After an accident on stage in Mexico last year, electro-pop duo Matt and Kim were forced to go on hiatus while drummer Kim Schifino recovered from an ACL injury. As a band that’s been pumping out albums and touring the world since 2004, a year away from music gave them an unexpected break to reflect on their career and begin work on their sixth studio album. Facing the challenges that come with physical therapy and recovery, Matt and Kim spent the end of 2017 writing their first “album album,” with each song meant to carry the record from start to finish.
Unlike their past records, Almost Everyday reveals a more intimate side of the band and touches on their personal relationship as a couple. The single “Happy if You’re Happy,“ an acapella song Matt wrote for Kim to support her through her recovery, is one of the first of the band’s songs in their 14-year career to be considered a love ballad to one another. As they gear up to begin their two-month North American tour, mxdwn spoke to Matt Johnson about Kim’s long recovery, moving forward as a band and how to keep people dancing through a time of political unrest.
Photo Credit: Kalyn Oyer
mxdwn: You guys are coming back from a pretty rough year after Kim’s accident, what was it like having to take a break?
Matt Johnson: It was, A.) Really fucking weird. Because my entire adult life has been traveling with this band. I’ve never taken like, three months off, never mind essentially a year and four months, something like that. Because we’d taken the winter off, which was a really long break for us. And then the first show back, the first minute of the first show was where Kim tore her ACL. So it was this really strange feeling like, “Well, I’m retired now. Remember when we used to play in that band and we toured around and went to different countries and stuff? That was a weird time!” So it was really strange in that way. And we thought we we were gonna hop right into writing music, like “Let’s do this!” But it’s hard when you’re facing recovery. With Kim, she was going through physical therapy pretty much every day. All of the things that come with it, like just helping her move around, we didn’t get to work for months. It was just…I don’t remember what happened those months other than concentrating on getting Kim better. Eventually we got into writing and I think a lot of that weird year poured into the album, but it was cool. I feel it makes it different, especially being six albums in.
Photo Credit: Kalyn Oyer
mxdwn: The song “Happy if You’re Happy” is a song that you wrote for Kim about her recovery, even though as a band you’ve typically strayed away from love songs. Do you feel like there’s something different about this album that made the songs a little more personal?
MJ: I think overall it’s much more personal. Okay so, for so many years we never wrote anything that could be considered a love song. We just didn’t want to be Sonny and Cher singing to each other — ugh, terrible! [laughs]. Not that I have a problem with Sonny and Cher, we just didn’t want to be that. But at a certain point when you look at the important things in your life, with “Happy if You’re Happy” I was looking at that year and Kim was so bummed. It was so weird to see that in her because she’s such an upbeat and fun person and she always has been. I’m the one who will drag us down and she’ll pull us up. To see her, yeah, unhappy, you know. I realized I couldn’t be happy if she was unhappy. So, I don’t know. I think we were ready to do something very real, there’s a lot of honesty across the whole album I think. Forced change. [laughs]
mxdwn: As a duo and a couple, how do you guys decide which direction to take and what material is going to go on the album?
MJ: Well, yeah, there’s no separation between band life and couple life. If we’re having a disagreement in one, it certainly goes in the other, we don’t say, “Time out!” ever. Fortunately, we don’t have that much disagreement, we’ve spent our lives on pretty much the same page. Especially after all these years, the roles we fall into and how we write songs and stuff like that makes a lot of sense. Every now and then I try to push things probably too far, too weird, too outside of what people consider “Matt and Kim,” and then Kim will reel us back a little, which I think is a good push and pull. I think it keeps us changing a little bit but also makes it so that we don’t totally freak people out with hard left turns.
Photo Credit: Kalyn Oyer
mxdwn: You began in 2004 during George W. Bush’s presidency, when there was a lot of political unrest in the country. With what’s going on in the U.S. right now, are you reminded of what it was like back then? How have you guys been responding to everything?
MJ: I mean it’s weird how you bring that up because at the time, yes, with George W. it did seem like there was a real division between the parties and yeah, the “unrest” if you will. But now, looking back, it just doesn’t even seem to compare to what’s going on now. Doesn’t even compare. There were a lot of jokes, there was a lot of Saturday Night Live, there was a lot of silly things said. Of course, not to mention you know, bad things happened anyway, not to downplay it. But now, how angry everybody is, from all sides about all kinds of stuff. It’s wild. The last song on the album, which is called “Where Do We Go From Here?,” we wrote it so it could feel like it was written about an argument between friends or a couple or whatever, when things get really bad and where do you go from there? But really we were looking at the state of things in the world when we were singing “Where do we go from here?” Because I’m curious! I put these blinders up every now and then and it’s very selfish of me to put blinders up and ignore things going on, but I just get so overwhelmed that I have to take a step out.
mxdwn: Going along with that, as artists who make music to get people to celebrate and dance, is it hard to keep that alive while trying to comment on this kind of political climate?
Matt: Well, with this new album, the music is very upbeat. It’s very danceable, it’s very singable. That’s the kind of music I love when it comes to beat and melody and composition and all of that. But, you know, lyrically there are some darker tones, like in the one I just brought up. We find our place isn’t in telling people what to think. If we can get the people inspired at arm’s length, like the people at our show, if we can get them to lead and be inspired, that’s what we look for. People tell me sometimes about how a song that we wrote helped them through a tough time — if we can do that and those people can go on to do what it is that they feel inspired to do, maybe that’s our place in all of this, as far as I see it.
Photo Credit: Owen Ela
mxdwn: You guys are noted especially for your performances at festivals, and I know you’re about to play Shaky Knees this weekend in Atlanta. What is important to you both in terms of the live shows?
Matt: Engagement. That’s it. We need a visually engaged audience. There are some bands that are incredible bands, people can be having life-changing moments watching that band, but the extent of it is them lightly bobbing their head, and that just doesn’t do it for me. I need people jumping around, mosh pits, crowd surfing, singing along, waving their arms. Our whole goal for the entire time we’re on stage is just to get people as active as possible. It’s like if a comedian was doing a set and nobody laughed, that would be what it’s like when no one is dancing and singing along. To get the most visual and audible reaction, that’s the equivalent of getting a roar of a laugh and that’s completely the fuel that we feed off of. So I think that’s part of what people like about our performances. It’s so about everyone that’s there, it’s not at all just about me and Kim, it’s about the whole field or wherever it’s at. It is kind of unfortunate that our first American festival will be called “Shaky Knees” after Kim just tore her ACL, but we’re excited for it. [laughs]
mxdwn: What do you guys have to say to fans about what to expect from Almost Everyday and the upcoming tour?
Matt: Well, to me, we really wanted to make an album. That sounds funny ’cause we’ve made many albums. But I mean something that plays like an album from the first to the last song, where there’s instrumental songs, an acapella song, fast and slow songs. Everyone tells me, “The album’s dead! It’s dead!” Everyone just listens to singles and put things on shuffle. And I get that, I do the same thing! But some of my favorite listening experiences with music have been albums that I put on from the first song and listen all the way through to the last song. It’s only 29 minutes long, it’s short, but it has everything it needs. Sometimes in the past we were very focused on making singles, songs that sit by themselves, and I believe in every song we’ve ever put out, but I think this album has songs that were never meant to be a single, they’re only meant to be on an album and experienced that way. And I think it’s really cool and reminds me of something we would’ve done right when we started.
Photo Credit: Owen Ela
Featured Image Photo Credit: Kalyn Oyer