Since the beginning of their career, indie-pop duo Matt and Kim have been a seemingly inexhaustible beacon of positivity. And in a time when sincerity and earnestness aren’t always the coolest traits to have, the Brooklyn power couple’s upbeat anthems about pursuing happiness, following your gut, and having some wild nights out along the way could almost be considered daring. During their first proper headlining show in eight years — and the first since Kim Schifino’s devastating leg injury — at Brooklyn Steel this past Saturday (April 28,) their rabid fans, drenched in glow sticks and glitter, screamed out the words to every song. “I have never been so sweaty,” a shirtless Matt Johnson told the crowd with a smile on his face.
While the duo’s sixth album, ALMOST EVERYDAY, (out now), is still unabashedly Matt and Kim, it features darker undertones than any of their previous records, drawing both from Schifino’s injury as well as the political climate. (“Don’t wanna live forever in this world of s—!” they both scream out on the hook to “Forever.”) Below, Johnson tells Billboard about writing optimistic music for troubled times, Kim’s on-stage potty humor, and why they never want to make a “mature” album.
Is it true that your shows at Brooklyn Steel this past weekend were your first Brooklyn headlining performances in eight years?
We had done a couple smaller festivals like the Mad Decent Block Party and GoogaMooga Fest, and we actually did a show for Steve Madden, but again none of those were really our shows, so it’s a weird perspective. We actually had to head out right after the Saturday show, but when jumped into our car we got stuck right around the corner as everyone was coming out the doors. I was sitting there in the car, still with no shirt on, and just had a moment like, “Wow, this is crazy that all these people paid to see us do that performance.” I think I will never not appreciate that.
I noticed a lot of teenagers in the audience. How does it feel knowing that, more than a decade into your careers, you still have that connection to the younger generation?
The funny thing is, I love these people who have known our band for 10 years, and they tell us they’re coming to their twelfth Matt and Kim show, and that’s so awesome to hear. But also we love the audience crowd surfing and moshing, and that’s the younger kids that are doing that. I love that this new blood wants to come in and get wild and sweat all over everybody.
In March, you previewed your song “Like I Used To Be” with a video of one of your first performances ever. You’ve said in past interviews that fans feel a certain nostalgia with your music. With this video and song, it seems like you’re experiencing a nostalgia for your own early-days career.
There are great memories from all of these years, but it is true that as things grow, there is more pressure on you, and more people relying on you, and I don’t have very thick skin. Kim is the tougher one out of both of us for sure. So I think in that song, we’re really just thinking about the carefree nature of those early years when we made no earnings off of this, when we didn’t have anyone relying on us to feed their families. When we had to take last year off because of Kim’s injury, it made me so grateful for the time I get to do this because it’s not going to be forever. Don’t let all the other bullshit wear you down. It’s about writing those songs and playing those shows.
Kim’s injury seemed like a pretty traumatic experience for you guys.
Kim can’t be stuck in one place. Some people like myself can be very happy lying on the couch all day, but for Kim, it destroys her. So her getting slowed down was a real mental issue, so it was very tough. It wasn’t just the injury, it was all the political unrest and things happening in the world, so it was that combined with [the injury.] I would say it was one of the toughest years of our collective life. But at the same time, it gave us a new perspective to write from. I feel like what we wrote was very personal. It was therapeutic and it came out quickly, which I think is a good sign of when you’re really inspired. It just poured out.
Speaking of political unrest — a lot has changed in the world since your last album. You’re known for being these relentless beams of positivity, so how do you two balance maintaining this positive energy without being completely ignorant of the times we’re living in?
I think it comes down to a musical versus lyrical balance, and we just couldn’t write the “Can you blame me for being alive?” type of song. Just not in this time. Even though that’s very honestly us, and that smile that Kim has never disappeared, but [for a time] it was gone. So that’s how a song like “Happy When You’re Happy” came out. I can’t be happy if she’s not happy. But we also didn’t make the song all minor chords and moody. It’s still musically something you can dance to and shout along to. So even in the lyrically darker songs, we still send this message that we can overcome. It’s not hopelessness, it’s about banding together, and I think that’s very us.
Given your reputation for cheer and optimism, what are characteristics that make up Matt and Kim that people wouldn’t necessarily know?
Well, for a long time we never touched the fact that we were a couple. The first song we ever wrote addressing it was “Hey Now” on New Glow. We didn’t bring it up cause we didn’t want to just be this couple singing to each other. We wanted that punk rock energy. But we felt we couldn’t deny it, and it is part of what we do, and there is love and realness between us. I have this love for this ethereal nostalgic kind of vibe. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but with the album’s instrumental opener, we wanted to set this tone, and while these ballad-y songs are never the most listened to on Spotify, they’re really important to us. There’s definitely more of that on this album.
How was recording this album different from New Glow?
Four of the songs we recorded essentially in our bedroom [laughs]. I think it’s funny how bands feel this need to grow and evolve, and Kim and I think that whatever the most inspiring thing is to do, that’s how you do it. So we had these four songs we just made ourselves. The team we’ve surrounded ourselves with wants us to make music we love, and I think that as long as we do that, good things will come our way. It’s not about what might sell or whatever.
I just have to ask — at the show I went to, there were so many references to Kim’s vagina and butthole. What was the purpose of all that?
This is 100 percent Kim! [Laughs] Some bits and pieces that we talk about form over time, but a lot of it is just what’s being said in the moment. A lot of times I’ll tell Kim what she said afterward, like “I can’t believe you said this on stage,” and she’ll say, “I never said that!” And I’ll have to find a video to [prove to her] that she did. While our shows sometimes are technically all ages, we should have a disclaimer about language. Because some people bring their little nephews who are five years old. But generally what I’ve learned is, the more uncomfortable I am by what Kim is saying or by what she wants to tweet, the more people will like it. The more I don’t want her to do it, the more people love it. So I’ve learned to not try and stop her.
If you could describe your album in three words, what would they be?
“Personal.” I think “complete” because I feel like it really does pull from everything we’ve learned from the beginning. And “fun!” Fun still is in there. I hate the idea of these bands that get more and more mature over time. I don’t wanna get mature! There’s definitely going to be some immaturity that still exists.