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Those who don't move their asses to the Matt and Kim song "Yea Yeah" are either missing their ears or their soul — or both. Sure, it's cute and bubblegum sweet. But the stripped-down, three-chord synth-pop that the Brooklyn pair plays is, at its core, a firmly punk denial of pretense. It's a celebration of raw joy that could only come from a young couple in love. Fresh off a European tour where they played more than one festival show with the unlikely Nine Inch Nails, Matt Johnson took time out of his recovery period to speak with us from his parents' cabin in Vermont about sharing the stage with Reznor, touring with Against Me! and why Matt and Kim's music is so stripped down.
Westword: What's it like for you to play for a crowd who's come to see Nine Inch Nails?
Matt Johnson: We actually really like trying to win people over. I feel we're accessible, and we play a style of music that I like to think you can get into on a first listen. We try to just be ourselves on stage and be inviting rather than that stone-cold, too-cool-for-school thing. Just our dorky selves.
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Is playing with Against Me! another situation where you're going to be playing for a crowd that wouldn't come out to see just you guys?
I don't know; I keep hearing that. People saying, "What? That doesn't make sense." But I really think it does make sense. I mean the first times that I saw Against Me! were in basements up in Portland, Maine, and it was really the same feel as our loft shows; maybe musically we sound different, but the vibe was the same, where everyone would just be packed in and just dancing and there to have fun. Kim and I listen to mostly hip-hop and pop punk, and you can really see our music is derivative of that. We don't listen to a lot of rock music or "indie" rock — I'm putting that in quotes. We hear a lot of bands who we could possibly tour with who just don't fit. We think in really more of a punk-rock way as far as our stage show goes. A lot of stage diving.
It seems like your music is rooted not only in that classic punk ethic, but aesthetic as well.
I'm not a piano player; I play two keyboards, one like a bass and one like a guitar, and Kim just loves to wail on the drums. I don't write love songs; I never will write a love song. I don't write political songs, either, but we write a lot of songs about figuring your life out.
Your music is really stripped down. What drew you to that sound?
Kim and I dated for years before we ever started playing music together. Kim just really wanted to learn how to play drums, and I had found one of my keyboards in my neighbor's garage. So I was trying to figure out how to play keyboards, and she was trying to figure out how to play drums. I guess we had no choice but simplicity, because neither of us were masters of our instruments. But, essentially, that works out; people respond to the simplest beat. Just listen to "We Will Rock You." Listening to hip-hop, a lot of songs will have one continuous melody that goes over the top of the whole thing; it gives you something to hook into and hold on to, and so I use that in a lot of our songs.