The shuffler: Matt Johnson, singer-keyboardist of New York boyfriend/girlfriend dance-rock duo Matt And Kim. He and Kim Schifino met while attending Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, and entered the limelight via high-energy DIY warehouse parties, a series of bold and occasionally violent videos, and the seemingly indefatigable enthusiasm (see Kim Schifino constantly beaming from behind her drums) that buoys Matt And Kim’s most recent album, Grand, to surprising heights.
The A.V. Club: So we’re using Kim’s iPod?
Matt Johnson: Kim wouldn’t let me use my iPod. She was afraid things that are too wussy would come up. She said, “It has to be my iPod.” So I said, “Then why don’t you do the interview?” And she’s like, “Because I don’t talk on the phone.” We have this thing: She does in-person interviews, and I do the phoners. So that’s the position I’m in.
AVC: So is it safe to assume her musical collection is considerably tougher than yours?
MJ: We’ll see. We have similar stuff, except she doesn’t like anything slow. And with her, “slow” doesn’t mean slow; “slow” means anything mid-tempo and below. [Another voice is audible in the background.]
AVC: Is that Kim?
MJ: Yeah, she’s sitting right next to me. [Laughs.] Okay. Here we go…
The Death Set, “Negative Thinking”
MJ: This is such a fucking awesome song—I’m glad that was the first to come up. We did a small tour with them where Colt 45 was the sponsor, and… Well, you have a certain type of tour when Colt 45 is involved. The crowd is exceptionally rowdy, and as a band, you do exceptionally regrettable things. The Death Set were one of the best possible bands to do that with, although things got slightly destructive in the end. We had also gotten a sponsorship from a certain equipment dealer who gave us brand new gear for all these shows, which is the worst thing to have at a Colt 45 event. The beer was free, so people were just swinging full cans over their heads, getting malt liquor over all these fresh-out-of-the-box cabinets. I don’t know how many tens of thousands of dollars in damage they claimed we had done at the end of these five shows, but it wasn’t necessarily “we” that did it… it was more the event.
Outkast, “My Favorite Things”
MJ: I remember buying this album, The Love Below, but not liking it top to bottom. There were certain songs, but… Actually, I don’t remember anything about it other than “Hey Ya!” I consider that song in the same category as Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”—they break down all sorts of genre boundaries. You can hear them at the grocery store or in the club. Your parents liked them; the grandkids liked them. So, yes, certain breakthroughs were made on The Love Below, but I think Andre 3000 and Big Boi balance each other out when they work together.
Microphones, “I Felt Your Shape”
MJ: Whoa. A slower song. But I don’t remember what it sounds like.
AVC: You don’t have headphones handy?
MJ: Do we have any headphones, Kim? [Pauses.] Let me just hear a second of this song… I’m sure I’ll recognize it. [Listens.] Oh! This is a great song! I actually have a specific memory that goes along with this one. I grew up in Southern Vermont, in this little town called Jacksonville—there were literally three cow pastures around my house. And when I first started branching out to find people of common interest—I was into punk rock at the time—I’d go to Brattleboro, the third largest town in Vermont, which is still quite small. I’d drive there after school every day, about half an hour down dirt roads through canopied trees. And I have this memory of, years later, driving on that same path with Kim, around the same time of day, the sun really low coming through the trees, and listening to this song, which seemed to embody that whole scene.
AVC: That seems like the way Phil Elverum is meant to be heard.
MJ: I’ve had some drives where we’re going through Arizona, through some flat, wide-open space, and it makes sense there, too. It’s this cinematic, automatically nostalgic feel.
Ben Weasel, “Only In November”
MJ: I was huge on Screeching Weasel in my teenage years. I was in a band that played so many Screeching Weasel covers, we should have been called Weeching Screasel. This album, These Ones Are Bitter, is pretty recent—it’s by Ben Weasel, the band’s singer—but it’s so good. It’s everything it always was. Screeching Weasel seemed to come about under the operating principle of, “The Ramones didn’t write enough songs, so we just need to start where they left off,” but incorporating a nasally pop-punk voice.
