Just after coming back from Seattle, and just before heading off to Chicago for Lollapalooza (and then on to Europe), Brooklyn’s biggest indie-rock couple, Matt & Kim, sat down to talk to QRO.In it, they talked about playing Seattle, playing their first festival the week before that (Brooklyn’s own Siren Music Festival), their plans to play in the A.M. at Lollapalooza, rocking Northern Europe, as well as why making their self-titled debut LP sucked, why they don’t swear anymore, the word they most like to be used to describe them, the word they least like to be used to describe them, the thinking behind their two videos, their big smiles, honesty in music, why it’s ‘Matt & Kim’ and not ‘Kim & Matt’, and much more…
QRO: How was Seattle?
Kim Schifino: It was good. It wasn’t raining.
Matt Johnson: We did have our share of complications, but…
KS: But that always happens.
MJ: The show must go on.
QRO: Did you lose any instruments along the way?
KS: No, they just didn’t have a backline for us when we showed up.
MJ: There was no drum-set or… We just thought that they were going to be provided.
QRO: So what did you end up doing?
MJ: We ended up borrowing stuff from Silversun Pickups.
KS: And a bunch of others.
MJ: Blood brothers…
KS: All the bands kind of helped out. It worked.
QRO: How was it, playing The Village Voice’s Siren Music Festival?
KS: It was fuckin’ awesome.
MJ: Yeah, it was our first festival that we ever played. We didn’t know what to expect. Usually we move the monitors out of the way, so we can get as close to everyone as possible, and then there was that barricade that was like fifteen feet in front of us. But people seemed to jump over it, and come forward, which was cool.
QRO: So it was intentional, getting just that close to the front of the stage?
KS: We always do that. ‘Cause we used to play on the floor, and then we get to the point where we gonna have to move up to a stage, and we still want to be as close to the crowd as possible.
QRO: Was it particularly special, playing such a big thing, and also it being in Brooklyn?
KS: Well yeah, we always love to play in Brooklyn and try to do it. But also just the fact that it’s the last year of Coney Island, the true Coney Island, I felt like that was pretty special, that we were able to take part in it.
MJ: It’s funny though, even though we’re from Brooklyn – or, I guess it is because we’re from Brooklyn – the most freaked out we get playing shows is hometown shows, ‘cause we don’t want to disappoint.
KS: You don’t want to fuck up in front of your friends.
QRO: Have you been to Siren before, as fans?
KS: Yeah, we went, what… five years ago?
MJ: Yeah, it was a long time ago.
KS: I don’t like fests too much, because I’m short and can never see the bands. So it’s kind of like… I don’t know… you look at a bunch of people, the back of their heads.
MJ: I squatted down to five-foot-whatever Kim is, and you can’t see shi-yat.
QRO: Have you ever seen The Freak Show at Coney Island?
MJ: I did. It was really disappointing.
QRO: You thought it was disappointing?
MJ: I thought it was so disappointing. I was there, and they had things like ‘The Tattooed Man’, and it was like just some guy who has some tattoos. And then like… I don’t know… I was not ‘freaking’.
QRO: Did you start out just playing house parties, like you said, “on the same level”?
MJ: Yeah, that’s what we played for our first tours – we never played venues on our early tours, we’d always play like art spaces, or loft spaces, or, you know, someone’s living room, or whatever. So we’d just be on the floor in the mix with everyone else.
But I feel like, the more people that come out, it’s sort of selfish, I think, to do that, especially if you sit down, only the people in the very front can actually see you. Even though it makes you feel more comfortable.
QRO: So, do you have a preference between house parties, festivals, or the sort of ‘regular’ indoor shows?
MJ: No, actually, there’s no preference. I think it’s really important that you change it up a lot, to keep things interesting. They all have their different ups and downs. So I think it’s really good for us to do all of those things, and not leave any behind, just because, a lot of bands, when they start being able to play bigger places, even when they started off playing at parties and stuff, stop doing that. But we’ll still go back to doing that.
QRO: You’re going to be playing a bunch of other festivals this summer [Lollapalooza on August 4th, Oslo’s Øyafestivalen on August 8th, Unleashed in Newquay, UK on August 11th, Pukkelpop in Belgium on August 17th, and Monolith at Red Rocks on September 15th]. Are you looking forward to them, based on your experience at Siren?
MJ: Yeah, for sure, for sure. You too?
KS: Yeah. I’m looking forward to Europe, ‘cause that’s just gonna be a whole different experience for me. Something new.
QRO: Have you ever played Europe before?
KS: On our last tour, we started over there; we played Norway and London. So we’ll be going back to those spots, which will be fun. And then playing a few others.
QRO: Has Matt & Kim come out there?
KS: I think it’s coming out… um…
MJ: Well no, Matt & Kim is out in Norway, in Scandinavia.
KS: Is it out yet?
MJ: I think it is. But not in the rest of Europe.
KS: I love how out of it we are with what’s going on over there.
