Years ago Brooklyn made the small transition from a giant crime scene to a trendy hipster jungle. It was here that two lost arts students were asked to headline a party with instruments they couldn’t play and songs they hadn’t written.
Moving ahead a few years the duo previously known as Kim & Matt, yet now known as Matt & Kim, are eagerly greeted by over-enthusiastic fans insisting they were the sound of their New York summer.
Currently touring the world in celebration of the release of their sophomore album, Grand, I got Matt Johnson on the phone to find out what’s happening in poptastic duo’s world.
When we spoke Matt had just stepped off his flight to Australia, a bit tender from a recent back injury. After a quick crack of a vertebrae here and a pop of the spinal column there, we began by discussing the Brooklyn arts and music scene, the nursing grounds where the band was born and raised.
“I think it was somewhere where we just found a lot of inspiration, and not just the music scene,” says Matt.
“At first I felt kinda lost, as in unsure of where I belonged. I grew up in Vermont and was schooled in New York and didn’t know what my place was until I stumbled upon the Brooklyn’s DIY music scene. This is where I felt at home. People around me were doing rad shit. People working in film, art and photography, it inspires you to do more.”
From there Matt & Kim hit the net in search of a fan-base. After they began documenting their gigs and personal lives on a variety of social networking sites, more and more New Yorkers started showing up to their gigs. In fact Matt & Kim are a band that can attribute their international popularity almost entirely to online media written and supplied by themselves.
“It worked out great because we got to do everything how we wanted to do it. We just always did what we always did and we controlled everything. We banked on word of mouth for so long and when people get to choose themselves they feel more connected. On the other hand people also get upset when you put your song in a TV commercial because they felt it was their thing. Music is very personal.”
After using the “quick, that’s good enough, move along” philosophy for their debut record, Matt wanted things to change for Grand. This time the album had to be well-rounded and slick.
“We were looking forward to writing and fleshing out this album. It was such a pain in the ass. We had set aside six weeks to work on it and after that time it still wasn’t done. We were working in between tours non stop to get it finished in the end. Even though people say that albums are dead and people just download songs or put them on shuffle or whatever it was really important to us to create an album that stood on its own as a piece of music as opposed to just a collection of songs.”
“We Were Looking Forward to Writing and Fleshing out This Album. It Was Such a Pain in the Ass. We Had Set Aside Six Weeks to Work on It and After That Time It Still Wasn’t Done.”
Matt & Kim don’t really sound the way you’d expect considering they emerged from the Brooklyn underground. Having risen to prominence in a scene that for so long has been overrun by a postmodern malaise, where does all of this chirpy music come from?
“Writing songs is two different things.” Matt explains. “There’s writing a beat and melody and writing lyrics. We just write music from what we are inspired by without any preconceived notion of what we want the song to be. The lyrics are a different thing. When we were doing Grand we would figure out everything and start off using free word association until it formed with a personal meaning in a more abstract way.”
The band’s creative use of keyboards to produce a variety of differing sounds is what fuels their unique take on pop, ensuring each of their songs bear the pair’s vibrant and unique sonic signature. “When we started, Matt & Kim was gonna be whatever Matt and Kim played. Keyboards give a certain freedom. You can write similar songs on different instruments but for instance using the same chord progression on a keyboard rather than a guitar gives it a new life.”
As an album, Grand makes pop cool again without making you feel like you sold your soul to Billy Ray Cyrus. Songs such as Daylight, with their minimalist melodies and happy go lucky lyrics, are certain to make you cancel your repeat of Prozac and hi-five the guy that just spilt beer all over your nerd-chic blazer.
Grand is now out through Popfenzy so have a listen and make sure that if you see them around you yell out “Hey! Matt & Kim!” now that we are on a first name basis and all.