Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim are known for their infectiously energetic shows and their contagious smiles. Providing an upbeat sound with just keys and catchy drum lines, they've won over just about everyone. Did we mention their "cuteness" appeal?
The couple just released their second album, Grand, named after the street on which they live in an 8-foot wide railroad style apartment in Williamsburg, and are now prepping to play an already sold-out show at Terminal 5 on March 21st. We caught up with Matt as he was driving from New York to Baltimore on the beginning of their US tour, and he told us about playing in warehouses, the need to do "rad shit" and getting shown guns in Detroit.
How did you meet Kim and how did that turn into what it is now? We met at Pratt essentially, we both went to school there. We met in 2003 I think, maybe. How many years ago was that now? Like five? We met there and we were together for years before we played any music together. We had worked on a bunch of stuff together, on silk screen stuff and film stuff that I was working on at school and other art-related things. We worked pretty well together, you know. One of the hardest things about a band is finding people you can spend so much time with, that are on the same page and not have everyone disagree about things. Kim was just trying to learn how to play drums and I was just trying to learn how to play the keyboard and then we decided to try to do it together. A friend heard that we were playing music in our bedroom and made us play this show with them in an art gallery in Queens in the basement. We played three songs, completely terrified. We didn't have a name, they just listed us as our names. We were listed as Kimberly and Matthew.
What was the transition like, going from underground parties to the major for-profit venues? I remember we were nervous, first of all, when we were first going into playing venues and stuff. We always played parties, with a BYOB sort of vibe. And we were concerned about making sure the venues still have that sort of party vibe. Not have that sort of sterile, super bright lights on the band, like, "We're the band, you're the audience," rather than how we had been doing, which is kind of everyone was there together to have fun and stuff like that. So you know, we were really nervous about that.
But we made sure to keep the prices as low as they were in the more DIY shows, and to make sure to choose other bands that we liked and that we thought were part of the right vibe, not just bands because the venue said this would bring the most people. And even as far as talking to the bouncers beforehand. People are going to dance and stage dive and I don't want anyone getting dragged down or kicked out or things like that; that's just what you gotta expect with the shows. Essentially when we started doing it, it seemed we were able to keep the same vibe and have a place where the shows wouldn't get shut down and the shows would be safer.
As you said, your live performances have that party vibe, but you also have a music video that was considered too violent to be played in the US. What was the idea behind the video for "5k"? I remember when my friend Colin pitched that video idea to us, he was like, "Okay just picture this, picture this; like Kim's arms are growing long and then you take out a knife and you cut her arms off." When he first said that to us, it was like, we're not cool, ya know. But the more I thought about it... you know we try to combat the cute categories in some way. Like we always get put into that category. While we're still going to be who we are, Kim's always going to smile when we play and stuff like that, but we try not to put it in a setting of like swing sets and puppy dogs, maybe put some gratuitous fake blood in there, try to like balance it out. After thinking about it for awhile we were like, "Aw man, that's perfect."
How do you think your new album "Grand" differs from your earlier stuff? We went in with a sort of different intention. With our first album, our first recorded album, we just went in to record our songs we've been playing live, as we play them live. We just both sat up together in a room and banged them out in a week. Just kept saying, "Good enough." With this new album we wanted to write an album and record an album with songs that were meant to be on an album, rather than live songs that were recorded. We wanted to make songs that were meant to be on an album and then worry about how to change those into live songs afterwords, if that makes any sense. There are different things that make, in my mind, a good live song or a good recorded song. The good live songs have to be really stripped down to simple beats and simple melodies and you know, there's so much other stuff going around; it's loud, there are tons of people, it's hot, you're drunk, you're whatever. You've got to filter out all other stuff and that's something we cling on to, through all that. But when you listen to an album you need things you notice the 30th time you listen to the album. So we added a lot more details and we had a lot more freedom and spent a lot more time and just got to do whatever the hell we wanted.
Are there any shows that particularly stick out in your memory for any reason that you've played? It's hard to pinpoint any favorites but some of the weird things, some of the weirder ones stand out. Like once we played outside of Boston at an art camp for like eight to 14-year-olds or 12 or 13, I don't know, but young kids. They would have an artist come in and speak to them after lunch. We were booked by a friend who taught there. Playing to 300 screaming prepubescent voices is something that can only be matched with what Hanson must have felt when they played. It was definitely a memorable experience. And then afterward being interviewed by someone who's like three and a half feet tall; just little, tiny kids with like a speech impediment. Who I felt for. When I was that age I had a really strong speech impediment. I couldn't really say R's or L's basically, they turned into W's, like, "I weally wike it," that kind of thing. I had to go to speech class for years and I hated it, I absolutely hated it. But now I'm glad I had that done.
Do you have any other weird or memorable interactions with your fans, maybe from your older crowd? There are so many things it's hard. It's funny I say this because he's a really good friend of ours, he goes on tour with us now. Our friend Jay, now, who we didn't know at the time, but I remember, I still for some reason have a picture of this; him at one of our shows with a giant sign that just said, "I want you inside of me." It's just funny that in the end he's come on tour with us and shot a documentary with us but before we knew him that was one of our first interactions and we weren't totally scared away!
What was the first concert you remember growing up?
I think the first that I really went to, I think it was back in the days of this third-wave of ska, I don't know whichever wave it was ,but when I was maybe like thirteen or something like that. I remember going out in Vermont, where I grew up, seeing a ska show there. I have friends whose parents took them to see Bruce Springsteen, things like that. I've still never been to a big stadium show like ever in my life. I'm so curious to what it would be like.