MJ: It’s really far away…
QRO: So are you looking forward to rocking Northern Europe? ‘Cause you’re also going to Belgium, The Netherlands…
KS: It’s funny: the first time we went overseas, we went to Oslo. I don’t know, I was just kinda like… I guess my… I thought it would look a lot different, but it looked like any American city. And then we went to Bergen [Norway] after that, and it looked like a European town. So I feel like Belgium, and Rotterdam [Netherlands], and that whole will kinda be similar.
MJ: No Sweden, though…
QRO: No Sweden?
KS: That… We don’t know.
QRO: For Lollapalooza, you’re going to be going on at noon. Have you ever played that early?
MJ: I guess we’re not going on that early?…
KS: No, we’re going on even earlier. Well, we’re going at 11:45.
MJ: Oh really, even earlier?
KS: Is that earlier?
MJ: That one time we played at that one Tag Team [Media, their publicists] show.
KS: But that was at 12:30.
MJ: So no, I guess we’ve never gone on that early.
KS: I’m gonna be drinking some mimosas…
QRO: Are you going to do anything differently, like preparing, or whatever?
MJ: No, I think we’ll do the same thing we always do.
MJ: I don’t know, I guess it’s sort of different thing, when you’re playing a bigger space… We still have this picture in our minds of it, that people are still going to be setting up tents.
KS: I don’t expect anybody to be there. Too fuckin’ early.
QRO: What was the recording process like for making Matt & Kim?
KS: It sucked.
MJ: It was rushed. We’d never recorded in the studio before. We kept asking everyone how much time we needed, and we never got a straight answer. So we were like, ‘We can record and mix down an album in a week, I guess?’ Which was just like, way too little time. We were recording like twelve or more hours a day, and then playing shows afterwards. We were in L.A. at the time, and it was totally… torturous.
QRO: Do you have any plans for a second album? Do you have new material?
KS: We’re planning on taking October to March off, to write new stuff. So hopefully after that, we can start planning on recording.
MJ: Well, we’re gonna record.
KS: Well, as long as we get our songs done.
QRO: Do you ever feel sort of limited, being only a drums/keyboards/vocals duo? Have you been thinking about trying other instruments, Kim singing, or having backing musicians?
KS: Nobody wants to hear me sing.
MJ: I’ve been trying to get Kim to sing, but she doesn’t want to.
KS: I mean… It’d be pretty sweet to maybe at a show have like a strings section.
MJ: But I think the dynamic of Matt & Kim is that of me and Kim. Anyone else coming into the mix might throw the dynamics off. We really don’t know, though.
I do think, on our next recording, there’s going to be more tracking and stuff like that. Different stuff. It’ll sound a little different than we utilize. Making a live song and a recorded song is such a different thing.
QRO: Do you think you’d try any other instruments, just between either of you?
MJ: Yeah, for sure. I don’t feel totally bound.
KS: I only want to play the drums.
MJ: You can play the xylophone.
KS: I can play the xylophone, but that’s…
MJ: But you’d still be playing like a ‘mallet’ type thing.
QRO: What’s the story behind the secret track [on Matt & Kim]?
MJ: It sounds like we’re drunk, or something, but we’re just…
We always open every show with, “This is Kim, I’m Matt, and we’re Matt & Kim.” We were like, ‘Maybe we should put that at the beginning of the album’, then we started and like, ‘This isn’t working.’ But then, we ended up just putting me trying the different stuff on it.
Olympic Donuts, that I mentioned, that’s just–
KS: That’s where we ate every morning while we were recording.
MJ: And when I swear and she says, “Chloe’s gonna hear this,” Chloe used to be a girl Kim nannied for. She listens to our music.
KS: We can’t swear.
MJ: We never swear anymore.
QRO: You’ve gotten a lot of press lately [Spin, Village Voice, Pitchfork, voted “Best Local Band” by New York Press readers, featured in New York Magazine’s “Hip New Bands” piece, MTVu, MTV2…]. Are there any that’s been particularly special?
KS: One dude – I forgot what magazine it was, I think it was something like, ‘Alarm’ or something – a magazine based out of Chicago said that we were “tough”. I was psyched about that. It basically said, ‘They’re not cute.’ I always hate that people peg us as this ‘cute’ band; if anyone ever told me to go check out a band ‘cause they were ‘cute’, I would definitely not check them out and probably just hate them on that basis.
MJ: I think you can’t say a band that like smiles a lot is cute. We don’t write cutesy songs; we don’t write about like swinging on swing sets, butterflies, or green grass. I’ve never written a love song.
KS: Probably never will.
QRO: How’s it been with the great coverage, and selling out shows from Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review) to the West Coast? Has it all gone to your head yet?
KS: No, it just makes me nervous. ‘Cause then, you go back to that town, and if don’t do the same thing, it means that people aren’t psyched on you.
