Matt Johnson, vocalist and keyboardist of New York City’s own Matt & Kim, possesses an upbeat energy that is simply contagious. However, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the duo’s bubbly sound. Releasing their first record in almost three years, the two pack their fifth album, New Glow, with infectious samples and fun beats that help fuel the animated live shows fans have come to expect over the past 11 years. Speaking over the phone from an early stop on the band’s latest headlining tour, Johnson was cheerful and eager to chat about the new music, Brooklyn’s party scene, and an unfortunate mishap with a parachute.
Hey Matt! How are you?
I’m good, I’m good. Standing outside in Austin, Texas. It’s always supposed to be really dry here, but right now it’s very muggy. So I think tonight will be a significantly sweaty outdoor show, which is good for us (laughs).
Sounds like it’ll be fun. So the tour just started a few weeks ago, how’s it going?
It’s going really well. I mean, I’d say that all the shows and music and everything is so unique because it always feels like the most fun show to play or most fun place to be, and it’s all part of this groove. It’s crazy to think that we’ve been doing this for however long and there’s still more people coming to the shows now than there ever has been before. Most of the shows have been sold out and things have been getting wild. I couldn’t really ask for much more. We did have a wheel fall off our trailer at one point, but everyone is okay and it didn’t hit anyone luckily, so that’s alright.
Thankfully no one was hurt. Besides from that incident, do you have any other memorable moments from the tour thus far?
Hmm, let me think. Well, okay: We have this parachute that we’ve been bringing to the shows. Like a 50-foot parachute, and putting it over the audience, or you know, 50 feet of the audience (laughs). And usually it comes back to us intact. We’re usually like, “Okay everybody, let it go!” And we reel it back in. But at one of the shows people were losing their minds and ripped through it! It was like a zombie movie, like Shaun Of The Dead, and this thing basically just evaporated (laughs). Maybe we had gotten them too excited.
That’s crazy! With five albums, is it ever difficult to put together a setlist?
It is. It really is, because there are so many songs we want to play. Before we made our fourth album [Lightning, which came out in 2012] we could still play everything we wanted to, and now we have to drop some songs that we really love. We play for maybe 80 minutes or so, after that me and Kim are just basically dead because we do the show more like an athletic performance than just reciting the songs.
I know you said a bunch were dropped, but during this tour, which songs have been your favorites to play?
It’s funny, because the most satisfaction I get out of playing songs is seeing the crowd react, so I love playing songs that people really connect to, and songs people know of ours. But at the same time there’s others that not a lot of people know. Like “Cinders,” which is just a fast instrumental song, but it’s really fun to just play really, really fast.
Also, for the first time—it’s only for like a song and a half—I’m playing the guitar on stage, which I haven’t done since I was in high school. It’s fun to be standing up and being able to jump around. I’ve already found myself bleeding by the end of that (laughs). All of a sudden I get away from the keyboard and I get on guitar and it’s very rock and roll for a second.
So New Glow came out at the beginning of April. When you and Kim get together to write an album, what’s the creative process behind it?
I feel like as we go along, whether it’s touring or practicing, we try out anything that crosses our minds. If Kim’s played some cool beats just warming up on the drums, or if I’m fiddling around on the keyboard, we’ll be like, “Let’s record that!” Sometimes we have a collage-like process. We have all these little ideas, like beats and melodies, and when we make songs we try to put them together. Then say, you’ve recorded like 50 different things, just little five-second pieces… If you walk away from that for a month and kind of forget about them you can go back and tell which ones are actually kind of cool or really cool or just totally stupid (laughs). But at the time, it all seems awesome, you know? It’s nice to be able to walk away from it for a second.
How was making New Glow different from the last release, Lightning?
It was actually really different, because Lightning we made in our house with just the two of us producing. I’d say we probably only wore pants 20 percent of the time making that album, because if you’re working from home there is very little purpose to ever put on pants. So I would say the biggest difference is that we wore a lot more pants while making this album (laughs).
It was fun because we went in with a handful of different people and we tried different things out and it let us not be as worried [about] the technical aspects of recording, so we could just concentrate on the creative aspects of the songs. We did it over the course of almost a year and a half, and at first we weren’t even thinking that we were making an album. We just thought, “Hey, let’s make one cool song.” Then it turned into, “Let’s make another song!” And then eventually it turned into an album I guess. At first we thought that maybe we would just release individual songs one at a time. But then when we finished them I just wanted everyone to hear them all. I didn’t want to wait.
You guys sprung up from the New York City scene. Do you feel like having that as a background has affected your music?
Yes! I do, and I think a lot of that is because of how we started out. When we began, we really weren’t trying to be a band. Kim wanted to learn how to play drums, and somehow we got roped into opening a show and writing a few songs for it. Then the next hundred shows we played were at either warehouses or lofts or art spaces or basically just parties happening in Brooklyn. We would be playing in the middle of the room and people would have brown bags of beer, and I think that maybe had a part in the vibe of the music that we make. I don’t know if there was really any other place that we could have done that. We would do about three different parties in a week in Brooklyn and I don’t know if that happens everywhere in the world (laughs).
So yeah, there was definitely something happening at the time and also in what I call the “indie band spectrum,” which is the eight different bands that we’re sort of like; like kind of a punk vibe but also with an electronic element, and I think yeah, it definitely made us who we are for sure.
Matt & Kim will be performing at Terminal 5 in New York City on May 14 and 15 with WATERS as direct support. Their new album, New Glow, is available now through Harvest Records. For more information, go to mattandkimmusic.com.