Music is basically all about having fun and getting transported to a new world of feelings and emotions. Americans Matt & Kim know a couple of things about that. Their live shows turn into a big party, and with their second studio album, Grand, they have just made their international breakthrough. They will be playing on December a mini tour of 5 gigs around Finland, country that they visit first time, and FREE! Magazine had the chance to talk on the phone with Matt. I have heard that these guys are pretty easy going and friendly, and I can assure that it is totally true. Matt is a real nice guy, and making the interview with him felt more like a chat between two good friends.
Their music has been used in EA videogames. They recently won the MTV award to best breakthrough video. They have been able to sell out most of their Finnish concerts months ahead… Matt & Kim are definitely on the hot spot nowadays. So do not miss all the interesting things that Matt had to say to us about his beginnings in music, his professional and personal relation with Kim or his philosophy of life.
Thanks a lot for answering our questions Matt. If you are so kind, please, explain a bit to the readers how you and Kim met. If I am not mistaken, it happened at Pratt Institute. How was the idea of making music together?
Actually we started to make music together “by accident”. We met at college, we both went to an art school called Pratt Institute here in Brooklyn, and we ended up in a relationship together and we went to all kind of things together. We did installation projects together and things like that, and Kim really wanted to learn how to play the drums, so a friend gave her a couple of pieces of a drum set, and I was trying to learn how to play keyboard, I played before guitar and bass, but Kim had never played any instrument, so we were trying to learn, and we thought that learning together would be more bonding.
A friend of us found out what we were doing and he told us that we were playing in a show; we did not have a choice! We were not even a real band, we do not have a name, and any songs… our friend said “I do not care, you will play the show”. So we wrote three songs. We did not have a band´s name, so we went by our names. So we started playing in New York, in warehouses and places like that.
So you said you were couple at that time? Was it difficult or easy to share this feeling of making music together?
Well, we have spent so much time together in these last 4-5 years we have been playing music and, you know, in other relationships I have been in we would have killed each other a long time ago. But miraculously we get along really well, I mean, going in a tour spending every second together and then coming back home to live together… I don´t know why it works like that but… we should have killed each other already! It has been 7 years being together in total.
As you mentioned, you started playing in small places and then obviously lately you play in bigger venues, although I can see that you still like playing free concerts here and there when you have the chance. Do you miss that familiar feeling of playing in a small venue for just some friends?
Well, it depends. We always want to feel like we are moving forward, as we have been playing in bigger and bigger places, but there is also a thing as I said when we started up in this more kind of intimate places where, you know, everybody was just jumping to the stage or being on the floor together… that is where we started to feel that our shows are like a party. That is a feeling that we have tried to keep very hard, no matters where we play. Everybody is there to have fun. In some other concerts, there is a weird feeling, so there is the band and here is the crowd, and in the crowd is very dark and when we are in a venue, we are like “hey, can you put lights on into the crowd” because we want to see everybody because we think we are all here doing this together.I want to feel it like an atmosphere you want to have fun and where people can interact with each other. So we hold to these ethics, even though it was starting to be a bit dangerous, like playing in Brooklyn in a warehouse, there might have been around 500 people in there and I noticed there was only 1 exit and the whole place was lighted by candles, so I was thinking “this is sooo dangerous, I cannot even believe we are doing it!” You have to be safe with things to an extent…
Matt, I have here in front of me your latest studio album, Grand, so I wanted you to resume for a person who would happen to be the first time listening to your band with this album, what could they find here?
Well, we struggle a long time with this idea of “genre”, we have played with all kind of bands, from punk bands to hip hop bands to dance bands. So what we decided is to call it “dance punk”, a kind of energetic music that you can dive into it, but you can also put it on a club situation or wherever.
“In our relationship, I am the dreamer and Kim is the doer!”
And what were the differences for you between recording this and the first studio album? I know that you recorded the new one at your parents’ place in Vermont…
Yeah, first album we recorded it in a studio out of Los Angeles and being honest, it was very tight time-scheduled and everything seemed to be very rushed so we wanted the kind of the opposite experience. So when it came to make Grand, we decided about to go to the most peaceful possible place, so we went to Vermont that it is a very rural part of USA.
Yeah, I have read that many people told you in a surprise tone “Wow, you went to your parents place to record!” But I think it is kind of cool. Where are you going to be more comfortable than at home if you want to concentrate?
Yeah, we decided we were going to hang up there and have this freedom, at that time even figuring out really what this band was about. What we actually sounded like. We just started playing our instruments two years prior to that, so we were still discovering a lot.
So were you then experimenting with new instruments there?
Yeah, I found a very important instrument that hear in Grand a lot, it is like a little piano that you blow into, but it has such a big full sound when you record it! So we just tried different things, and saw how they worked, and sometimes we would be like “That is total crap!” and some other times we would be like “Wow, that works well!” and you know, I appreciate everything what we did and what we learnt through that process.
How is it when you record when nobody is pushing you that you can be like “ah, I am tired, I am just going to grab a beer from the fridge”. Did you find also bad points not finding anybody around who could push you a bit to work?
The one thing I was lucky with is that I have Kim! I would have been probably working in the album until today if she would not be like “Matt, finish it already!” I can figure out our relationship as I am the dreamer and she is the doer!
I also noticed that Kim made the artwork of this Grand album. Do the houses that appear belong to a real neighborhood, or from where do the ideas come?
Yes, all those buildings came from our area. Now in the area we are in Brooklyn all those old buildings and old warehouses are getting replaced by new condos and the scene does not look the same at all. It is cool! I think it captures the essence!
