Approaching the close of their afternoon set at 2013’s Bonnaroo Music Festival, Matt and Kim began to fear for the crowd’s safety. The duo was playing under a large tent, but thousands of restless fans had gathered around the perimeter and drummer Kim Schifino thought it would be cool to get them more involved in the show. “About three songs before the end, Kim said, ‘I want anyone who is outside the tent to feel free to crowdsurf their way to the front,'” remembers her boyfriend and bandmate Matt Johnson. “Civilization crumbled. I thought everyone was going to die! There were hundreds of people crowdsurfing.”
No one was hurt, but in that moment, the duo were terrified. “That was the one time I was onstage and thought, ‘I just fucked up,'” says Schifino.
“The one time?” Johnson kids with a cheeky smirk. Despite the occasionally spectacular crashes, Matt and Kim have built their career on high-energy, mandatory-fun live performances. But their heavy touring schedule is also what delayed the completion of New Glow, their first LP since to 2012’s Lightning. In December of 2013, the band began a year-long workshopping process that would ultimately produce 60 songs. The final 10 form an eclectic, cheery record that draws from EDM, hip-hop and even punk – a mix that the duo is particularly proud of. “This album is the first time we sort of captured all our worlds in one place,” says Johnson.
“Pop is what we like,” Schifino adds. “It’s been a nice progression that we’ve had. If you listen to our first album compared to this, it’s definitely way more pop.”
Lead single “Get It,” a trap-inflected sing-along about partying until the early morning, proves their point: The sound is perfect for festival main stages (its music video even includes footage from that near-disastrous Bonnaroo set), and the lyrics breathe new life into classic themes. “I believe a song like ‘Get It’ has always been a Matt and Kim song,” says Johnson. “We just hadn’t recorded it yet.”
After self-producing Lightning, the band moved forward with the help of three people: Lars Stalfors (who produced their self-titled debut back in 2006), Jesse Shatkin (who co-wrote Sia’s “Chandelier”) and prolific engineer Andrew Dawson. All three offered stability and outside insight – crucial for a pair who spend their entire personal and professional lives together. “We get jealous of office parties and office gossip,” says Johnson. “We want to know what went down at holiday parties and who got drunk and ended up sleeping with the boss.”
“You did!” jokes Schifino.
Laughing, Johnson realizes that she’s right: “I’ve gotten drunk and slept with the boss many times.”
Although Matt and Kim’s conversations are filled with these playful, intimate back-and-forths, the couple have rarely made their relationship the subject of their music. This time, that changed, and according to the former, “it fucking felt good to do.” “We have never in our history written something that had a relationship- or love-type angle,” he says. “It’s a big part of our lives, but we don’t want to be fucking Sonny and Cher.”
The ballad “I See Ya” addresses another personal subject for the duo: the difficulty in maintaining friendships and seeing family while constantly touring. “Let me just tell you, I cry every time [I hear the song],” says Schifino. “That’s our life: We miss a lot of shit.”
This year, they’re trying to miss a little less, turning down a couple tour and festival dates so that Kim, for instance, could be present for her last living grandfather’s birthday party. “We haven’t completely found the balance,” she admits. “We tend to lean towards the music.”
“But I think it’s becoming better,” says Johnson.
Matt and Kim are growing, but they have no immediate plans to grow up. “We’re not about being mature,” Johnson insists. “We don’t want to mature in albums. We want to keep things simple and fun.”
This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. “It’s tough to make another ‘tonight’s gonna be a good night’ kind of song,” says Johnson, who looks at songwriting, like everything else with Schifino, as a partnership. “There are certain words that you have to stay away from. Even ‘tonight’ is kind of cliché! There’s so much content about that kind of thing.”
The stakes here are higher than they might seem – Matt and Kim simply love music too much to imagine making their living any other way. “We can’t fuck this up,” says Schifino. “We have the best fucking job in the world.”
“Kim’s like, ‘What else would I do?'” says Johnson.
Without a missing beat, Schifino throws it right back to him: “I feel like at that point you would have to put a baby in me.”