If you could go to one, who would you like to see? I've watched Fade to Black plenty of times. I would have loved to be at that, see Jay-Z at one of the Madison Square Garden shows. I just wonder what that experience is like, you're so far away from everyone. Cause Kim and I have played some festivals where it's come to that, but it's still a different thing, like Lollapalooza or whatever and just being at a stadium with Bruce Springsteen.
What would you say is some of the inspiration for your music? I think generally what I'm inspired by lately is I find that being in New York as you are right now, when there's people around you, like your friends are doing rad shit, like whether it's in photography or film or music or writing or you know, whatever. If I have friends who do rad shit it just feels like I should be doing more rad shit. It doesn't matter if it's in music, I think it's this weird... I think everyone has a little bit of a competitive nature in them, in a healthy way like, "Man, they're doing cool stuff? I should be doing cool stuff!" I think you go to some places where it's just like a total hang out, people aren't really like doing things. There are some places that are way more oriented. I had a friend who had to leave Chicago because a group of his friends... we go there it's so much fun, like 50 people go to the nickel arcade. I just couldn't not be just hanging out all the time. I just couldn't get anything done. But I feel New York is a place not to really think about shit to do but a place to get shit done.
So you're on tour now, what's it like to be away from New York for so long? We just left today for six weeks on the road, so right now I'm really excited to be eating and going out and about and I think that's just one of those things. I think home is always a great place to leave and get back to. You stop appreciating anywhere after a while. You're excited to leave and then when it's time to come back you have a whole new perspective. For Kim and I, all we are doing is leaving home and coming back all the time. Every time we see our friends it's like saying, "welcome home" and, "have a nice trip," in the same sentence.
What's the best thing about living in New York? It's weird only because I didn't grow up in New York, I grew up in Vermont and went to school in Brooklyn and Kim grew up in Rhode Island and went to school in Brooklyn as well. At this point, after everywhere we've gone I can't see moving anywhere else, even though we'll go somewhere down south and meet someone that pays less than I do in rent and has a veritable mansion or something. And back in New York I just want to stay in, especially when you're on tour you're going out pretty much every single night. So I think it's great to have people really inspiring, people who are doing rad shit. What makes the difference with any town is basically the people you know there. Every city is kind of the same to me, the only cities I look forward to visiting are the cities where I look forward to visiting people who live there. At this point, it's the people in New York that I really like, that's my favorite part.
Would you change anything about NY? Well of course the housing. I live in kind of like a hallway, a railroad apartment that's eight feet wide. I would love to have better housing opportunities so people don't have to live in little boxes but then again that's sort of what puts the energy on; everyone kind of stacked on top of each othe, just making it happen through the thick and the thin. You go places where people can spread out for miles and the time passes without even thinking about it. There's always things people can complain about. You know I live in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg and everyone complains about all the condos coming up and things like that and yeah, it's annoying. We used to watch the fireworks from my friend's rooftop on Kent every summer and now they built three gigantic condos right in front of his building like the episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns builds that big thing to block out the sun. And as much as you can complain about it, you go to a city like Detroit that's having a hard time financially and it's way more depressing to have people leaving their home or leaving the town than having people coming to it. At least that's something positive, you know. Even some of the architecture leaves something to be desired.
Yeah, I'm actually from Detroit originally. I have friends from Detroit and we go there. At first we were nervous to be there because some of the stories we had heard. And then I went there and I had a gun shown to me right outside the venue as I was doing an interview on the phone and I was like, "Can you hold on a second? Someone is showing a gun to me right now."
Back to New York, do you have a favorite venue or best place to play a show? I'd have to say we probably played our first hundred shows in New York, shows Todd P had booked at whatever random art space or warehouse and things like that, so while everything might not have been perfect—the sound probably never great, the ventilation always below par and this and that—it was always unique and memorable. People see so many shows at venues they tend to become un-unique. Once Kim and I did a show with Todd at a warehouse in Bushwick that was initially set to be at a place above this auto parts store. And then the day of the show, we found out that apparently there was a sweatshop above the auto parts store. They couldn't do anything about it, when we stepped in to move stuff in to do the show there were like all these sewing tables and they were like, "Sorry, we forgot." A few hours before the show was supposed to start we had to find a new place and we ended up finding this pizza place that was getting made that was connected to a warehouse full of bricks and rubble and crap and no one was actually permitted to be there. The people building the pizza place had been using it as a workshop. Basically they ended up clearing this place out, going in, trying to get a couple porta potties and then spreading the word and they had to stop letting people in at like 650 people, at this bizarre warehouse in Bushwick where no one has a right to be there. It's probably what a rave was back in the early 90's. I met people in Australia who told me about seeing us at that show and how memorable it was and things like that. People just getting texts like, "Oh, I heard it moved here." It's things like that where memories can be created that way.
Do you have a favorite cheap eat in the city? My favorite is a place called Grace Kitchen which is a cheap Chinese food restaurant that's on Myrtle and Hall in Clinton Hill. It's the kind of place where it's all fluorescent lights and the menu is pictures of the food with poor lighting, and there's just like a sort of glass barrier between you and them and you think it's going to be awful Chinese food, but they have this sesame tofu there that Kim and I will go all the way over there for. It just can't be beat. I can't find anything that matches it.
Have you had any only in New York moments? It's funny 'cause I was just talking to Nick about this. One day Nick, who did our video for "Yeah, Yeah" threw a show in the exact center of the Williamsburg Bridge. He brought some car batteries up there and some speakers and Ninja Sonic and Japanther played right under two walkways that were connected by a wide walkway right in the center of the Williamsburg Bridge. I just remember being up there, it was kind of fall, I just had a sweatshirt on. There were a hundred to two hundred people in the middle of the bridge and just looking off and seeing the skyline and having Japanther playing music there... these are the things that can only happen right here, right now. The cops did come and bust it and Nick had to go to jail, but it was more than worth it.