Before becoming indie superstars, drum-and-keyboard duo Matt and Kim were just another pair of students at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. They met while attending classes at the prestigious art school, with Matt Johnson (Class of ’04) majoring in film and Kim Schifino (Class of ’02) focused on illustration. Shortly after graduating from Pratt, Matt and Kim started learning their instruments, and were quickly pushed into their first show by fellow Pratt alumni Japanther.
On a cold Sunday afternoon, we met Matt and Kim in the Pratt cafeteria for a trip down memory lane. After the jump, the band takes us on a tour, poses for pics, drops some art-school tips, and shares their favorite college memories.
Despite the fact that it’s been years since they graduated, Matt and Kim only stopped using the school’s resources recently. “Back before we were touring a lot, I was still using my alumni card and silkscreening here, and we would use the computer lab.” Kim says. Matt’s quick to add that the band’s initial shirts were all silkscreened at Pratt, not to mention that they shot their videos for “5K” and “Yea, Yeah” in the basement of Pratt’s Athletic Resource Center (ARC).
As for their favorite memories, Kim looks back fondly on her senior art show outside of Steuben Hall. “We had a BBQ, had beer, had Japanther play, and we were supposed to have Matt’s old band [Amanda Noa] play before we really knew each other. Well, I had a crush on him and that was about it. It was a huge party, pretty amazing.”
Matt’s favorite memory is a little more destructive: “One year, they collected all the leaves on campus in garbage bags and stacked them near the ARC building, and me and my friend realized we could climb to the roof, so we went to the peak of the building, which is like 25 feet high, and jumped into these bags of leaves.” Kim is quick to chime in that Matt did a very, very stupid thing.
As for potential advice for anyone attending (or looking to attend) art school? “Well the thing is, with any school… this is the only college I ever went to, but like, you can get by without putting any effort into it, but if you want to, you can do rad stuff, you know?” Matt says. Kim claims that anyone looking at art school should come to Pratt: “I went to a few different colleges, and I ended up at Pratt, and basically anyone that we meet on the road that is talking about art school, I’m always telling them, ‘go to Pratt!'”
The most energizing aspect of Pratt for Matt and Kim might have been being surrounded by so many other creative people, some (like Japanther) who would later push them into their musical career. Most of their friends are still artists, many of them Pratt alumni. “Just being surrounded by friends doing cool shit was inspiring. It makes you want to do cool shit, whatever it is,” Matt says.
After leaving the cafeteria, Kim guides us to her favorite place on campus, the silkscreen studio. She brings a key to her old locker in hopes that they haven’t cleared it out. Lo and behold, Kim’s locker is untouched, and it includes the original transparencies that appear on the covers for both their self-titled debut album and their new album, Grand. She’s quick to point out that she not only missed getting to work in her old studio, but the general smell of the building itself.
From there, Matt and Kim take us to their favorite of Pratt’s many public sculptures as we talk about the new album and their upcoming tour. When we ask about the fact that many critics consider the record to be nostalgic, Kim describes the album as having a “’missing New York’ type feel” for her. As for Matt, he mentions that their main intention with Grand was to make a more rounded record than their debut, an album whose songs were played on record the same way they were played live. “It’s sort of nostalgic but cinematic for me, with a real opening and closing. I don’t know what really makes this record nostalgic, but it has the feel for me.”
As for their upcoming tour, Matt and Kim have remained positive and happy during their shows because they’ve been very careful not to burn out despite touring almost non-stop the last few years. “We put a lot into our live show, and we do what we do because we enjoy it. We don’t want to lose that, so we try to make it a point where we take one day a week off,” says Kim. Matt’s seen plenty of bands take every touring opportunity they can before quickly burning out, so they’ve been careful. “And we don’t want that to happen… that would be like the death of the band … I was reading [blog] comments that were like ‘What do they have to be so happy about?’ Well, I get to bang the shit out of drums all the time, and it’s exciting and fun to do!”
At this point, the duo was ready to leave us for another kind of excitement: one of their favorite neighborhood spots, Chinese food restaurant, New Grace Kitchen on Myrtle Avenue. Who says there aren’t advantages to art school?
[Editor’s note: For more Matt and Kim awesomeness, check out this video interview with NylonTV in their local laundromat.]