The indie-dance duo Matt and Kim, known for their videos and their DIY approach, are making a stop at Upstate Concert Hall for a sold-out show on Saturday.
Matt — Vermont native Matt Johnson — took some time to chat with The Gazette on Dec. 4, the same day a gray seal was rescued from a lock in Waterford.
Johnson was both patient — this interview was delayed an hour because of the seal — and concerned about the seal’s well being. “The seal’s story needs to be told,” he said, laughing.
Q: Your tour schedule has you playing shows in London, in Paris… and then you’re in Clifton Park. I remember seeing you and Kim play a Halloween show in Clifton Park years ago. What is it about this venue that keeps you coming back?
A: I remember that show! Well, I grew up in a small town in Vermont not so far from there. We kind of know the area. There’s a local radio station there that has been really supportive, WEQX. They were literally the first radio station to ever play us with the song “Daylight,” however many years ago that was. They’ve continued to be really supportive and have our backs. They certainly put the area on the map.
Q: How long have you and Kim known each other?
A: Ah, jeez. 13 years.
Q: And how did you first meet?
A: We both went to the same college. Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. And, uh, she made a move on me. Romantically, I was very intimidated. I think we met in my sophomore year in college. I was very intimidated. You know, she had tattoos and I was a country boy from Vermont. But, finally I called her back. I wasn’t very forward. She was more like, “Hey, how’s it going?” and as a dude who especially at the time was pretty shy, I appreciated a forward woman who made the first move.
Q: Some of our readers sent in questions they’d like to ask you. Madeline Montague of Greenwich wonders, “How do you feel about Ludacris?”
A: (laughs) We have a song called “Cameras” and right in the middle of the song we would do like ten seconds of Ludacris’ “Move Bitch” song. I don’t know when we, as an alternative indie band, decided that we could just say, throw a Ludacris song right into the middle of one of our songs, but obviously I have to be somewhat of a fan to do that. I love having that kind of freedom. We also played at a college and Ludacris played right after us, not too long ago. He puts on a great show!
Q: It’s been said that you and Kim are known for DIY music. Readers are wondering what DIY music is exactly. Can you explain the idea?
A: As far as DIY music goes, I don’t think there’s a “sound” of DIY music. I think we got connected to that term because we embodied what DIY, do it yourself, meant with all the touring we did for years back in the day when it was just me and Kim. Kim booked all our shows. We would burn CDs on our computer, make them on the road and then sell them at the shows, sell our own merch, make our own merch, silkscreen t-shirts. We did everything ourselves.
Granted, that was close to 10 years ago. In the last five or six years we’ve had people help us with stuff but I think we still stay super involved and that’s why the attitude remains. Not the last album, but the one before that, we recorded ourselves in our old apartment.
Making things happen for yourself is the beauty of today’s age and the technology that we live with. You can make a good sounding album yourself and spread the word yourself. You don’t have to wait around for someone to decide you’re good enough to make an album for them, because I don’t know if that would have ever happened for us.”
Q: You and Kim consistently provide these unique, energetic music videos. Could you talk a little about the creative force behind your videos?
A: I guess that connects back to the Do It Yourself music because we have always been really involved with our music videos, especially coming up with the ideas for them. While we have people help execute and make them and what not, I think there’s a sense of consistency because most of them are all our ideas.
The background we came from was this place where we had no money. So, we had to think of ideas that were cool enough that even if they were super low-budget, the idea might be interesting enough that people would want to watch it. Sometimes people really have no idea but they have enough money to make something look cool. In the end, looking cool is fine, you know it could be shot really beautifully, but what I really connect to is when there’s just a simple idea that shows who you are and shows some personality. Sometimes that might involve me and Kim beating the crap out of each other or stripping in Times Square or doing a choreographed dance in bed.
Q:Whose idea was it to strip in Times Square for the “Lessons Learned” music video?
A:That was my idea. Initially I thought we would just do it in an abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn but then I thought, “Eh, go big or go home. Let’s do this in Times Square.” Kim really didn’t want to do it. It takes a lot of convincing to get your girlfriend to take her clothes off in a public place in New York City. I thought it was kind of liberating, actually. Then when we won a VMA for Breakthrough Video she had agreed it was a pretty good idea. (The video is here.)
Q: Smaller, more intimate concert spaces are often off limits for kids under 21 years old. Clifton Park’s Upstate Concert Hall allows younger kids a chance to be exposed to great live music. What kind of venues did you go to as a kid?
A: I guess I was maybe 15 or 16 when I started going to shows. I was really into punk music. There was this club called the Flywheel that was basically a room with a three-inch stage. The shows were only ever like 20 people. I remember going to UMass in Amherst and sneaking into shows there even though I didn’t go there. And then in Brattleboro, Vermont, we’d go to this restaurant — a coffee shop called Common Grounds. These were all really small places. I never went to shows that had hundreds of people at them. I feel like when I was younger it was only these small punk shows. I remember going to Warped Tour in 1996 and I had never been to a festival before.
I feel like younger people have more exposure to music now. I mean, I was online and stuff like that but it’s nothing like it is now as far as music discovery. I remember trying to download mp3s using dial-up. I’d let an album download all night long and the phone was busy. It was a different time. Things were harder. Even when I was into the grunge stuff in the ’90s, I wasn’t close enough to anywhere those bands played to ever go see them.
Q: Readers are wondering what your opinion as a musician is on Spotify and other streaming services.
A: I’m mostly an exclusive Spotify listener. That’s where I listen to almost everything. That and SoundCloud, so obviously I’m a fan and I’m a user. I just want everyone to be able to hear our music. Luckily, getting paid is just icing on the cake.
I think it’s probably harder for bands who were around in the ’90s when people were buying CDs. Those bands who used to sell a lot of music and aren’t anymore. I never thought I would sell any music.
Q: How did Kim learn how to dance and when did she start dancing on people’s hands at concerts?
A: Her brother was into raves so throughout all her high school years she was going to these raves and dancing six hours at a time. And I think part of all that dancing helped her rhythm and helped her learn how to play drums, which she didn’t do until we decided to start the band.
(Watch Kim’s dance moves featured in their recent music video for “Hey Now”.)
As far as dancing on people’s hands, I used to walk out on people’s hands and do this sing-a-long to this song called “Silver Tiles.” Once we were on tour in Florida and I was injured so I couldn’t do that. Kim decided, “Hey, what if I go out on people’s hands. And what if I dance?” So, I said, “There’s no way you can do that. It’s impossible to even stand up on people’s hands.” So, of course, if I say it’s impossible, she will prove me wrong.
Q: What has been your strangest concert experience?
A: Oooph, that’s a hard question. I’ve had many strange concert experiences. I’ll try to think of one recently strange experience. One year we were playing Bonnaroo and we were playing in one of the tents. It maybe fit 10,000 or 15,000 people inside the tent but there were probably just as many people standing outside the tent kind of peering in.
Two songs till the end of the set, Kim says “Hey, anyone who is outside the tent, feel free to crowd surf your way up to the front.” And my gosh, chaos ensued. Civilization broke down. I almost couldn’t even hear us playing anymore. People were just yelling. I don’t think anyone was in pain necessarily but it was just like hundreds of people all crowd surfing, coming over the barricade in a wave because the nature of it is to push people forward. Security is trying to catch everyone but they’re just all falling in. The whole photo area is completely packed with people and we’re just thinking “Oh, they’re going to shut this show down. We’re going to get in so much trouble.”
But in the end, it was a memorable experience. I don’t remember hearing of anyone who got hurt. We didn’t get in trouble. It was certainly memorable.