Matt and Kim Fight Cute, Fail Miserably
Matt and Kim put a coffee-stained envelope addressed to their Grand Street apartment on the cover of their first EP, To/From. But then, high school kids started mailing the Brooklyn couple unchaste letters—dirty fantasies involving them. Together. Intimately. "It was kind of creepy," admits Kim. Newer prints of the EP safely reroute correspondences to an ice-cream-truck depot blocks away, but such misguided adulation tells you two things about this drum-and-keys happy-rock duo: 1) Their home is a major motif, and 2) They are inseparable, even in inappropriate fiction.
Matt and Kim, the people, are Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino, two New England natives who studied at Pratt and met at a party. Matt and Kim, the band, are a party, an immensely likable clap-punk blast universally known for their boisterous live shows. Onstage, Matt sings, attacks keyboards, and narrates with the wild, rapturous glee of a lottery winner; Kim kicks the shit out of her drum set and smiles so adorably she makes babies jealous. If this strikes you as nauseating, you're just not acquainted. "We think we're really good at winning over people who aren't necessarily there to see us," Matt says. Case in point: At Lollapalooza 2007, they killed an unenviable first-set-of-the-day slot so handily that when Brazilian costume spectacle Cansei de Ser Sexy canceled at the last minute, Matt and Kim were asked to fill in as a main-stage closer.
Incongruously, the duo's self-titled 2006 full-length couldn't channel that magnetism. Full of pots-and-pans beats, overly enunciated verses, and robo-fart sequencers, Matt and Kim mostly functioned as a keepsake. "If you go to iTunes and read user comments, there're so many of them that are like, 'Oh, I like it, but you have to see them to get it,' " Matt says. "Which was kind of true." He and Kim are sitting at the kitchen table of their Williamsburg apartment, both in hoodies—hers red, his black with the Ramones crest—and eating pesto-and-olive pasta she's cooked. "I don't know what it is when we just sit down there and play that makes people get it. But we just wanted to make a recording that could stand on its own—no disclaimer."
Which brings us to Grand, an 11-song spectacular named after the street where they've lived for four and a half years, in a railroad flat near the endlessly whooshing BQE ("our ocean"). Shared with Matt's brother, Fletcher, it's a typical New York–specific feat of vertical storage and spatial economy: The couple's front bedroom is also a makeshift recording studio, merch storehouse, and office space. In the living room, the eight-feet-wide walls are so narrow that Matt can touch them simultaneously, outstretched with one fingertip and one toe. (Earlier, he tried to demonstrate with a violent arabesque, but got a butt cramp and crumpled to the floor, laughing.) There's a jellybean dispenser on the kitchen table, and a photo of Kim kissing Matt on the fridge.
Yes, it's like that. They share a bank account, a cell phone, and a career. Matt cuts Kim's hair. (There is a picture of this on their blog.) When Kim isn't at home, Matt sometimes sits on the couch and stares at the wall. (Fletcher says so.) They are relentlessly adorable, which Kim, too, finds disgusting: "If someone said to me, 'You should check out this band—they're really cute,' I would never go see a band like that." Alas, the invitations to headline Valentine's Day bills keep piling up—retch—but (thankfully) the answer's no. "We try to push away the 'cute' factor a lot, but it just keeps coming," Kim says, grinning so adorably you half-expect puppies and rainbows to explode out of her head.
Frankly, Williamsburg could use such genuine mascots in 2009. While the Edge—a heinous waterfront development of penthouses and roof decks still threatening to open despite the economic meltdown—still has an ad up half a block from the Music Hall of Williamsburg that reads "ROCK: INDIE BANDS + STONE COUNTERTOPS," our heroes spent last year laying down vocal tracks in their cozy bedroom, writing lyrics in McCarren Park, and mixing via a computer by the front window in between tours. So when it came time to name the release, there was only one choice. "Grand Street just kept coming up," says Matt. "I never even thought about that until someone asked me—as if I'd named it Matt and Kim's Awesome Album. But hell, I'm really proud of it. I might as well have named it Matt and Kim's Awesome Album."
That would've been both true and completely in character. Grand is a collection of radiant, life-affirming mini-anthems about sleeping late, being excited, and running around Brooklyn. "Spare Change," a minute-plus clapping-game jingle, nicely sums up the overall tone: "Wild and free/You've got no place to be." So does this exuberant stanza from "Daylight": "I have five clocks in my life/And only one has the time right/I'll just unplug it for today." (You are invited to read these lines as a triumph over the competing distractions of worldly obligation, but Matt and Kim do actually have a clock collection at home, and only one of them works.) Cinders, a Havemeyer gallery that Chief magazine accurately described as the "ULTIMATE bad-vibe repellant" (and where both Matt and Kim have shown work), gets its own eponymous spazz-jam quickie. There are hard-earned victory-lap proclamations and bleacher-stomping rallies, but also a la-la-la-ing toy-piano lullaby called "Turn This Boat Around" and the downright wistful "Lessons Learned," which is either about regrets or doggie bags.
Probably the most confusing part of Grand's narrative was Matt and Kim's decision to release the carefree lead single, "Daylight," last fall through Mountain Dew's singles-only free-download imprint, Green Label Sound. The band came up playing lofts and basements—and still does locally whenever the circumstances permit, though their swelling popularity makes this increasingly difficult. And people reliably jump to conclusions when DIY ethos mingles with soft-drink sponsorships. But these same conclusion-jumpers aren't buying records, so. "If we can find an income from these other sources, and you don't even have to pay for the song, and we can charge less for our shows, I just don't see so much harm in it," reasons Matt. It's not like Kim got a Mountain Dew tattoo. "It's just taking the guilt away from downloading," she points out.
Last Thursday at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Matt and Kim debuted "Daylight" live at the official Grand release party. (Mountain Dew delivered: The cover was $10.) Their entrance music was Jay-Z's "Brooklyn Go Hard." "I'm just happy we get to do it here in New York—it's the only way we'd have it," Matt told a sold-out, giddily devoted audience that included his parents. Soon, "Daylight" was met with endless hometown crowd surfing, stage diving, balloons, confetti, and even a floating garbage bag that bounced around like a super-ghetto beach ball. Earlier, there'd been a video camera focused on the audience, its feed projected behind the performers. Matt explained it thus, pretty much encapsulating his band's approach to Brooklyn, performance, life: "I put this camera here not because I wanted to see my ass, but because I wanted to let you know this isn't at all about us—this is more about all y'all and us together, OK?"
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