"Kim has a constant smile on her face during shows because she loves beating the shit out of the drums," says the bio of indie-dance duo Matt & Kim. But really, both percussionist/vocalist Kim Schifino and keyboardist/vocalist Matt Johnson smile all the time. Look at the Flickr photos: They're smiling while signing a record deal, smiling while petting a kangaroo in Australia, smiling on stage and in the studio and smiling while visiting their parents, and even smiling while showing off their blisters and bruises and icy-hot patches after shows.
"We decided we'd just be ourselves on stage and be honest about what we're feeling," says Johnson. "It seems to be so bizarre to people, in a good way — a band that enjoys what they do. And I think that's so f—king bizarre, that there are so many bands that don't enjoy what they do. When we get up on stage and there are a whole bunch of people who are very visibly excited, you can soak all that in and it heals all wounds."
The excitement — what with the stage diving and jumping and, at a recent Seattle show, the floor reverberating so much that the riser on which Matt & Kim were stationed was actually bouncing — can also cause some injury, but Johnson doesn't seem to mind. He and Schifino, an off-stage couple who met as art students at Pratt, started their band in 2004, though neither played an instrument. Early shows "in basements and kitchens and art spaces in warehouses to 10 to 15 to 20 people," according to Johnson, set the tone for the duo: A joyously raucous brand of catchy/bombastic dance music that edged toward punk and drew fans for its candid irreverence, rather than its flawless delivery.
"We've spent our time and become very comfortable in our own skin," says Johnson. "We realized on the larger stages, at festivals, we'd just do the same thing we did in the basement, which was be ourselves. And people seem to really respond to it."
He adds, "We make mistakes. That's just part of what we do. We've never claimed to be one of these bands that sounds like the CD, which, frankly, I find to be kind of boring. If I wanted to listen to the CD I'd just go sit on my comfy couch and put on the album. But if we make mistakes, we laugh through it and people don't seem to mind."
Even in videos, Matt & Kim eschew studied cool — instead, they rock out in a dumpster, they play through a food fight and, in "Lessons Learned" (for which they won an MTV VMA for Breakthrough Video), they strip down to their birthday suits in the middle of touristy Times Square.
Making videos, for the band, is less about cultivating image (a byproduct of the mostly-bygone MTV days) and, instead, cultivating all aspects of art in their life. In plenty of interviews, Johnson cites "rad shit" as his inspiration. To Xpress he says, "Something that was always really important to us was to be involved with all aspects [of the business] because we enjoy it."
Before they were Matt & Kim, Johnson "did music videos for other bands and whatnot … Kim has done art shows and we've done installations together. We used to do silk-screen rock posters for other band's shows." They still do their own album art and merch; they signed on with record label Fader because its parent company, Cornerstone, is multimedia-based. If there's a downside at all for Johnson, it's that "I just wish there were more hours in a day because there are so many things I want to do. Now the opportunities are coming up, about making short films with other companies. The band is opening doors for us to be involved with other things creatively. We just don't have any more time."
Most recently, the band has been busy recording Sidewalks — due out Nov. 2 — their third album and first time working with producers (Ben Allen in Atlanta and Oliver Straus in New York). "To bring another party into two creative people who have been working together for so long, it can cause a little bit of friction," says Johnson. "But it also pushes you to try new things. In the end, we're going to make what we want to make. We're not going to let anyone dictate the sound. This album, in the end, is exactly the album Kim and I wanted to make."
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Matt & Kim (with Electric Owls and Donnis)
where: The Orange Peel
when: Tuesday, Oct. 19 (9 p.m. $15 advance/$17 doors. theorangepeel.net)