AVC: According to Wikipedia, the backing band on this includes members of Alkaline Trio and All-American Rejects.
MJ: Really? Wow. That’s a pop-punk all-star band right there.
AVC: Do you and Kim nurture a little love for the pop-punk?
MJ: Oh, definitely. We considered what made the Matt & Kim sound to be our mutual love for pop-punk and hip-hop, breaking down the beat and melodies the way hip-hop does, and adding in the energy and poppiness of pop-punk. Yeah, Kim has been known to listen to the Saves The Day discography in a single listen. She was going to all those early 2000s pop-punk shows even though she was far older than the general audience.
Flogging Molly, “(No More) Paddy’s Lament”
MJ: This one I know nothing about. [To Kim.] You’re gonna have to talk about this. Here’s Kim. This is different for her. She really hates the phone.
Kim Schifino: Okay, so I guess this is even before we started dating, but eight or nine years ago, Flogging Molly was the Monday-night band at The Continental [in New York] for a month. They were free shows, so we went every single night that they were in town, and Matt Hensley, the accordion player, is also a skateboarder who me and my friends really liked. Basically, we’d get really drunk and scream, over and over, “Matt Hensley, King Of The One-Footer!” And now, being in a band, I realize how fucking annoying we were. If I was onstage, I would have hated us, but he was really nice and even drank beers with us after. So that’s my Flogging Molly story. Now I’m giving it back to Matt.
MJ: That would totally drive me insane. We’ve had similar experiences that made me completely hate the show we were playing. Good work, Kim. Next.
Belle And Sebastian, “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”
MJ: We were on tour in London—and Europe can be really exhausting for us, because it’s not very familiar to us—staying at a friend’s place, and I remember waking up to them making breakfast and listening to this song on some little shitty speakers. It was a very pleasant way to start the day. Such a good song.
AVC: Indeed, though it’s about as “wussy” as they come.
MJ: This really isn’t panning out for Kim. I would say a good 70 percent of what’s on this iPod is Top 40 hip-hop, but somehow we haven’t heard any of it. But Kim and I both agree on Belle And Sebastian when we have to have a little chill time.
KS: [Away from the phone.] That’s actually the one slow thing that I like.
AVC: What appeals to you about Belle And Sebastian? Lyrics? Mood?
MJ: Well, I’ve never been someone who listens to lyrics. I hear composition, beat, and melody, but I don’t hear the words. I see music in a very visual way, and Belle And Sebastian fit into that. It’s cinematic music, and the feeling can go either way: If you’re in a good mood, it can be uplifting; if you’re feeling shitty, it can bring you down.
Jay-Z, “Change Clothes” (Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album version)
MJ: I actually haven’t really heard much of The Grey Album, but I love The Black Album. [Pauses to listen.] It’s funny with the guitar in there. Kim and I are both huge Jay-Z fans. For Kim’s birthday, I bought her tickets for Beyoncé at Madison Square Garden. Jay-Z made a cameo and the place went fucking nuts, myself included, but we realized that we’ve got to step up our stage game. Beyoncé was doing acrobatics, swinging from ropes a hundred feet over the crowd. We might need to step up our wardrobe changes as well, upward of like, 10 in one show. Anyway, a lot of hip-hop albums are made so fucking long, but I can listen to The Black Album first song to last song, and “Change Clothes” is an exceptionally good one. I’m a big fan of The Neptunes’ work. And Danger Mouse’s too, obviously.
Pixies, “Letter To Memphis”
MJ: I’ve never listened to much Pixies. Kim, you know this one?
KS: Hi. It’s me again. So I actually don’t know this album [Trompe Le Monde], but I’ve got a story about Surfer Rosa. To get into art school, you have to do all these portfolio things, and I’d listen to that album on repeat while I was working, so anytime I hear the Pixies, I think of staying up all night in hopes of attending art school in New York. And, I think it’s on the second song, in the beginning of it, the guy shouts. Well, I used to think it was my roommates yelling my name. That song would come on and I would walk out into the living room like, “What do you guys want?” And they’d be like, “What are you talking about?” And I’d say, “Didn’t you guys just call me?” And they’d be like, “No.” It took a whole month for me to figure out that it was in the song.