MJ: It hasn’t gone to our heads so much as like… We’re just doing the same thing we’ve been doing for so long, which is just driving around in a minivan, playing shows. I don’t know, at this point, if I was to think about it for a second, I’d be pretty frantic. But I don’t think about it that much.
QRO: In your two videos for “5K” and “Yea Yeah”, they both have two things in common – splatter [fake blood for “5K”, food for “Yea Yeah”] and that you’re playing in a kitchen [albeit a cutout one in “Yea Yeah”]. Do the kitchen sets come from playing house parties?
KS: Yeah, we’ve played in a lot of kitchens, so we felt like we should bring that along into the videos.
MJ: Well, basically, in the first one, the guy who was making it for us, that was just picking up about food, so playing in kitchen, so I guess that’s where he wanted it to take place. I really wanted, when we were doing that video, I really wanted to make it a big, ‘prop’ sort of kitchen, so I ended up just using that. And it worked out with the food theme; initially it was all going to be white. But that [the kitchen] seemed to make more sense.
QRO: And where does the idea of the splatter, with the fake blood and food… Where does that come from?
MJ: The fake blood one came from our friend. I was like, “I don’t know if that will work out for us,” but then, actually, on that sort of ‘trying to fend off the cute’ thing, we were like, “Well, maybe if we have really gory, tons of blood, and shit like that, then we won’t look as cute.”
QRO: And what about the food?
MJ: The food was, Houston, Texas, we were playing there, and we had drunken friends just throwing shit at us, and we just kept trying to play. We thought the whole situation was hilarious, and when we were leaving, we thought, ‘We totally gotta make a video out of this.’
Then, we were like, ‘We needed a twist at the end’, and then guys in food costumes, and my brother was like, “You should just play the whole thing in reverse’”, so we did both of those. Then I thought, it was more exciting if you know what’s hitting us, so that’s when I decided to put those little windows at the bottom, so that you know what’s coming next.
QRO: In February, you hosted an episode of MTV2’s Subterranean. What was that like?
MJ: It was terrifying. It was like playing our first show again. I was so ridiculously nervous; the room was like turning upside-down. I just have this thing with cameras – well, I used to; I’m getting a little better with it now. But, if I’m in front of a whole bunch of people, and I can see them all, I’m okay with it, but if it’s a camera, and I don’t know…
During that shoot, I blacked out from nervousness, and then afterwards, I came back to, and was like, “What did I say?” Then, I think the one time I was watching it, we were at a bar with some friends, and it came on, and I got to see it, so I remembered. I don’t know what happened
KS: But maybe that’s just because you were at the bar…
QRO: After all of your touring, are there any places that you really liked playing?
MJ: I mean, there’s a ton of places; I couldn’t pinpoint it down. Every tour, it changes, or like places that we had bad shows, like Houston, Texas – we never really had any good shows there, but then on the last tour, we had super, super fun shows. It’s tough to say; a lot of towns are really good, including Chicago.
KS: Yeah, but in Chicago, we can eat hot dogs.
MJ: Kim loves herself a hot dog.
QRO: This is what people all want to know: Why so happy? More importantly, how so happy, with all the goofy grins and stuff like that?
KS: I get to bang the shit out of the drums, and that’s pretty awesome.
MJ: In general, we’re like… ‘up-spirited’ people, I don’t know. Obviously, we’re psyched right now, that we can do our band for a living and whatever. I just have this whole philosophy on performing and stuff like that, and honesty. We get psyched, and just do the show, whereas a lot of bands… I mean… I’m hoping that a band gets psyched… I don’t know, a lot of bands put on this poker face, where you can’t tell what they’re feeling, and we’re just fucking psyched to play. And it shows.
QRO: Do you ever get accused of sort of putting on a ‘stage persona’, like, ‘that’s not how you really feel’? ‘Cause there must have been some shows where you didn’t necessarily feel that way.
KS: There was one show, I didn’t smile the whole time, and I puked right afterwards. I was definitely showing how I was feeling. Oh, and you [Matt] threw up in your mouth.
MJ: It was just so ridiculously hot.
KS: I wish there was a YouTube video of that show.
MJ: No, there is, but we asked them to take it down.
KS: Oh, but that was just because of the playing…
MJ: Well, we played bad, ‘cause there was no fuckin’… Just, screw it. It was just this ridiculously hot place in San Diego.
No, but I mean, we’re honest. I was getting really worn on our last tour, and I was just like not… A lot of times, playing will kind of get me out of a funk, and I’ll get psyched again, but the general thing is to be honest. And we are.
QRO: Just one last question: Why is it ‘Matt & Kim’ and not ‘Kim & Matt’? ‘Cause that would be the alphabetical order…
MJ: Well, basically came down to, we… I think it started first… I can look at the first poster of Kim & I, and it was ‘Kim & Matt’, right there. We decided, I don’t know…
KS: It sounds better.
MJ: I don’t know if it sounds better. I thought it looked better in writing.
KS: Yeah. I think it sounds better. MJ: It was generally Kim’s final opinion. Not mine.