Over-the-Top Pop: Matt and Kim

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The dynamic pop duo Matt and Kim are coming to a venue near you as they tour in support of their second full-length LP, Sidewalks. The Brooklyn-based pair, known for their uppity tracks and seemingly bottomless pit of performance energy, have graduated from the tiny clubs of their youth to midsize spots like DC’s 9:30 Club, The Vic in Chicago, and Oakland’s Fox Theater. Still, if you liked what you saw on their last tour, you shouldn’t be disappointed with a less intimate space.

“We just keep doing what we always do, which is essentially embarrassing ourselves,” Matt Johnson, the group’s singer, told me. “We talk to the audience and jump around. Whether it’s a smaller venue show or a big festival, we do a similar thing, and it seems to work.”

For the audience, it does work—Matt and Kim’s live shows are ultra-entertaining, despite the elementary nature of the music. Johnson, who plays the keyboard, and Kim Schifino, the band’s drummer, are self-taught musicians who pride themselves on keeping it simple. Basic melodies, pleasant vocals, and bold percussion are what the Matt and Kim brand is all about, and Johnson and Schifino want to keep it that way.

“We’ll go back and listen to our first album, and it’s definitely more amateur than what we’ve done recently,” says Johnson. “But when we were recording Sidewalks, we had this saying: ‘WWMKD, or What Would Matt and Kim Do.’ We would apply that to anything that got too musician-y. We’d say to ourselves, ‘Matt and Kim would simplify that and just do two notes.'”

What does grow progressively more complex and over-the-top are Matt and Kim’s music videos. In 2009, “Lessons Learned” (an MTV Video Award nominee) got attention for its outside-in-the-cold-in-Times-Square nudity, but was made on a budget and shot in one take, for obvious reasons.

Now, we’re seeing some serious production value: The (admittedly disturbing) video for their newest single, “Cameras,” features a professionally choreographed fight scene between Johnson and Schifino—who have been a couple far longer than they’ve been a band. “We spent 10 times as much money to make this happen,” Johnson told me. “We had these fight choreographers from the same studio that did Bourne Identity and The Matrix. We knew to pull it off, we really needed people who knew what the hell they were doing.”

Johnson says he was drawn to the fight concept for its wanton energy, and “the second Kim and I got on screen together, she punched me; I felt like there was some underlying stuff she was trying to get out,” he explains. But Matt confesses that he was worried about what his mother might think. It’s not hard to understand why. As it happens, she works for the state of Vermont as an advocate for victims of domestic violence. Ouch!

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

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