Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino live together, record music together (he plays keys, she plays drums), and work together onstage to whip crowds into a sweaty, disoriented mess. Matt & Kim’s new album, Grand, is named for a Brooklyn street that’s equal parts grit and post-millennial polish—fitting for an album that veers from melodic introspection to spastic synth freak-outs. Decider chatted with Johnson just before he and Schifino left Brooklyn to support Cut Copy on its national tour, which makes a stop at Stubb's tomorrow night.
Decider: How long have you and Kim been playing music together?
Matt Johnson: I think like, three years. The timeline is a little confusing, but that seems about right. I’ll think we were somewhere a year ago or two years ago, and we were actually there three weeks ago. When you tour it’s kind of like every day is a Friday night, because every day you’re essentially going out and you’re at a bar of club or whatever. It’s like Lost.
D: Brooklyn is overflowing with bands. It seems like it could feel that way at home, too.
MJ: It’s true. The scene is so saturated.
D: Does having so many other bands around make for a better environment?
MJ: Just in the complex that I practice in, there are probably 200 bands. There’s going to be some decent acts. Also having people around me that do cool shit, whether it’s in music or film or writing or photography or any of this, it just makes me want to do rad shit, you know? People think if they’re not part of sports they’re not really competitive, but it’s like, “You’re doing cool shit! I could be doing cool shit!” That competitive nature makes you step up the game. That’s one theory I have. The other one is that playing in Brooklyn, the demographic of people who come out to your shows could write about you and spread the word. We hosted a show on MTV early on, probably just because one of their employees saw us when they were getting wasted at some party and said, “Those guys are cool—they can host Subterranean. They’re just across the river. They’ve probably got nothing else going on.”
D: At the same time, do you think there’s a downside to having bands build buzz so fast?
MJ: Totally. I think that was one of the real benefits of making our first album kind of mediocre. People would be like, “I really like their live show,” and other people would be like, “But I don’t really get their album.” I really like the idea of things moving gradually. As a band, even more than whatever, you need to have this feeling of moving forward. If you go back to a town you’ve played and you play a smaller show than before, it breaks your heart. Meanwhile, if you start off and you do everything slowly, even the little things like having another 50 people at your show is a success.
D: You’re on tour often, just you and Kim. Has your musical relationship become a vital part of your non-musical, day-to-day relationship?
MJ: Totally—what the hell else do we have to talk about? We invest so much of our life into this band. When your life is all encompassed by something, that’s what you talk about. We just bore the shit out of each other because we’re so involved with it. When we play a crap show, we’re both bummed out at the same time, which is nice. Or if we have some sort of success, we’re both excited together. I think what we’re getting to do mutually is really helpful.
D: What happens when you’re recording, and you want one thing and Kim wants something else?
MJ: That is actually the motherfucker, because we have no tiebreaker. It’s one against the other. At a certain point, we’d take turns giving in: One of us would give in on one thing and the other would give in on the next thing. We’ll debate it and talk about it and see what comes up with one answer being more reasonable than the other. But when it’s at a total gridlock it’s like, “Is it your turn to cave or is it mine?” We’ll work it out. I mean, we’re together 99.9 percent of the day. We have one cell phone that we share and it’s never a problem. Even though in theory we should just totally hate each other by now, somehow we still get along. Freaking magic.