“It was literally a party.”
That’s how Matt Johnson of Matt and Kim describes the eponymous indie duo’s early days, which consisted of rowdy sets at parties and house shows.
They released their second album Grand in 2009, which was certified gold by the RIAA.
It featured the runaway hit “Daylight,” which rapidly became a dance anthem for hipster kids across the country whose weekends consisted of the types of house shows and parties at which Matt and Kim were performing. Their music is high-energy and happy-go-lucky, not to mention authentic and accessible; the song’s chorus, “In the daylight, anywhere feels like home,” was a maxim that defined an era, when MySpace was a booming metropolis for music discovery and sharing, and set the stage for Matt and Kim’s success.
The band’s upbeat energy never wavered, even when Kim Schifino, who plays drums in the band, tore her ACL on stage last spring and took a year off to recover. In fact, that time off resulted in the band’s sixth and latest album, Almost Everyday, which will be released on May 4 on the FADER label. The 10-song effort mixes equal parts nuance and nostalgia while still remaining faithful to the infectious indie sound that made them famous in the first place — it introduces a lineup of unlikely collabs like Santigold, King Tuff and Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus. Johnson says it’s also their most personal album to date; they wrote it during a time of personal and national turmoil, in which they used their music as a form of therapy. They also took that time to start a YouTube channel, where they’ve racked up millions of views on their vlogs, which include everything from a house tour to a tutorial on how to pee in a car.
Matt and Kim’s eccentricity and exuberance offstage translates to their stage presence. They may have come a long way from their makeshift living room sets, but the energy remains the same. They’ve sold out headlining tours across the country and stole the show at major music festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza and they’ll bring that energy to The Van Buren in Downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, April 10. We caught up with Johnson before the show to chat about the new album and wax nostalgic about the MySpace days.
I wanted to start this interview by saying that “Daylight” was my anthem in 2009/2010, as I’m sure is the case for a lot of people my age. Do you hear that a lot about your songs and what does that song mean to you and Kim personally?
Honestly, we wrote that song in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house with like, skateboard posters all over the ceilings and walls and recorded it ourselves. We certainly did not expect that it would be bigger than our little scene that we were in. It’s crazy how it’s lived on and had its own life because it was never some sort of hit single. It still gets played as much now as it did back then. Radio stations didn’t really play it or anything like that, but people just passed it around.
I think that might’ve been around the time that it would’ve been my MySpace song.
Hell yeah (laughs).
You also give your fans a pretty personal look into your lives through your vlogs and your YouTube channel and things like that, which is something that not a lot of artists do. Why do you think that’s so important to do as an artist?
I think it’s important to do as us, as Matt and Kim. It’s not a coincidence that we’re named our first names rather than have some sort of band name… we’re on a first name basis with anyone listening to the band. We realize that on stage, you have this certain connection with the audience. It’s face time. It’s even bigger than the music; it’s a real people-to-people connection. We were off the road for a while because Kim was injured and we were between albums and we wanted to be able to still put ourselves out there and keep that connection going. That’s when we decided to start doing the YouTube channel. I went to film school and I really love making videos and stuff like that, so it made a lot of sense for us.
Your new album has been described as your most personal album to date and you and Kim did write it during a difficult time, during her recovery. Can you talk a little bit about that experience? How were you able to write such an energetic album at a time that frankly must’ve been pretty energy-draining?
That’s true but the thing is, even with Kim at her worst, she’s still more upbeat and energized than a lot of people at their best. She’s a force to be reckoned with. She keeps me going. For example, the song we just put out a few days ago called “Happy If You’re Happy” was a song I wrote at the time because there were times where Kim was really bummed out and really down and I just can’t be happy if she’s sad. It’s like, impossible for me; we are so intertwined and co-dependant for better or for worse. So that’s what that song came out of… I think things like that were personal… writing from a difficult place. It wasn’t just her injury, it was everything that was happening around us and in the country, it was just a bunch of bad events. Even the title, Almost Everyday, is kind of referring to the bad news we got almost every day. I think all of those things make things personal. You’re writing to let something out. You’re not searching for things to write about. You have these things and you kind of need to write about them.
I gave the album a listen and there’s a very nostalgic kind of theme throughout. I wanted to hear your take on that and if this album did have a theme, what do you think it would be? How does it differ from your previous stuff?
I think it’s good that you get that nostalgic vibe off of it. My entire adult life, I’ve pretty much been on the road and doing shows and over the course of the last year and a half where we weren’t really doing any shows, which was the longest we’ve ever gone, I felt almost like that period of my life was over. We’d go to some concert and I would be sort of jealous of the people on stage. I think there was a big eye-opening experience of what life would be like if I didn’t have this band in my life anymore and it was sort of like the It’s a Wonderful Life movie where he gets presented this alternate life to show how good he has it. I’ve always thought I’ve had it good, but I appreciated it more when it was gone. I think there was definitely a “enjoy it while you have it” mentality that we wrote about.
How did you and Kim meet? What was it like when you first met?
(Laughs) Well, classically Kim tells this story, because I was not part of the beginning of the story… she says she was sitting on a bench at Pratt, where we went to school, with a friend and she saw me walk by and said, her quote, not mine, “I’m gonna f*ck the sh*t out of that guy.” Knowing Kim, that’s a very “Kim” statement. So, she gave me her number, not once, not twice, but three different times… it wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in calling her, I was just scared to. But being the persistent Kim she is, she kept basically being like, “Yo, idiot! Give me a call!” and then we got together and within three months of dating, we moved in together and have lived together ever since. It was a couple years before we started playing music together. For a long time, we spent every single day together and it’s amazing we haven’t killed each other yet. I think there’s something really working (laughs).
How would you describe your live set to someone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand?
I think it’s the most important element of our band. We’re really lucky… whether we have some sort of big single or anything like that, it doesn’t really matter; people really seem to enjoy the show and get wrapped up in it. I believe it’s from where it stems from. When we started, we didn’t play any venues. We literally just played parties and warehouses and art spaces and living rooms and kitchens and basements and it was always like a party; it was literally a party. We would be at something and everyone would be around us and falling on us. As we grew, I remember playing our first festival and thinking, “How do we keep that vibe?” It’s about everybody in the room or everyone in the field; it’s not about the two people on stage. We get everyone involved and we play a lot of recognizable little bits and pieces from songs that aren’t ours so it’s more like a DJ set in a way. We talk a lot to the audience and put a lot of light into the audience so we can see them and they can see each other. It’s about making a fully inclusive experience, not like, “We are band. You are audience. Watch and enjoy.” It’s like, “Let’s all do this together!” If I don’t have an audience that’s jumping around and dancing and crowd surfing and having mosh pits, I’m not having a good time. That’s the most fun part about it for me: looking off stage and seeing that.
Do you ever miss those days when it was maybe a little more intimate and you were just playing wherever?
I’m so happy they existed but I think you always want to feel forward movement. It’s always fun for something new to happen, to have new experiences. I don’t think you can stick around in one setting forever. Occasionally, we’ll play more intimate shows for some special events or whatever, but thinking back to those shows, the amount that the cops would come and things would get shut down or the power would go out or the whole audience would fall forward and knock over all the gear and we’d have to stop… they were super fun times, but it’s hard to consistently move forward when you drive six hours in a minivan and you show up to a show and the cops show up and shut it down a song and a half in.
Matt and Kim w/ Cruisr and Twinkids, The Van Buren, 401 W. Van Buren Street, thevanburenphx.com, Tuesday, April 10, 7 p.m., $30.