Matt Johnson, half of the Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim, released his second album Grand on January 20th. The album was recorded over the course of nine months after the two sequestered themselves in Matt’s childhood home state of Vermont. Our conversation began when I placed him on hold to switch him into our recording system.

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Wait, what did I just hear there for a second? “A stick up bulb for a lighting closet style.”

I uh, since I already have you on the line… I work for Redacted in my other life. I just try not to lead off with that one off the bat. Just in case you are like, “You are straight up evil.” But they give me health insurance, so I’m okay with it.

What? That old thing? Yes, that is the dream. Kim and I have said we will judge true success on when we have health insurance.

Yeah? Record labels aren’t throwing dental at you left and right?

Oh yeah, tons of it. You know… no.

How are you doing? How were your holidays?

It was good, I go to my parents place in Vermont. It’s totally laid back. You don’t have the option to do things if you want to.

I’m actually from Alaska, so we kind of have the same thing.

This year, Kim and I played Alaska and it was the place I was most intrigued about before going to, a place that we had never been to. I was just so curious about Alaska in general and we had a good time in Anchorage.

I’m from Fairbanks and I saw you guys were playing there. I was telling people left and right to drive down, because that’s what people do. I mean, if No Doubt plays in Anchorage, you drive the seven hours down there and spend the night on a friends couch.

We met some people from Fairbanks.

So tell me a little bit about the new album.

It was totally a different process than how we’ve recorded in the past. Last time we recorded we had nine days to record our whole album. We kept asking people, “How long does it take?” Because we had never recorded an album before and no one could really tell us. Then the record label we were working with at the time didn’t have much of a budget and said, “Let’s see, how about nine days.” So basically that just turned into something like, “Okay, good enough, go on.” Then this recording we spent essentially nine months recording it. So it was a little bit of a different process.

And you recorded it in your childhood bedroom in Vermont.

Growing up in Vermont, I went to public high school and graduated in a class of 17. Which for most people that’s a complete AHHHHH. I don’t know what it was in Fairbanks.

We had about 200 for us.

See, geez, you’ve got us killed.

I know.

It was definitely the middle of nowhere, but we just wanted somewhere where we could go and have sufficient time to try whatever the fuck we wanted to try. As opposed to the last time we tried to record it was like, “Do you think this will work? I don’t know if this will work, well, do we want to spend two hours of the little time we have here to try this out?” And we were like, “No, let’s just skip it.” So now we are able to try out different instruments and things like that.

In listening to the album, I can recognize familiar things, but it’s a lot more layered. There are more things going on.

We just wanted to make something that felt more complete and more diverse. We played drums and keyboards a lot live because that was a good way we figured out early on that we could kind of translate what we were writing into playing live. But it wasn’t necessarily the only thing we would play for anything. Matt and Kim is just whatever Matt and Kim plays. So we were really able to diversify it. On our last recording we even wanted to do different instrumentation and there was just never time to do it. I was nervous that people would think, “Oh, they changed a bunch,” but it wasn’t that we changed, we just got to do what we always wanted to do.

I keep waiting for the moment when someone says they totally sold out. But I wouldn’t categorize it as selling out, it’s a very solid record.

We started work on that and mostly had it completely finished by the time we had even decided on a record label to release with. People always assume it was a producer, or their record label or something wanted them to change their sound. And we want everyone to know NO, this is where Matt and Kim were going. There was no one else’s influences other than us that even recorded the damn thing. We had a little help here and there but we did the work mostly ourselves. We didn’t want anyone to be able to say oh, they changed this or that… we just did what we wanted to do.

I’ve heard “Silver Tiles” and “Jessie Jane” online, why did those not end up on the album?

Those were back from the first little EP we had ever recorded. Back when we first began back in like 2005, it was something we recorded in our practice space. And one of those songs, “5K” we had re-recorded and put it on our last album. But other than that, I kind of want them all to stand. We made them and hand burned thousands of copies of them; Kinkos style folded, and photocopied. I just want those songs to always live there. People seem to really like the song “Silver Tiles” and we play it as a closer to our shows. People just know it even though it was never officially released on anything. And I just like that fact.

So tell me about touring, because you guys started out playing kitchens and very intimate venues to say the least, and then I see you play the Bowery Ballroom, and guys are diving off stacks and wiping out entire rows of people.

That is true. We did start out here in Brooklyn with warehouses, lofts, kitchens, living rooms, basements and all that. We were really nervous when it first came time that it was getting a little unsafe in places and shows were getting shut down because too many people were showing up. We started playing venues that it was going to lose the vibe. Sometimes venues have this sterile sort of feeling, it loses a sort of specialness, I feel. Because you’ve seen so many shows there. So we were just nervous its going to lose that vibe. That show for example, it felt like the loft party just on a bigger scale. It’s also choosing your venues somewhat wisely. The Bowery Presents people have always been very good to us, other venues we’ve played have just awful security that is used to dealing with meatheads and when people start dancing they start pushing people around thinking they’re fighting. So sometimes we need to have meetings before shows and say, “This is what to expect; we don’t want people to get kicked out.” Some places legally they can’t have crowd surfing and I’m like, “Don’t kick them out, because people are going to come to our shows expecting they can. Just give them a warning and if they are doing it more and you have to take action then do so.” We don’t want people to come expecting one thing and then be like, “Oh and now I’m kicked out.” The transition was scary but it was good also.

How is it taking it on the road? I saw you play the Bowery Ballroom and then you played SXSW two or three days later and it was still a fun show, but the crowd was very different, even though I’m pretty sure half of them were imported from Brooklyn.

The thing is we started touring long before we had an album. All we had was that EP we had done. And we just started doing rounds in the country playing from no venues at all to like ten people. Even that show was two years ago, that SXSW. We slowly built and built and gained a reputation for people who want to go out and dance and have fun and not be too worried about how cool they look. Now we’ve gone back to Austin and we’ll play a place like Mohawk with 400 people. We actually have a video on our MySpace of us at that venue to people stage diving and dancing, it’s the same sort of vibe we didn’t have outside of the city for a while, but is now the reputation we’ve gained or earned or been given.

You’ve toured internationally.

Yep, Europe a few times, Australia, I consider that Alaska trip international.

I think the Alaska trip was in March of last year right, how cold was it?

It was funny because it was getting warm and we were planning, and there was still tons of snow and avalanches and shit. I couldn’t believe it, we were driving down the road and you could see where they had to plow snow off the road were an avalanche had totally covered. That was pretty far out. Going to Australia and going to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane we had a good partner there called Popfrenzy. Again we had 500 people in Sydney and it was like holy shit, we are nowhere even close to where we’re from. It’s never anything short of mind blowing to me. But then, on our last tour in the UK, in Northern UK we had some pretty humbling shows. Where it was like here’s my feet here’s the ground keep your head out of the clouds because there is like hardly anybody here. While sometimes the world seems smaller, it’s still pretty big.

Are you in New York City at the moment?

I am, I’m watching the snow coming down.

Stay warm

I’m going to try not to leave the apartment this weekend. It seems like a good goal.

by Nicholas Ryan

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