The Daily Emerald chatted with Matt Johnson from the indie dance duo Matt and Kim about playing shows in Portland, creating new music and finding inspiration as an artist. Read the whole Q&A below.
Daily Emerald: You’re playing the Crystal Ballroom in Portland on Dec. 15; have you played at that venue before?
Matt Johnson: No, first time. Even though I hear they have these very nice crystal chandeliers and confetti is apart of our show and there’s a big risk of just getting confetti all stuck in those and having to get them cleaned out, which apparently costs a little bit, but I’m telling you – it’s worth it.
DE: Do you have a favorite thing about Portland?
MJ: My favorite thing is a memory I have when I was 20 years old, before this band, I came to Portland for a week with my brother and a friend. That [was a] week of pool hopping, just hanging out. I don’t know. It was just a very “Portland” summer for a 20-year-old. We’re lucky that we have a couple days off around the show and we’re going to have a couple extra days in Portland which is very unlike us, being able to do that, to hang, get some Voodoo Doughnuts and visit some local shops.
DE: What should one who has never seen Matt and Kim live expect to experience at a Matt and Kim show?
MJ: I think to be surprised. I think people who are familiar with say just the songs “Daylight” and “Let’s Go,” [will be surprised]. I love those songs, but I don’t think you would imagine this band that can spend as much time like shakin’ the booty and that is not afraid to say, put a Ludacris song right in the middle of one of our singles. There’s a certain energy that I think is a surprise, I find, to a lot of people who have never seen us live, and it all comes from Kim’s booty. It’s an energy orb.
DE: It’s probably frowned upon to ask an interview question starting with “your Wikipedia page says…” but your Wikipedia page says that Matt and Kim is known for having a DIY attitude toward music. How do you uphold that DIY idealism with playing alongside big-name acts like Fall Out Boy and Passion Pit, performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live and really just having the current popularity you do?
MJ: I think it maintains because we stay involved in all aspects of the band. We don’t just book a show anywhere. We want it to be somewhere we’d want to go to a show. Or for any of our music videos, it’s not just like someone is hired to come in and make a music video for us. We’re always very, “Hey! Here’s an idea! Who can help us make this?”
Kim still makes all of our album covers and [2012’s Lightning] we made in our house. I think it’s just staying involved in all aspects that we do. I think that’s the way to keep it the purest form of Matt and Kim possible, rather than having a lot of other people making it for you.
DE: Do you prefer playing small venues or large ones?
MJ: I like the different scales – [when you play] a festival in front of 10-or-50-thousand people, that’s awesome because of the energy. I love that. But I also love playing in a venue of like a thousand people who all know every song and all know why they’re there – to see your band. So, I couldn’t say there was one I like more than the other. They both are different experiences and really cool in different ways.
DE: When did you and Kim start playing music?
MJ: Well we were together, as a couple, for two years before we started playing music, and we got together when I was 20 so, awhile ago.
DE: Do you and Kim write songs collaboratively or separately?
MJ: It’s collaborative for sure. I think especially the most surprising part is that the lyrics are so collaborative. In a lot of bands there’s someone who just takes the reins on writing lyrics. It’s usually the singer, but there are songs that we have that are really just from Kim’s voice, even though I sing them. It’s based on experiences from her. Or there are songs that we jointly – almost line for line – go through writing together.
DE: Did you ever think you would have the popularity that you do now?
MJ: No, no way! I never thought it was ever possible to make a living as a musician. Since I was 14 I had been playing guitar. I always loved playing music but I never was like, “Oh, that’s what I’m going to do for a living.” The chances were too slim. So basically, we started playing music and it was just playing these kind of like, non-venue spaces, whether they were like warehouses or lofts in Brooklyn and that’s what I thought it would always be.
We just sort of gradually stopped doing the other things we were doing. There wasn’t any moment where I was like, “Let’s quit our jobs!” I was doing freelance film stuff and I kind of stopped having to take jobs and then things just kind of organically grew from the fact that we liked playing music. We didn’t need much money, especially early on. We lived very cheaply. We shared a cell phone for five years. We were in a twin bed for three years.
DE: Do you have a favorite song from your new album, New Glow, that came out back in April?
MJ: Well it’s one of those things that I think it switches and it moves around. Right now, there’s a song called “Stirred Up,” it’s the second song on the album. I’ve always connected to that song, but I think it’s standing out for me right now. Check it out, or whoever’s reading this, check it out. There’s a different flow to it.
DE: Are there any songs that you don’t like playing live anymore?
MJ: No, because any song that I don’t like to play live we wouldn’t play live. If there’s a song people like to hear, I get a lot of satisfaction from that. The most satisfaction I get out of playing live is having an excited audience. So if they enjoy hearing a song, then I enjoy playing it because I just love seeing an audience get excited. And if there was any song that I wasn’t liking playing and the audience wasn’t connecting to, it’s cut out of the set.
DE: Do you have any advice for young creatives in the world?
MJ: Have no expectations. If you have expectations, that’s when you get let down. But if you want to write, if you want to make music, if you want to make art or photography, whatever, just enjoy the act of doing those things then keep doing them and good things will come your way. I think [having expectations] just sets you up for tons of disappointment. If you like doing it, then you’re never failing. I think that’s the best thing; just do it because you love it.
Follow Meerah Powell on Twitter at @meerahpowell