Matt & Kim

Matt & Kim

The Brooklyn duo prepare to bare themselves in Japan


Originally published on on July 2010

Courtesy of Smash

Whether it’s getting naked in Times Square for a music video or putting the actual address of their apartment on their album cover, Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino keep nothing hidden.

The video for “Lessons Learned” off last year’s Grand shows them disrobing, item by item, in front of bemused passersby before New York’s finest eventually catch up with them. Which leads to the question: are the Brooklyn duo exhibitionists?

“We’re just very open,” Johnson says with a chuckle down the line from Amsterdam, where the duo are in town for a festival. “We’re pretty much an open book and want to be humans, as opposed to some weird thing behind a wall.”

“In art and music, the things I like best are people who take what they do very seriously, but don’t take themselves very seriously,” he expands. “If you play because you are letting something out and are super angry, let that show. Kim and I play because we like it. We love to do it and let it show. With art, people get very conservative, but there is plenty of room for humor. If you are very sterile and difficult to judge, then that’s the safest place. Which is rarely the best place.”

Matt & Kim’s unadorned, keyboard-and-drums synth-pop is music for the age of Facebook and reality TV. But unlike the manufactured romances of the latter, the Brooklyn pair’s music offers very little insight into the emotions that bind them together.

“It doesn’t come out at all,” Johnson grants. “No one needs to write another love song. That’s been taken care of in the last 50 years. So we’ve never written a song about relationships. Also, we get put into a ‘cute’ category quite a bit, and we try to curb that. We’re going to be ourselves—Kim’s still going to smile when she drums—but we try to counteract that with music videos with a lot of fake blood or stripping or something.”

Instead of testaments to love, their lyrics tend to be about the battle of a pair of art-students-cum-rockers to survive New York and find their way in the world. Forming in 2004 when Johnson and Schifino were both at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Matt & Kim made their first big splash with “Daylight,” an amazingly hummable song about their disorganized but hopeful lives that became last year’s summer anthem for hip New Yorkers.

The Brooklyn pair then reached a whole new level of prominence when R&B siren Erykah Badu imitated the “Lessons Learned” video for her controversial “Window Seat” vid, in which she disrobes along the route taken by John F. Kennedy before his assassination in Dallas.

“Erykah called the day she was shooting it, and my first instinct—because I like and respect her as an artist—was to be flattered,” Johnson says. “When I thought of the idea for the ‘Lessons Learned’ video, it was more than for shock value. We talked about that and she explained why she wanted to do it, and I realized it was above shock value as well. In the end, it was a very positive experience, and she put the credit ‘Dedicated to Matt & Kim’ right at the beginning of the video, which brought more attention to us.”

So were there any, um, lessons learned from “Lessons Learned”? “The one lesson I think we learned was that Kim really didn’t want to do that video, but I kept saying it’s going to be great, and finally she said OK, and now she has to listen to everything I say,” Johnson says with a laugh. “But no, it was one more step toward her trusting my dumb ideas.”

Despite their recent fame, Johnson and Schifino still inhabit the tiny Grand Street walkup that they started out in. “We still live there and battle mold and rat mites,” Johnson sighs. “We’ve been on the real estate hunt in Brooklyn, but we’re home so rarely it’s difficult to concentrate on it. Just this morning as we were leaving, Kim looked through the peephole in our door and saw two people having sex in the hallway. We said to each other, ‘We’ve just got to leave this building—we can’t bear it anymore.’”

For their Japan debut at Fuji Rock, Matt & Kim have been handed the job of waking up the crowd with the opening Sunday morning slot at the White Stage. They are also booked Friday night for the tiny Naeba Shokudo stage, and they’ll play one more, unannounced slot. Whichever the stage, one suspects their bracing, upbeat dance-punk will go down a charm.

“We’re doing one large stage gig and two elsewhere,” says a game Johnson. “I haven’t heard the details, but the more the merrier.”

Matt & Kim play Fuji Rock Festival ‘10
Three-day fest with Muse, Roxy Music, Massive Attack, Vampire Weekend, Buffalo Daughter and others. July 30-Aug 1, 11am, ¥16,800 (one-day pass)/¥39,800 (three-day pass). Naeba Ski Resort.