By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
"Kim and I shared a twin bed for three years, but we figured it was time to grow up, so we bought the double bed." As keyboardist Matt Johnson relays this tidbit over the phone, I can hear his other half giggling longtime girlfriend Kim Schifino, who plays drums to Johnson's giddy yelps in their infectiously poppy outfit Matt & Kim. "It's a whole new world!" Johnson gushes.
The Brooklyn couple's mattress isn't the only thing that's gotten bigger in recent months. A story that's becoming more common in the MySpace/YouTube era, the duo earned its DIY success through online word of mouth, super-low-budget recordings, incessant nationwide touring, and a video "Yea Yeah," from their recently released, self-titled debut. The latter starts off as a giant food fight, progresses to people dressed as food hurling themselves at the duo, and culminates in the kind of instrument destruction of which the Who would be totally envious. The song has become a bona fide Internet phenomenon.
The pair, both in their mid-20s, met nearly five years ago as art students at New York's Pratt Institute. Johnson had previously played guitar in a handful of hardcore bands; Schifino's musical experience was limited to high school clarinet. But in the summer of 2004, they started writing music together. Schifino, who'd never picked up a drumstick, learned how to hit the kit, and Johnson, who'd initially planned to accompany her on a variety of instruments (he wrote some of the earliest Matt & Kim songs on a baritone ukelele), moved exclusively to keyboards, an instrument he'd never played before.
It didn't take long for the duo to hone their skills. "Other bands I've been in, we'd hardly practice, because trying to get five people together was impossible," says Johnson. "But when you're waking up next to the person you're playing music with, it's not hard. We couldn't really afford practice space, but we'd get discounted prices if we practiced at like 9 a.m., so we'd set the alarm and have to rock out at 9 in the morning."
Encouraged by friends, they played locally and self-recorded an EP, which eventually sold 5,000 copies. "At first it seemed weird, like, 'We can't just play a show!' ... but you can just go and do it. You don't need a booking agent. We'd call up [friends] and be like, 'Can we play a show in your living room?' They'd get their friends to come and it was more like a party than a recital."
Some 60,000 minivan miles and countless basement shows later, they've garnered a loyal, growing fanbase; gained a rep for wearing smiles even when overzealous fans tumble into their gear (the pair's already sustained several keyboard casualties); and developed a musical bond that makes Matt & Kim an engaging listen. The disc's two- and three-minute sonic rushes are raucous and punchy, with the kind of singalong punk spirit you might find on, say, a Thermals album, yet always melodic, with a charm that never turns sappy.
With increasing success comes change, and Johnson is aware of the risks of making the inevitable transition to more traditional venues. "We're definitely able to play our songs better when we're up on a stage and have monitors. But you don't wanna lose that connection with people you get when you're playing in the middle of them," he admits. "We'll probably end up doing a club show and then a party show in every city."
Of far less concern is the notion that the couple's relationship could suffer from spending so much time together. "The only time we don't see each other is when one of us is in the bathroom. But thankfully we still get along great, unless we're, like, lost or something," Johnson says. "I couldn't imagine if Kim was doing this band with someone else or I was doing this band with someone else you know, not having your other to do this with."