Teetering on the Brink of Stardom:
The Shining Light from the Brooklyn Underground with Matt and Kim
Words by Alex Napoliello — Brooklyn, NY
In the shadows of the Manhattan skyline, across the Hudson River, lies Brooklyn, a breath of fresh air from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. Brooklyn, specifically Williamsburg, is a breeding ground for artistic talent and, over the past couple years, has become a target for major record labels. Similar to the early 90’s flood of grunge bands from Seattle and the abundance of punk rock groups out of New Jersey in the latter years of the decade, Brooklyn is the latest hotbed of creativity.
To the outsider, bands such as MGMT, T.V. on the Radio, Vampire Weekend and Grizzly Bear are symbols of the Brooklyn music scene. But this satellite of Manhattan also houses a much larger D.I.Y (“Do It Yourself”) scene that is buried deep below the city streets in a basement, or tucked away in an abandoned warehouse. It’s this scene were the experimental duo Matt and Kim got their start.
“The thing about Brooklyn is there are a lot of different scenes,” says Matt Johnson (vocals/keyboards). “We come from a particular sort of D.I.Y warehouse shows, parties – a scene like that…I never knew Vampire Weekend or Grizzly Bear, these bands that didn’t come from that scene.”
But when someone screams fire in a crowded area, everyone stops and turns. So, when Grizzly Bear’s Veckamest [2009, Warp] debuts at number eight on the U.S. Billboard 200 or when MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular [2008, Columbia] sells over 1 million copies worldwide, it’s hard not to take notice.
“If people around you are doing rad shit, you want to step up your game.” Johnson says, “I think having a surrounding where there’s a lot of great creativity coming out of it — it’s almost competitive in a way. You’re like, ‘oh man, you’re doing rad shit, I gotta’ be doing rad shit.’”
That competitive nature is alive and well in Matt and Kim, as they look to outdo the success of their second full-length Grand [2009, Fader], which topped the charts at #165 – not bad for a record that was recorded at Johnson’s house in Vermont. On Nov. 2, Matt and Kim released Sidewalks, a record that doesn’t stray away from their heavy, electronica sound but embodies more of the here and now.
“Lyrically, a lot of it came from the last sort of two years, year and a half. They have been really, really busy for Kim and I, to the point where we don’t take days off or anything like that,” offers Johnson. “So, a lot of it [Sidewalks] is about living life right now…it’s about how you have to take every day and fit your life into it.”
“Thematically, I try to put the album into a category, but we try to keep things a little open for how you want to take it,” he adds.
- Matt Johnson
Sidewalks is lively and energetic. The hand clapping, foot-stomping beats send a wave of euphoria through your body that leaves you smiling, like it or not. Their stage presence is so hopped up, it prompted David Malitz of the Washington Post to describe Matt and Kim as a “Sonny and Cher gorged on Pixy Stix and Red Bull.”
“When people see us enjoying ourselves on stage everyone is taken back. People leave super – you know – really excited about it, but they’ve never seen it before. I just think that’s so fucking crazy because music is fun. It’s fun to play, its fun to do. Just be real and be honest and if you’re excited about playing music, show it.”
Johnson continues, “If you’re playing [music] because you’re letting something pissed off out, show it. There are so many bands that just look bored or they don’t care on stage. You can tell they looked at themselves in their full-length mirror earlier that day and were just like, ‘this is my stage look,’ and it’s so boring. If you actually are bored, then just fucking quit.”
While Matt and Kim’s overt energy may separate them from the rest, their set up isn’t necessarily unique either. Within the past decade, bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys have helped pioneer a new form of simplicity in music, and it’s hard to grasp an understanding of how two musicians can spawn more creativity than five. But Matt and Kim are proof that, in some instances, less is more.
“I’ve played in a band with five guys and, basically, when you do that, you have five different opinions of how a song should sound. Basically, what you’re doing is compromising over and over again until everyone is happy. By the end, the song is so watered down of compromise, it’s unfocused,” Johnson explains. “We’re able to take chances and try something [new] and not have a whole bunch of people have to okay it, essentially.”
So while the D.I.Y warriors continue to take chances and play catch up to their fellow Brooklynites, Matt and Kim have not lost sight of what music means to them. Johnson concludes, “Kim and I enjoy playing music and that’s why we do it. That’s why we’ve always did it, and we’ll quit the second we stop enjoying it.”
TheWaster.com | New York City