New wavers Matt and Kim show there’s virtue in simplicity with their masterpiece debut.
Terminally chipper DIY-flavoured new wavers Matt and Kim could be forgiven if they wanted company in the tour van. After all, the New York City–based, first-names-only musicians prefer to travel without support staff when they hit the road. That means singer-keyboardist Matt and drummer Kim don't employ a soundman, merch guy, or manager, let alone a personal sushi chef, trained masseuse, or backstage deli-tray inspector. Their commitment to going it alone will impress anyone who's been trapped in a tour vehicle long past the point where all conversation topics have been exhausted.
What complicates things is that when Matt and Kim pull back into NYC after weeks in their Astro Van, it's not like they go their separate ways. As well as being a team on-stage, they're boyfriend and girlfriend the other 23 hours a day, meaning they're together so much it's a wonder they haven't killed each other. Or at least seriously thought about it. It turns out that being sutured at the hip isn't a problem. Reached on tour at a Baton Rouge Laundromat on a much-needed wash day, Matt reveals himself to be a firm believer that two's company, three's a crowd–at least where his relationship with Kim is concerned.
"We were together a couple of years before the band, and that's when we first realized that we work together well and tend to agree on stuff," says Matt and Kim's de facto frontman. "We've tried travelling with others before, but we tend to get the third-wheel effect going on. You have to do a lot more driving when there's only two of you and you also gotta do your own merch, but for us that's worth it."
Making the long hauls between cities seem shorter is that almost every show leaves the seemingly perma-peppy twosome with plenty to talk about. For the uninitiated, Matt and Kim's live shows tend to degenerate into raging parties where crowd participation isn't so much encouraged as expected. It doesn't hurt that, as evidenced on their self-titled debut, the two unleash the kind of indie-kid-friendly dance-floor detonators that cause riots at Salon de Bourgeoisie. Because Matt and Kim got their start playing jam-packed apartments, they're used to being surrounded on all sides by sweat-drenched hipsters. And as a result, the two rarely finish a set to find themselves wishing that things had gone better. Or, for that matter, been less insane.
"Both Kim and I enjoy the pandemonium," Matt admits. "It's as much a part of the show as we are when the crowd really gets into it. It changes the whole night, no matter what size the room. We just played our friend Ryan's house in Pensacola, Florida, like in his living room. A couple hundred people showed up, even though it was a Monday night, and everyone just went wild. People were actually crowd-surfing to where they were literally walking on the ceiling. At the end of the show, there were all these footprints up there."
Given Matt and Kim's reputation for being almost stupidly exuberant live, it's fitting that their eponymous debut is the best thing to rocket out of the American underground this past half-year. The record gives you a good idea what the White Stripes might have sounded like had Meg and Jack planted their flag in the neon-drenched '80s. The bass-bombed synths and tub-thump drumming are what hit first, mostly because Matt and Kim seem to subsist on a diet of refined white sugar and Coca-Cola Classic. Upon repeated listens, though, it starts to become apparent that the duo has more to offer than a hyperspeed shtick. Harking back to the golden era of college rock, Matt's snotty, off-kilter vocals account for much of the album's appeal. But what really makes Matt and Kim a must-download is songs that prove there's beauty in simplicity. From the fantastically frantic kickoff, "It's a Fact (Printed Stained)", to the roller-rink sing-along closer, "Light Speed", Matt and Kim never waver from their less-is-more template.
"In the sort of post-hardcore bands that I've been in in the past, I used to never write a song with a verse or a chorus," Matt says. "It would all just be different parts. Eventually it occurred to me that I like songs with verses and choruses. I think the most effective songs are the simplest songs. And it takes a lot to write a simple song because it's hard for people to get over themselves. If you can put yourself out there and keep it simple, that's what resonates with people."
For further proof that Matt and Kim are determined to keep things stripped-down, check out their YouTube-posted video for "Yea Yeah", a synth-pop smash that sounds like the Pipettes getting loaded with Pavement and the Locust at a Williamsburg kitchen party. Like the song that inspired it, the video is a too-clever marvel of economy, featuring Matt and Kim givin' 'er in a white room set up to look like, well, a Williamsburg kitchen. Matt–who studied film in school–shot the video in one take. And he says it's no accident that he and Kim couldn't wipe the smiles off their faces, even as they were being knocked on their asses by giant tacos and wandering pizza slices.
"That video comes across very much the way one of our songs might come across," Matt says. "It's like, 'Think of an idea that's the simplest idea you can make but which will still keep people's attention for three minutes.' We didn't know what to expect in that video with all the craziness that was going on, and that made it sort of the same as one of our shows."
Matt and Kim play Pat's Pub on Wednesday (June 6).