Interview with Matt Johnson of Matt & Kim: Bare Naked Lady (And Man)

Most people would annihilate their significant other if they were required to spend 22 hours a day together (with the other two hours set aside for bathroom breaks). But not super couple Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino, who profess to constantly being by each other’s sides. In fact, they’ve made a business out of it—the business of delivering dance punk music to the trendy masses as Matt & Kim. From upholding a tumultuous touring schedule, to recording groovy beats, to shooting controversial music videos featuring nudity and dismemberment and more, it seems there’s nothing these guys can’t do—except eat a bowl of breakfast cereal with milk.

“Dry breakfast cereal is has been my favorite food for a long time, and I’ve just recently realized I’ve never tried cereal in milk,” Matt confessed to The Aquarian Weekly during a recent interview. “I also one day realized I have never watched Star Wars, and now I’ve made it a goal just because I never had. There have always been pop culture references to Star Wars and I just never get it. Maybe I should just watch it to get the jokes already.”

Cereal and Star Wars faux pas aside, Matt & Kim’s story reads like a modern-day romance novel, with the prologue detailing how the duo met while attending Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2002. After dating for about two years, the couple decided to form a band together despite one problem: Neither knew how to play an instrument. Not ones to allow a lack of musical knowledge to interfere with their ambitions, Matt picked up a keyboard while Kim opted to become a percussionist with the drums. After much practice, the two resurfaced as Matt & Kim and began performing at small venues all over Brooklyn.

Matt & Kim have made a significant mark on the music industry and have enjoyed a considerable amount of success six years, two albums (a self-titled full-length debut in 2006 and 2009’s Grand), and a countless number of shows later (including Lollapalooza and The Siren Music Festival). They’ve even inspired high profile musicians such as Erykah Badu, whose controversial music video for “Window Seat” imitates Matt & Kim’s artistic footage for their “Lessons Learned” single, in which the twosome bare it all—literally—as they saunter amongst stunned tourists during a busy winter day in Times Square.

Matt took some time out before heading out for a leisurely afternoon bike ride in NYC with Kim to speak to AW. Read on to learn more about Matt & Kim’s yet-to-be released third album and his take on Badu’s video, as well as Matt & Kim’s upcoming appearance at Bamboozle on May 2—clothing optional to continue.

We had a little trouble getting hold of you this week because you and Kim were bunkered up in the studio. Was this for the new album that’s due out in September?

Yeah, that’s the plan. We were out in Atlanta for the last seven weeks, I think. And we just got home a few days ago.

Is the album completed?

No. We still go back to Atlanta at the end of this month to work on mixing for a couple of weeks. But damn! We are feeling quite proud already. It’s going well.

What can you tell us about the album as far as titles, lyrical content, and things of that nature?

Well, if you can think of a title, you let us know because that is tough. [laughs] We are wrestling with the title now. It’s one of those things that are on the same level as band names. They’re really hard to come up with, and album titles are really hard to come up with. But lyrically, it’s about—I realize that a big theme of it is about living your life right now. You know, not messing around.

Why did you choose Atlanta to record it?

Well, the producer we wanted to work with has a studio down there and everything. His name is Ben Allen. He’s done a bunch of stuff I liked in the past. It was our first time working with a producer, and it has been good. It’s a bit challenging having another creative mind in with Kim and I’s. And there’s been a little back and forth and a little push and pull, but that can be helpful. And I think it was.

Do you have a particular favorite track that fans should look out for?

Well, I have a lot of particular favorite tracks. [laughs] But one I’m really feeling right now is one called ‘Cameras.’ I think it might be one of the early ones we release before the album comes out. But it’s bad ass.

[laughs] Why is that so?

I don’t know, I don’t know. It just feels right. Sometimes the stars just align and a song just works, and sometimes it can take a really long time to work on a song, and sometimes it just happens. This one just kind of happened and everything lined up.

Let’s talk about some current events. Erykah Badu’s controversial music video for ‘Window Seat’ was inspired by your video for ‘Lessons Learned,’ where you and Kim basically stripped down in the middle of Times Square. What do you think about her interpretation of your idea?

I think she did a good job. We talked on the phone beforehand. Actually, I think she talked to us on the day she was going to do the shoot. She was saying that she was a big fan, and this and that. She said she loved that video and she though of it as a starting point for people to, as she was saying, ‘take the walk.’ But I think, as me and her were discussing, it was just sort of something for a liberating kind of feeling and whatnot. I’ll tell you, taking your clothes off, especially in Times Square— it’s just one of the most public places in the U.S., notoriously. Yeah, it’s definitely liberating, and she was seeing it as we were the first, she was the second, and maybe others would follow. I haven’t read much into what her statements were or anything afterwards, the connection to J.F.K. and all of this. So I’m not sure exactly where all of it stems from, but I will read up soon enough.

Her video sparked more controversy than Matt & Kim’s did. Why do you think that’s so?

I’ve heard parts of controversy about just being naked in front of children and what not. We didn’t get any of that sort of controversy. But I think when people see you as a bigger artist, you get more and more responsibility. I think definitely at the time that Kim and I did it, it was like, you know, a couple of dumb kids from Brooklyn who do stupid things. ‘We’ll just laugh at them and let them go.’ I don’t think being naked in front of people, in my mind, is a big deal. There is stuff on television all the time that is far more sexual sort of content and what not. The naked body shouldn’t be anything that is looked down upon or whatever. Everyone takes their clothes off. We all have similar aspects. You know, it’s a very U.S. type of thing to shun being naked.

Speaking of the ‘Lessons Learned’ video, were those real cops at the end of it?

[laughs] Yeah. Numerous cops came up, even when we were doing rehearsals. There are so many police on beat in Times Square. We had a very loose permit to shoot. I mean, we couldn’t get a permit to shoot a music video in Times Square, so we got a permit to shoot a web promo video. The description we gave was, “Two tourists walk through Times Square dressed inappropriately.” [laughs] It was the only description it was. It wasn’t lying, but it was a half truth.

But you guys aren’t strangers to controversial music videos. The ‘5K’ video didn’t receive airplay in the States because of the dismemberment and blood all over the audience it featured.


Do you have anymore ideas planned in the future to do videos like this with the new album?

Yeah. Videos are really important to us. Actually, I went to school as a film student, and videos are the only time I get to work on video stuff as of late. So I really enjoy it. I always think the simplest idea that is the most effective is the best one. I’m racking my brain to think of something even simpler but more complex than the ‘Lessons Learned’ video. So we’ll see what I come up with. We’ll see. I have a couple of ideas in the back but…

Can you share any of them?

No way! [laughs] I don’t want anyone using them before I get a chance to!

Okay, okay. So you guys will be performing at Bamboozle. Do you have anything planned for your performance?

Yeah, we are planning on, since we are pretty close to where we live in New York and it’s a great festival—I don’t want to let any cats out of the bag, but we are planning on making it something special.

Are there any artists booked for the event that you’d like to see perform?

My gosh! I haven’t even looked at it since the whole line-up has been released. I can’t say right now, but that reminds me that I have to look again so I can make my schedule of who to go see.

Catch Matt & Kim at the Bamboozle Festival at the Meadowlands in E. Rutherford, NJ, on May 2.