Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino met as students at Pratt Institute, and when they started playing music together after becoming immersed in the New York DIY music scene, they quickly became known for their infectiously energetic live shows.
Musically, the duo is often stamped with the "dance punk" label, but one listen to a Matt & Kim song makes it obvious they were not going for a specific genre. And yet, the act's music does make you want to move and it has the unvarnished charm and vigor that was the hallmark of much of the best punk of any era.
Despite the group's songs appearing in TV shows, commercials and winning an MTV Video Award in 2009, Matt & Kim have never forgotten their DIY roots and it shows in how the two write and present their music. We had the opportunity to speak with Matt Johnson about his background in the New York underground scene, his connection with Rhinoceropolis and the postcard project he and Kim launched this past year. The duo are releasing their second LP, Sidewalks, on November 2.
You're known for being something of an adherent of the DIY ethic. What was your first exposure to that sort of thing, and how is it still important in what you do today?
That was what built our band. We started here in New York playing exclusively warehouse parties or art spaces or anything that like that. We never played venues in the beginning. I think a lot of what carved out our sound was playing parties more than shows.
What we wanted to bring along with us was having fun. There'd be so many bands that looked bored on stage and the crowd kind of stared at their feet and that kind of thing. That was totally not our intention. I think we came from playing events where people were having fun. People dancing and not caring.
Was Todd Patrick at all instrumental in bringing your band to the attention of wider audiences?
For sure. We would go to a lot of shows he would put on in New York. We had a lot of friends in bands and our first show was a show that Todd P put on. Our next consecutive hundred shows or so were shows Todd P had put on.
We didn't have intentions of becoming a formal band. It just sort of happened because we kept getting asked to play music. A step deeper, he essentially named us, because when we played our first show, we could not think of a name, so he put us on the flier as our name. Whoomp, there it is.
A lot of people equate New York artists, accurately or not, with a kind of jaded, ironic distance, but your band is the opposite of that. What fuels your joyful exuberance as a songwriter and live performer? I think it's Kim and I's general outlook just as people. We're very honest on stage with the music we play. We play music that is what we'd want to hear, we play the types of shows we'd want to go to, and on stage, we're very much ourselves. We're excited to play and we show it.
There are so many bands that you can tell look at themselves in a full-length mirror in the morning and put their guitar on and say, "This is the look for the stage." We don't think about any of that. All we do is embarrass ourselves and whatnot.
On your early tours did you primarily book shows at DIY spaces? How did you find out about those types of places out of town?
It's all just through contacts. We had friends who had toured on the DIY circuit, and Kim would hit them up for emails. Kim set up all our first tours. Then she'd ask around among those people if they knew people in other towns. I don't even know how she did it; it was just through friends of friends and that sort of thing. You're in Denver, right? We played Rhinoceropolis a couple of times and that was always a blast, just hanging out.
At your last show in Denver, you gave a shout out to Rhinocerpolis. Why that place in particular?
The first two times in Denver, I think, we played there. Somewhere they'll take you in before any of the clubs will take a chance on you. They help build you there, and I thank them for how they helped us. I couldn't believe we were playing at the Bluebird on our last tour and having it sold out. We'd played that place as a support band the year before.
I remember once we showed up there to play with Dan Deacon. Just imagine where that show would be put today. I remember it was great and super fun, but it was no moderately small crowd on a Sunday night. Today if that show happened, it would probably have to be a larger spot.
That postcard idea is fantastic. What lead to you actually following through with such a thing?
We gave that some thought because we'd done postcards in the past of just cards about our new album coming, and at festivals, people, different members of the street team from our record label, passed them out. They seemed so expendable, and a million of them are in the dirt. It seemed so wasteful. So we thought about what we could do to make it an interactive process. Between Kim and myself and a couple of people at the record label, we brainstormed about that and one thing lead to another.
I remembered -- and part of that came from, a book called Fucked Up + Photocopied full of old punk rock posters -- there was one for, I believe it was in that book, there was a poster in that book for Minor Threat that invited you to "draw in Ian's hair," because he was always shaved bald.
I remember seeing that poster and thinking it was such a great idea. The idea of drawing Matt & Kim came from that, and we put it on the website and gave it some sort of interactivity.
When Kim wrote that she loved getting mail, that's no joke. She's obsessed with getting stuff in the mail. Not that it comes to our place, but we'll go to the record label and check them all out. The physical medium is definitely fun. With so much emailing going on today -- I definitely approve of that, because of less paper and all that stuff -- but it is really fun to get something that people drew and wrote out by hand.
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