Also in the booklet, it appears a nice collection of pictures of you both. Do you consciously try to escape of this stereotype of “musicians as unreachable people”?
Oh yeah, we have a kind of very big policy for describing ourselves honestly. I think so many bands are concerned with what is cool or what is not cool to be like, or things like that. That is very boring. So we just decided we are going to be ourselves. I know of bands that strap their guitars on and stand in front of the mirror and put the “show look”, like “this is how I am going to look at the show tonight”, and you know, I have never been like that! We are never worried about embarrassing ourselves or anything like that, we just put all on the line and people respond very positively. Playing a show, we are having a good time and we look like we are having a good time! And people say, “I had so much time because you guys looked like you were having so much fun!”. If people look bored on stage, I feel bored watching them.
Certainly this Grand album have put you on the hot spot in many countries, where you have turned to be well known. Do you feel you are now in the right spot you wanted to be when you started to play music?
Well, it is just another situation we put ourselves into. We never make any expectations. We just did this because we like doing it, and we continue doing it because we like doing it. It has been a total surprise to me that it has also been the most financially rewarding thing I have ever done or also that people have appreciated it so much. I just feel that if you say “we will be successful when we hit this point”, then you are setting yourself up for future disappointments. Better to enjoy every little thing and just go along and be constantly satisfied. I would never have expected to make a living of music. I started playing music when I was a teenager, playing punk rock and stuff , and it was just nothing but a expensive habit, something you think you can break but you spend all this money to buy gear and travel the shows and then just lost money.
But does it cross your mind this kind of thoughts like “in 30 years I would love to continue playing music”, or is it more just until the fun ends?
I feel like… well, we kind of swore that whenever became not fun, we would just stop. I know that for some bands, this has just become their jobs and they continue to do it because that is how they do their living and we just never wanted to do something because of that. The day we stop having fun is the day we stop playing. You have to be smart, you cannot overdo yourself and when you have a lot of good opportunities coming your way, you want to take all of them and then you just get yourself burnt out. So we try to be smart about things.
And talking about opportunities… congratulations for the MTV award for best breakthrough video. How do you feel about these kind of awards? You know that some people love MTV, some people hate it…
Well, we have a good relationship with them. They have been cool with us and very supportive of Mat & Kim, in the sense of having us host a show even early on, years ago at the beginning of our career. And well, we have grown up with them, Kim remembers as a little girl watching Madonna videos and things like that on MTV. But I think the great thing about this digital era is that people in Internet can decide by themselves. Things are not available just in one place anymore. People can find things for themselves.
And how was the feeling of shooting the video of Lessons Learnt (where they appear totally naked running around in the middle of the crowd). Were you feeling shy or embarrassed, or were you totally cool with the idea?
In the end it was very liberating. It was very cold when we were shooting it. But after that when we are going to somewhere warm like Miami, I end up buying very small swimming suit, thinking “if I managed to do that video, then I can wear anything!”
Were the people who appear around in the video aware of what was going to happen, or was it totally unexpected for them?
Well, we had a permit that said that we were going to shoot there, but we did not let anyone know, the permit just said “two tourist walk through Times Square inappropriately for the weather…” . It did not say anything of what we were really going to do! It just put us out of trouble, they did not read the full description, they just put a stamp on it, so it is legit… But I was surprise to see the reactions of who was a tourist and who was not, if there was a tourist, they would just take their phone and start taking pictures and the locals were like “ahh, I have seen things like this 10 times already!”
Have you ever talked to Kim about the possibility of having more permanent members in the band, or are you totally comfortable just the two of you?
Well, I think we definitely have a dynamic that it is just Kim and I on stage. It would make some things easier if we would have more instrumentalists there for some complicated parts, we never wanted to play with anything pre-recorded, we do everything live. We did once one show in New York where we had onstage a marching band of 20 people with us. I am in for adding a lot of people, but I think that just adding 1 or 2 would make a strange dynamic. But I am interested in collaborating with different musicians in the future that could add new angles and see what happens.
You will be visiting Finland soon, with a mini-tour of 5 gigs there, and you already sold out 3 of them! Is it your first time playing in Finland?
Yeah, we have never been to Finland. so I was excited being the first time, and then I saw all the dates and I was like “Wow!”. I am a fan of Scandinavia anyway, in Norway and Sweden, we have been up there. We have many places to discover, we have never been to Spain, never been to Italy…
After the current tour, which are your plans for 2010? More work, relaxing a bit…?
It never stops. We have been scheduled out basically until September 2010. After this European tour of 3 months we wanted to take some time off and work on new music, but it won’t come out until the end of summer 2010. Grand came out this year and we were writing these songs in 2007, so this explains how long it take things to happen with this band. I am excited to work on new songs and things like that but well, it is a nonstop work.
Well, but that’s good…!
It is good. Well, sometimes I would like that I could punch the clock and have one evening off, or one week end off…
Q&A with Matt
I thought you would say Bacardi Mojito… (their song Daylight is the official one used in Bacardi Mojito TV ad)
Hehehe, actually no, but apart from orange juice, I have to say Budweiser. Kim is more a Budweiser addict than me. In that we are total Americans. We have been in places with fantastic local beer like Belgium but it is like “do you guys happen to have Budweiser?”
Any special memory from a show you had played?
One very memorable one: we played in an art camp for 8 to 13 year old kids. They all came with such energy! It was very fun.
What city would you choose to live in, if it would be any other than New York?
I think that the quality of the places has to do with the people and friends you meet there. So I would see Chicago, because we have many good friends there.
Best concert you have seen recently?
We were some time ago at a Beyoncé concert, and it was a quite impressive show, so that is the one I remember right now.
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