By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
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Dance-punk duo Matt & Kim might as well be re-dubbed Hubba Bubba. Their music's as bubbly, buoyant and carefree as bubble gum, sponsoring a sunny joyful experience like a summer pool party. Kim Schifino's drums offer Rice Krispies crackle for keyboardist Matt Johnson's bounding keyboards and keening tenor. And it's all driven by infectious melodies and warmth delivered with a certain simplicity and unaffected directness.
"Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution," Johnson says over the phone from the coupled-up band's Brooklyn home. "That goes for almost anything in life, I guess. But, in a song, the idea's to simplify it because, in the end, what people connect to first of all is melody, or something they can hum along to, and secondly a beat, something they can bob their head to. Sometimes, if you're too good, you have a difficult time playing something that's just simpler for the song."
The pair ran into each other at a party while attending art school at Pratt Institute. We can only assume from the vibe emanating from their relationship and subsequent music that they met cute. They began the band in 2004 with Schifino taking up drums, despite never having played them before, and Johnson adopting the keyboards, though his musical experience was limited to the guitar and bass he'd played in high school punk bands.
As history has proved (Talking Heads, Wire) art school frequently inspires a certain adventurousness that spills over into the music.
"It teaches you to follow your gut," Johnson says. "It's about making something that makes yourself happy."
Though their three albums have gotten progressively better, their recorded music generally pales next to their performances, which seem to be the ideal medium for conveying the energy and positive spirit of their music.
Simply put, they're people who live for the moment they're currently experiencing. On the plinky, foot-tapping "Daylight," Johnson contemplates unplugging his clock and ignoring his ringing phone to better appreciate the day. He suggests there's "no time for cameras, we'll use our eyes instead," on "Cameras" off their latest, Sidewalks. And this is a thread that runs through all their music, but particularly the new album, after they suddenly found themselves a madly touring underground sensation in the wake of 2009's Grand, which broke into the Top 25 of Billboard's indie charts.
Sidewalks, though, has outperformed its predecessor, cracking the rock chart's Top 10 and hitting No. 30 on Billboard's Top 200. That comes on top of winning a 2009 MTV Video Music Award for Grand's "Lessons Learned" video, which inspired Erykah Badu's "Window Seat" video and features the couple walking around Times Square naked, gawking at the scenery while the crowds gawk at them. The approbation was tremendously gratifying for Johnson, who studied film at Pratt. (Schifino was decidedly less excited about baring it all for tourists and bystanders.)
Befitting their general demeanor, Johnson's quite grateful for everything that's befallen them.
"When I played music in my high school punk band, I thought if one person I didn't know knew the words to a song that I had written, then it would completely blow my mind," he says. "Now, from music videos that come from my ideas that have had millions of views to going to Japan and having a festival audience singing along to our songs, I never take any of that for granted. I'm always like, 'How is this possible?'"