“Let me in, coach! I got this!”
the girls are is delighted to be invited to interview Matt and Kim in a very nice apartment in Camden today. Very nice is right. The weather is nice, the manager is nice, the tea is… a little bit strong but the thought is nice. And Matt and Kim are nice. So nice.
The Brooklyn-based duo are perhaps best known for their videos which have seen them naked in Times Square, crammed into cupboards, pelted with food and, in their recent video for single ‘Cameras’, kicking the ever-loving crap out of each other. But under the Youtube phenomenalies are some high quality song craft that has earned them a passionate fan following. Formed in 2004, Matt Johnson (vocals, keyboards, dimples) and Kim Schifino (drums, vocals, tattoos) found some commercial success with their second DIY album Grand, the sense of messy fun and celebratory emotions striking a chord with gloom-hit audiences, not to mention an advertiser or two. Now touring with third album Sidewalks, we catch up with them to talk curry – “They say London is famous for curry. It’s all we’ve eaten since we got here” – parties and not pulling punches.
the girls are: Matt and Kim, welcome back to the UK. A bit of a flying visit – you’ll only be playing one show here before you head off again.
Kim: Time always seems to be running out. We only had a small amount of time to come over which means we only get to do a London show. Which sucks because we have been through other cities and had good shows. We need to do just a UK tour.
Matt: We could be here for weeks. That’s the thing about Europe – we could do just a Germany tour. In a way, we kind of see Europe as a whole because the land-mass size is similar to the United States. But there’s so many different territories. There’s so much to hit and so little time to do it.
the girls are: Do you have any plans for festivals this summer after your big US tour? The festival season is just starting to kick off…
Kim: We just started getting offers and we’re trying to figure out what we should do.
Matt: We had a couple of offers come in for like 3 days after our US tour ended and I was like, might need to just wait for a few days. But following, what month is that?
Matt: Yeah, July, August, that realm, we’ve kind of kept open for coming back and doing European festivals.
the girls are: Tell us about the new album. How does it differ from the first two?
Kim: Well, it differs in two ways. The first album we recorded in a studio but we only had a week to do it and it was very much rushed. We didn’t have time to experiment with things so it was basically us set up as if we were playing live. And then the second album we recorded in Matt’s old bedroom at his parents’ house and that was us figuring out how to record and do everything. This time we were in a studio with people who knew what they were doing and we worked on it for nine months.
Matt: It just gave us more time to actually think about the songs and less time worrying about technical stuff . We were like, we’re going to do this and we’re going to get it right and make it best we can.
the girls are: It surprises us to hear the second album was recorded in a bedroom – it sounds pretty smooth.
Matt: Oh thanks! That was just me figuring it out as we went. I couldn’t believe when songs like ‘Daylight’ went gold in the States after selling like half a million copies. I kept thinking “that was recorded in my bedroom!” But it just shows you the power of do-it-yourself and reading on internet sites stuff like “How do you record a kick drum?”
the girls are: How much of the success do you think is down to your videos?
Matt: It’s definitely helped to spread the word, for sure. Especially these days, online, you’re not just banking on TV shows playing your stuff and whatnot. I can’t believe that ‘Lessons Learned’ made it through standards to actually be on air. ‘Cameras’ actually had more issues than ‘Lessons Learned’ did with getting on air. In Canada it can only play after 9pm and I think it’s the same in the UK.
‘Cameras’ was directed by a guy called Jonathan Delgado. Mostly we’ll come up with ideas and have friends work on it or we’ll work on it together. But I came up with that idea and we thought we needed someone who could really pull it off who’s worked with Hollywood type situations. He hired this company called Eighty-seven-eleven which is this fight choreography group who did the Matrix and the Bourne Identity and The 300. Basically anything where Keanu Reeves is kicking ass, they were part of that. They choreographed the whole fight. Fight choreography is crazy. I have a whole new respect for it. It’s like learning an intricate ballet. It’s not just about throwing punches. They’re like, “you throw this, but you have to hold this one tight so you can feel the strength and you have to move your weight from this ball to this ball to your heel…”
Kim: It sounds crazy because we only had two days of rehearsals before we shot it and I was looking at the schedule and thinking, “it’s weird they only have us in there for three hours a day. Shouldn’t we be in there for twelve hours and really getting this down?” And we have never been in so much pain than in those two three hour sessions. We couldn’t walk.
Matt: I didn’t even know I had hamstrings!
Kim: What is this pain that is happening right here?! It was a work out.
the girls are: Did the make-up take a lot of time?
Kim: Not really, because it was mixed with actual bruises and cuts. There were a lot of missed hits and whatnot that happened during the shoot.
Matt: Kim missed a hit on camera. You’re supposed to punch like a foot away from someone’s face and it’s all about the reaction. But Kim drove it right into my nose on the very first take and it started getting all dark and bloody and the make-up artist was like “This is great! I can just highlight what you already have happening here. Kim, could you punch him in the other eye?”
Kim: We had a lot of moments where we were blocking with our forearms and for days after they were covered in marks. I had a bruise that went from the front of my stomach and wrapped all the way around my back. It was awesome. I was excited about it. It was the first video we shot that I enjoyed making.
the girls are: Was it stress relieving?
Kim: It was great because they were long shoots where we’d have to be in at seven and shoot until seven pm, but it didn’t feel like that long of a day. There were certain takes when Matt and I would be stood on the sidelines waiting to say “OK, my turn, my turn!”
Matt: We had stunt doubles and Kim kept saying “Let me just do it! I wanna do this one!”
Kim: I was like a nipping dog at the director. But reasonably we were heading out to do shows after that they were saying “We cannot have you guys get hurt” even while I was like “Don’t worry I can take it! Let me in coach, I got this!”
the girls are: So you’re from Brooklyn, where music comes from. Do you have any tips for the girls are for what’s coming out of Brooklyn at the moment?
Kim: Sadly, we don’t know! We’re never home now.
Matt: That’s the thing. We’re on the road most of the year and it’s been that way for the last number of years, so I don’t know about bands. But we do like to recommend to people that, if they are in New York and headed to Brooklyn that there’s a website called toddpnyc and they list all the shows you’re not going to see listed in the Village Voice or proper listings. Shows that happen that are in art spaces and warehouses and things like that.
the girls are: Have you picked up any new music since you’ve been touring?
Kim: What was the last thing I bought?
[look at each-other, shake heads]
Matt: Kim and I will listen to a lot of top 40 hip hop and that kind of thing. We listen to what we think is fun. We have no ‘guilty pleasures’. We’re not always so aware of what’s new and next. We play at festivals like Coachella and there will be a lot of these bands that have a lot of hype and buzz and we won’t really know much about them.
Kim: In Brussels we’ll be playing with Buraka Som Systema, which I’m excited about. I know in the US when we start the Sidewalks tour, we’re going out with The Fireballs and that’s going to be exciting.
Matt: They’re a cool band who I’ve been a fan of for as long as we’ve been playing. It’s wild sometimes to have bands that you’re a big fan of and you ask them to come support your tour and they come! It’s one of those full-circle things. We’ve done a few shows with Weezer in recent times. They were my favourite band when I was twelve years old and there are very few bands who are your favourite when you’re twelve and you still will listen to today. We got a call and we went in the studio with Rivers Cuomo and worked on a song together and I thought, twelve year old me would be going crazy!
Kim: Even you now!
Matt: Yeah, 27-year-old me was going crazy too. But it is wild to get mutual respect from other bands that you really like.
The pair very sweetly invite the girls are to their sold-out show at The Garage.
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Photography by Emli Bendixen for the girls are.