Q&A: Matt & Kim's Violent Life Behind the Camera
Let it be known: Matt & Kim are not just "swing sets and lollipops." That phrase uttered by vocalist/keyboardist Matt Johnson speaks to an aura of cutesiness that's bound itself to the Brooklyn indie-pop duo. Both their recordings and must-experience live shows can get so effervescent, bouncy, and gleefully hooky that it's easy to think of them as something sweet and benign. Throw in the fact that Johnson and drummer Kim Schifino are a real-life couple and the sum can sound ridiculously sugary.
In an effort to combat that perception, Matt and Kim's music videos tap into something that's more daring and subversive that you might expect of a band so earnest. Their debut vid, "5K," featured knives being brandished and knives happily digging into body parts, leaving a bloody mess at the end.
depicted a one-take shot where all manner of edibles -- rice, beans,
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ketchup, spaghetti, popcorn, cereal, flour -- were chucked at the band
while tried to play. (Cleaning up the mess took six hours.) "Daylight"
was their kindest, breeziest clip, with the pair playing inside a
closet, a bathroom, a dumpster, the back of a cab, and a fridge. Most
noteworthy of all, however, is "Lessons Learned" (embedded below) where
the couple hopped out of a van into Times Square and stripped as they
walked along. Strangers whipped out the cameras and shocked expressions,
of course, but the couple stood their ground, eventually stopping to
gaze at the city around them while they were naked (save for socks). It
was a great hook for a video--so good that Erykah Badu later did the
same thing in "Window Seat."
The latest addition to their collection is a clip for "Cameras" from
last November's Sidewalks, where Matt and Kim have a small
misunderstanding that escalates into a full-scale bloody brawl where a
maraca, a tambourine, a guitar, and Chinese takeout are all employed as
weapons. As Johnson's amusingly noted in the past, the running theme of
the group's videos seem to be him coming up with ideas that put Kim in
uncomfortable situations, but the drummer actually enjoyed this one, so
Johnson might have shake up his tactics in the future. Before the duo
stop by Culture Room on Sunday, June 5, for a show alongside The
Thermals and Flosstradamus' Autobot, we caught up with Johnson for a
snappy, entertaining chat about "Cameras" and other Matt and Kim videos.
(Advance apologies if the interview ever gets choppy; our recording
equipment lost its juice soon after the conversation begun, which really
New Times: Who came up with the idea for "Cameras?"
Matt Johnson: It came from me, as have a number of our music videos. I was trying to think of something where we could have a bunch of energy like there is at a live show but not just be playing music. I don't know, I think I was watching Kill Bill. I was like, "Hmm," and that's sort of how that came to life.
How long did the choreography for the clip take? What was the experience like?
We had this studio called 87eleven that does big Hollywood films with people hired to do the choreography. I was looking at the posters throughout the studio, which were The Matrix and 300 and The Bourne Identity -- basically, anything where Keanu Reeves is kicking ass -- and I was like, 'What are we doing here?' Meanwhile, while [for] a few-minute scene, most actors will spend a couple of weeks working on that thing, we didn't have that luxury, especially in the financial department. Kim and I had two days of rehearsal of the choreography that they had set up beforehand and then we shot for two more days and that was that. I wasn't even aware I had hamstrings until after the first day of shooting where my hamstrings hurt so much. It's just interesting because it's really so much like dance in the sense of moving your weight. When you're selling a punch on camera, it's like moving your weight from this toe to that toe. [With] all of these different moves, I have a new respect for when people do that in film.
One of you guys posted on your website that you were in pain for a week after a shoot.
It was probably me. I remember that tweet going up, but Kim was "claiming" -- I put that in finger quotes -- that she was feeling fine. We actually were pretty beat up afterward. We had done stuff with a mic stand. I don't know if it made the cut, but where we're blocking and my forearms were just completely black and blue, and even though [with] film stuff, the punch is supposed to be a foot away from a person -- it's all about the camera angle and the reaction -- Kim drove a punch full force right into my nose first thing on screen, [giving me a] bloody nose, black eye, all that. The makeup person was like, "Oh, this is great! I can just highlight the black eye you're already getting."
How many of the shots that actually made into the final product were real ones where you made contact?
It's funny. Most of 'em don't make it. It's weird because for selling fighting on camera, it's not always the real thing that looks believable on camera.
What kind of ideas have you guys had for videos that you haven't been able to do anything with for budgetary reasons or other factors?
There are some ideas I have that we haven't been able to do. The only thing is I don't want to divulge them in the sense of maybe someday budget and time will permit [them happening], so I don't want to put anything out into the ether. "Cameras" cost us ten times as much to make as any other video -- a hundred times as much as a video like "Yea Yeah." We just shot a new video last week and went back to a very low-budget format--not to say we won't go high again -- but we've had a lot of ideas brought to us that [haven't worked with our style]. Also, a lot of these are pitches from directors and things like that. I don't want to give away any particular ideas either.
You have a diverse catalog of concepts in your videos. What does a good Matt and Kim video accomplish?
It's funny, I've never really been asked this question or thought of it in a simple way, but I do think [a good video] embodies what we do musically and what-not, which is make something that's energetic and simple that can you enjoy on a first time through.
This story appeared in abbreviated form here.
Matt & Kim, with the Thermals and Autobot. 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 5,
at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost
$20. Call 954-564-1074, or click here.
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