AVC: That’s really funny. But you haven’t spent as much time with Trompe Le Monde?
KS: No. On this last Bacardi tour—and I hate admitting this, because I usually do buy all of our music—one of the tour managers for Major Lazer had this library of music and said, “If you don’t have this one, you’ve got to grab it.” So I did get some free music, but I swear I do buy. I’m even like, “I don’t think Beyoncé needs my money, but I’m still gonna buy it.” The thing is, we listen to music all the time while we’re on tour, and even though I’ve got about four days’ worth on my iPod, you burn through it pretty quickly.
Dr. Dre, “It’s You I Adore (Sunshine)” (featuring Snoop Dogg)
MJ: I don’t even know this song. It’s off of Look Out For Detox. I’ve got nothing.
AVC: Do you want to listen, see if it inspires you?
MJ: Sure. [Pauses.] It’s pretty smooth—starts off with a Snoop Dogg dedication. I remember, like four years ago, I worked at a place called Hello World Communications—basically a rental house for film stuff, where I just did random shit—and I went as head of walkie-talkies to this private event Snoop Dogg was playing. He had so much entourage, they had to get a couple extra backstage rooms to fit everybody in. That’s how Kim and I have to start rolling. Let it be known.
AVC: Intro talk at the beginnings of your songs might be a good route. If you were going to dedicate a track to somebody, who would it be?
MJ: Well, I think there’s only one obvious dedication: the person who shares my initials, M.J. Which has actually been freaking me out lately, all these “R.I.P M.J.” signs. Maybe I’ll go for the underdog: Farrah Fawcett. I don’t want to make a joke out of it, though. Whatever people might say about whatever things this man did or didn’t do, his death has really brought people together. I was walking through Williamsburg the day it happened, and everybody was chatting about it. People just want to get it off their chests. Kim and I were walking past some guy we didn’t know, and he was like, “Did you hear Michael Jackson just died?” They just need to let it out.
T.I., “Undertaker” (featuring Young Dro and Young Buck)
MJ: This has been my favorite album since it came out in, what, 2005?
AVC: 2006, I think. What about it do you like so much?
MJ: All of these songs have this energy—it’s almost a punk-rock energy. I guess this track is a little smoother, but this is another album that’s totally listenable from beginning to end. There’s a lot of production from Swizz Beatz, who Kim and I both love. Last year, Diesel had its 30th anniversary party here in New York, on a pier in Brooklyn, and they had all these guest artists. Kim and I were side-stage because one of our friends was DJing for M.I.A. that day, and fucking T.I. shows up to do a guest appearance. I’ve never seen Kim fan out so hard. I thought she was going to scream like it’s The Beatles. He came over to where we were standing between the songs, and she was like, [Whispers.] “I can’t look at him.”
AVC: Speaking of guest rapping, would you guys ever bring in a rapper to contribute a verse?
MJ: Oh, for sure. We definitely want to. I think it’s strange that there isn’t more collaboration in rock. It’s good to get a chance to see a new direction your music could take. We’ve recently had some remixes done that had guest MCs on them. I thought that was really great. I’d definitely like to stir things up a little.
AVC: What about doing production for someone else’s record?
MJ: As I mentioned before, lyrics aren’t really my thing. I don’t usually notice them in songs, and they’re so hard for me to write. I’m not a singer naturally, at all. I’m a singer by default, and I’m no poet. But I’m good at beat, melody, and composition, and yeah, I’d love for something like that to work out. Then again, we have hardly enough time to write songs for ourselves.
AVC: Because you’re on the road so much?
MJ: Yeah. We put this album out five or six months ago, and it’s just hitting its sales stride, which is crazy. Usually that happens in the beginning, but we just went into the Billboard charts, like, last week. If we want an album out by next summer, we have to start working on it now.