Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim's self-titled 2006 debut album didn't make much of an impact, but the group's latest, Grand, has made critics swoon, won the band an endorsement deal with Bacardi and hit iTunes' top 30.
So what are they doing differently this time around? Just four things, says the band. Presenting Matt and Kim's secrets to success:
Get a new label. Keyboardist and lead singer Matt Johnson says the band went looking for a better deal after Matt and Kim, which Los Angeles imprint Iheartcomix will own until the end of time. "We didn't know what 'in perpetuity' meant when we signed," Matt notes. The duo visited with some majors, but after encountering unoccupied reception desks and "tumbleweeds rolling through the halls," in Matt's words, it decided to sign with New York's multi-platform Fader label. "Before it just seemed like we were doing everything on our own," says Kim Schifino, who plays drums. "It's nice to have this team now."
Record your album in the woods. Matt grew up in a small southern-Vermont town called Jacksonville, in a house surrounded by cow pastures. The couple—who are married in real life—returned there to put together Grand. "Kim is truly spooked by nature," Matt says. "She could be in the shadiest part of Detroit with homeless people holding guns and not be scared, but the second you put her in the woods, she's terrified. So she lost her mind." He adds: "I lost my mind years ago, having spent 18 years living there."
Throw out the old playbook. "I feel like our first album was pretty much the same song 10 times," Matt says, noting that reviews commonly read something like, "'I like it, but you almost have to see [the duo] live to get them.'" Their goal on Grand, therefore, was to make an album that could stand on its own. To accomplish this, they made the songs more musically complex by adding layers of synth, drums, vocals and effects. "We tried to have something that, on the 30th listen, you would say, 'I didn't notice that part there,'" Matt says. And it worked; Grand is a rollicking, inventive dance pop CD that rewards repeated listens.
Get completely naked in your video. This one's a no-brainer, but Matt had difficulty convincing Kim that their video for "Lessons Learned" should feature them taking off all of their clothes and walking through Times Square on a cold winter morning. "I just didn't want to get arrested," Kim notes, adding that there was another factor as well: "I didn't want to get naked." Oh, and: "It just didn't seem fun." Numerous foot rubs and massages later, however, Matt got his way, and the pair even managed to secure a permit for the filming. Never mind that it didn't exactly apply to what they were doing. "It was a permit to shoot a 'web promo,'" Matt notes. "It was worded vaguely, like, 'Two tourists walk through Times Square, dressed inappropriately for the weather.'" Somehow they weren't arrested, and the video became a viral hit. "In the end it was an awesome video," Kim admits, although she says its ending wasn't exactly how Matt envisioned it. "Getting hit by a bus," she brags, "was my idea."