Brooklyn-based indie darlings Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino may be known for their dance-punk sound, but their heart lies with hip hop. Although the duo rocks out in a variety of genres, Matt and Kim (as they’re known) draw some of their main inspiration from Top 40 artists like T.I. along with mfriends and fellow musicians who “do rad things.”
Matt (keyboard/vocals) and Kim (drums/vocals) are known for their animated performance style. Before attracting a large following, they performed in warehouses throughout Brooklyn. Now, after releasing their second full-length album, “Grand,” they’re going on tour with techno sensation Cut Copy.
Last week, I talked with Matt on the phone about the duo’s love for Wes band MGMT, their plans for next year and Kim’s quarter collection.
Steph Freitag: How did you and Kim meet?
Matt Johnson: We met at Pratt, the college that Kim and I went to – the small arts school here in Brooklyn. Kim gave me her number three times and I kept losing it. I was intimidated by her tattoos and because she was older.
SF: Your second album “Grand” was just released. Do you think your sound has evolved since “Matt and Kim-2006”? How do the two albums compare?
MJ: The sound has definitely evolved. When we recorded the self-titled, we just recorded songs how we played them live, but when we did “Grand,” we recorded an album to make the best-recorded album we could, rather than just recording live songs.
SF: What are your favorite lyrics off the new album?
MJ: I think in short, we had a really bizarre form of writing lyrics, these one-sentence lines that had nothing to do with each other. There’s one song, “Lesson Learned,” [that has the lyrics] “Take old things that cannot stick.” For some reason that really resonated with me.
SF: Are you excited for your tour with Cut Copy?
MJ: We’re excited about the tour. We hadn’t known a lot about them beforehand, and when we were offered the tour we watched them on Youtube and saw videos of them dance and it was similar to us, except in more a of a mosh-pitting way.
SF: What’s your favorite part of going on tour?
MJ: I think my favorite part – there’s a certain amount of relaxation on tour that I feel. Like most people don’t understand – your day is totally laid out, you wake up, drive for a while, soundcheck, eat dinner, play a show, go back to the hotel. I like the routine of being on the road.
SF: How would you describe your sound?
MJ: We were lucky enough that people who are into all different types of music—punk rock, hip hop, electro-dance music – still enjoyed our music. We didn’t have to pin ourselves into a genre, but we realized we would be somewhere in the dance-punk category.
SF: Who are your biggest influences?
MJ: I think our biggest influences are, in a non-musical sense, people we’re friends with who are just doing cool shit in art or music or film or writing. When someone else does something that I think is rad, it makes me want to do something rad. Surrounding yourself with people who are keeping it cushioned.
SF: When writing music, where do you get your inspiration?
MJ: The rad-shit factor as I just mentioned. Well also, I have a whole notebook of when I hear things in songs, the way a beat works—use spooky, wiggly synth sound, in the musical sense. In the lyrical sense, we have this really bizarre method – Kim will listen to a song and write down random thoughts and sentences and I will start putting them together.
SF: How would you describe the song-writing process, lyrically and melodically?
MJ: Melodically, even in just composition, we’ll always start with a beat. We will work with a beat that we find inspiring and I will probably go to my notebook and see what fits it best, and then Kim will take it and speed it up because she hates slow music and then we’ll go into the lyrics process. I guess that’s kind of the formula.
SF: What were your favorite albums of ’08?
MJ: Hmm…I really love the MGMT—they’re great. We had met those guys a little while back when they were working on their album—they knew our music because we had been playing music in Brooklyn for so long. I checked them out and their music was fucking awesome. TI’s “Paper Trail” album was really good too.
SF: What are your plans for the next year?
MJ: Non-stop traveling. Six weeks of travel in the US, Australia and Japan, Europe, summer festivals in the States and then in Europe. I’m trying to think of a method to work on music while traveling but I haven’t figured that out yet.
SF: If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?
MJ: Well, we’ve just been talking about collaborations, and that isn’t done enough in our genre. I really love stuff that Andre 3000 or Pharrell has worked on. I really think a lot of hip hop production is really unique and accessible. Those are people I would love to work with in a fictional, theoretical sort of way.
SF: If you had to listen to one song on repeat, what would you choose?
MJ: That’s something Kim does. I usually don’t, but – Kim can hear me doing this interview and she says TI’s “Bring Em Out.”
SF: Any last words?
MJ: Kim is trying to collect every Rhode Island quarter; she has scouts all around the country. She has several hundred so far, she only has a couple million more to go.