Matt & Kim take to the Sidewalks

From playing an overcrowded show at Transitions Art Gallery to headlining a State Theatre concert, Brooklyn keyboard-drum duo Matt & Kim’s profile has spread widely in the Tampa Bay area and worldwide within two years.

Although cramped crowds have been a part of the band’s live shows since its 2004 debut, the pair’s 2009 album “Grand” resulted in their song “Daylight” appearing in a Bacardi commercial and nearly 2 million current YouTube views for their “Lesson Learned” music video – which features the band walking through Times Square naked.

Keyboardist Matt Johnson and drummer Kim Schifino will perform at State Theatre in St. Petersburg at 8 p.m. Friday, supporting their new album “Sidewalks” and its Nov. 2 release.

Johnson talked with The Oracle about recording their new album, keeping the band’s integrity and moving past their “naked band” reputation.


The Oracle: How will “Sidewalks” be different from your previous two albums?

Matt Johnson: Well, we recorded “Grand” in my childhood bedroom and just figured it all out as we went. We didn’t have much money to work with at that point – we just wanted to be able to try anything we could possibly want to try. When it came to “Sidewalks,” we had a little more money to work with. We worked in studios with a producer we really liked … who actually knew what the hell they were doing when it came to recording music. We were able to focus more on the songs themselves.

O: Will any of your new songs have a different sound from those on “Sidewalks”?

MJ: Well, it’s a continuing evolution process. There were a couple of songs on our last album “Grand,” such as “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare” and “Daylight,” that kind of defines where we were going to go as a starting point with “Sidewalks.” So to me, the evolution is gradual and makes sense, but I think for some people it might be like, “Wow!”

The first song we released – “Cameras”- a lot of people were like, “Wow, I like it, but it sounds so different.” To Kim and I, we just didn’t even realize it sounded different. It’s still Matt & Kim, it’s still us just making music we want to hear in this world. It has a sort of fun Matt & Kim vibe.

O: What is your lyrical process like?

MJ: We go a lot on feeling. It’s a very collaborative process, which is different than a lot of people who write lyrics where usually the singer just takes the lead and does it. But Kim and I, we work together. She works on things quick, and I work on things slow. I almost can’t explain it all. Kim will just write pages of stuff for a song, and I’ll start refining that. It’s a different lyrics process, but it really works for us.

O: At which of your shows did you feel most overwhelmed by the crowds?

MJ: We just played Austin City Limits a couple of nights ago, and I just watched some video footage of that and I was like, “Hot damn! There’s so many (people) … overwhelming.”

But then in a whole other way, I remember once playing a loft show in Brooklyn, and it was just so ridiculously packed. There’s hardly any footage of it because what happened was it got so sweaty in there, that everyone’s lenses were fogging up. The pictures I saw were all super foggy. Even when the cops showed up, the door was in the back of the room and it was so packed, the cops couldn’t even get to the front to shut the music down. Finally, we had finished and they came up and were like, “Show’s over!” We were like, “Yeah, it is over. We just finished.”

O: In terms of the band’s dynamic, has anything changed between playing a small venue like Transitions Art Gallery to headlining State Theatre?

MJ: I remember when we were starting to sort of transition from small things to bigger venues. “Oh man, what do you have to do? What are we going to do? How are we going to make this work?” We just do what we always did, which is just totally be ourselves and not worry about making fools of ourselves because that’s what I do for a living. We just talk to the audience, and we put everything we have into it – which is what we do for any show – and it has just translated for us, even from small places to big places.

O: So you don’t feel any sort of difference in switching to larger shows?

MJ: No, we’ve always tried to keep our ticket prices low for everything. We really wanted to bring people who’ve been with us since square one along with us, and make it as comfortable and not a direct exchange where there’s a backlash. We have a lot of people who say, “I’ve come and seen you a select time, or even more!” We appreciate that – we appreciate that a lot. So we’ve tried to make the transition as gradual as possible, but we still want everyone who wants to see us to be able to come see us in a safe environment.

O: How has the “Sidewalks” tour gone so far?

MJ: The tour has totally blown away all of our expectations just thinking about the number of people who have come out. Not only that, but there used to be pockets here and there where the audience would visibly get wild and whatnot, and that’s what we love to see. We’ve seen enough of that energy and now our reputation definitely seems to precede us in the sense that everywhere – every stop – it’s just the crowd getting crazy, and different levels of getting crazy. That’s really how we read things.

Oh yeah, and we’ve given an opportunity for people to hear our album before it comes out. We play it about 15 minutes after doors open. We play the album top to bottom. Kim and I have been hiding out most of the time or we’re busy with other things. Yet I definitely listened in San Diego, and they were ready to just go crazy … Everyone was shouting and cheering. It was just great with something we’ve worked on for so long, when people finally have a chance to hear it.

O: Between the “Lessons Learned” video and your live shows, you’ve gotten a funny reputation for exhibitionism. How do you feel about that?

MJ: Well, doing that video “Lessons Learned” took me a lot of convincing to get Kim to do that one. She was not so open to it. Finally, when we did it, it was totally freeing and liberating and whatnot. I’m definitely happy we did it. Then afterwards, there was some photos being found – or even before that – of us playing sweaty situations and maybe there wasn’t a lot of clothes involved. One particular time in Florida where Kim took her pants off and played drums, which is probably a bad idea with so much sweat. But you don’t want to become known as this naked band, so we’ve kind of strayed away from that video.

O: What’s in the future for Matt & Kim?

MJ: We have about another month on the tour we’re on now. Right when we get off, we have an idea for our next music video we’re going to shoot out in L.A. I can’t disclose what it is, but it’s definitely going to be ridiculous for sure.