that time but then it actually came time to sit down and take all of these ideas to mold into an album. We were in New York during December of 2009 and January of 2010 before going to Atlanta to record at the beginning of February. It was interesting because as much as I love writing music, doing the band as a full time job which is what we've done for the past three or four years, has given in some ways the least amount of time to write music that I've ever had in my life. It's hard to carve out that time so we've had to be like, we're not doing anything else -- we're working on this album. 

How do your songs come together?  Is it the melody first or a drum beat?

It's generally that Kim and I will work out a drumbeat. That's how it goes and then I'll record things over that, different ideas and different melodies. It'll be like me calling my phone's answering machine and leaving messages of like [sings a melody: do-do-do-dah] some sort of melody. I'll make a collection of all those different things; sort of a collage -- to go back and think what kind of melody would work with that beat. And then writing lyrics is always our last thing. Some bands, I feel they write lyrics and then they write songs around that but that's the total opposite of us. As I mentioned, we think very much in beat and melody in composition, not so much lyrically. We kind of let the feeling of the song musically dictate what the song will be about, so in a way it sort of writes itself.

 

The new video for "Cameras" is an epic battle of the sexes. On your website one of you commented how you were sore for a week afterwards -- who was that attributed to and who came up with the concept?  

We were both very sore afterwards. It was funny because the soreness wasn't from being hit or anything like that. We had done fight choreography for a couple of days before we started. It's crazy how detailed it is and how much like dance it is -- in the sense that throwing a punch isn't about that punch swing, it's about what your other hand is doing and how strong that looks. It's about how you shift your weight and all these things that is what sells it. Because it's not real, you have to do these different things that make it look stronger and what not. All those different movements and stuff, I think I didn't even know I had hamstrings. They were just killing me and I had to walk sort of bow-legged. We were both completely sore. 

Kim really did sock me right in the nose though. You're supposed to punch about a foot away so it's all about the reaction. She's tough; her biceps are bigger than mine. But the second we got on camera she just drove me -- gave me a bloody nose and everything. After I got punched in the nose, it kind of gave me a black eye and my nose got sort of swollen. So the make up artist was like, "This is great, I don't have to enhance things."

That was an idea I came up with, as well as the "Lessons Learned" getting naked in Times Square video and the "Yea Yeah" food fight video.   Basically as someone who went to school for film, who was always interested in film and interested in music, I definitely take the chance to be involved with the project. 

Is there one place you're really looking forward to visiting on tour?  Or going to a new place that you haven't gone to?

Everywhere we're going to we have been to but I really like Spain and we're going back there. We just went to Hawaii for our first time and that was the last state in our country that I had yet to lay my feet on. Although I'm starting to do push ups and crunches now for the longer sets. Why we play keeps me going. Hopefully, I don't have to slow down too much. I used to snowboard every day growing up in southern Vermont in a very small town. I went to public high school and graduated in a class of seventeen. It was one building with Kindergarten through high school in one school building. So that's a part of how I ended up in New York. When I went looking for colleges, it wasn't about looking for colleges I was looking at cities. It's like "I'm going to an urban environment."  That's how I ended up in New York and at Pratt. 

Do you have any plans after the tour?  Are you going back in the studio or take some time off from everything?

We just got this proposition from our European agent about these European festivals, but I realized it was three days after our spring tour. We're basically busy all the way until then, playing at a lot of colleges and we're actually going to head back to Europe next week. I was like, "Oh my gosh, I will be so worn out."  So I think we will spread that out a little bit -- I think we're going to head back to Europe for some festivals and what not. Like when we wrote Sidewalks, we didn't sit down and write it all at once. We do want to be constantly writing music. So we could spread it out a little bit and have songs that sound like they're from different points of what we're doing. We really want to be working on music as well. I'm sure the wheels won't stop rolling anytime soon.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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