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Matt and Kim Ride The Lightning

If you attended a summer music festival this year, chances are Matt and Kim were there, too. Brooklyn’s dynamic pop punk duo of Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino made stops at more than 30 events including Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Forecastle, Summerfest, Bumpershoot and Great Googa Mooga with additional appearances this fall at Voodoo Experience, Riot Fest, Breakaway and Rifflandia.

With a keen sense for pop melodies, sing-along choruses and stomping rhythms that become the equivalent of musical sunshine, it’s easy to be hooked by songs such as “It’s Alright” and “Let’s Go” from their current album, Lightning or older tracks — “Daylight” and “AM/FM Sound.” Their energetic and cheerful concert persona also makes an immediate and unrelenting impression on everyone from the front row to the farthest reaches of the audience.

During a brief interview with Johnson he admits that his group’s overall creative approach of keeping things simple works to their benefit as a visual and songwriting styes and when playing in front of thousands of people who may know little to nothing about them.

JPG: I’m curious about playing in a festival setting versus playing your other concerts. Is there a difference between how approach each one?

MJ: There’s a couple of inherent differences. First of all, we love doing festivals a lot because we’re able to gain people on a first listen. There are some bands that are fantastic but they play such complex, dissonant music that it might be hard to get ‘em on a first listen.

I take pride in that we’re very simple. We put beat and melody ahead. It’s really important for us that you can get into the show on the first time when you come in and are listening.

At a Matt & Kim theater show there are certain things that are easier. Everyone knows all the songs already and they’re ready to sing along, but we like that challenge in a festival setting that there’s gonna be people who just heard the name and want to check out something new. That’s great, and we always take a lot of people with us.

In the end the show result is pretty similar, which is we put everything we have and more into it. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen what we do. For two people who, theoretically, sit down and are playing we’re all over the place.

JPG: I saw you play Bonnaroo in 2011. I guess I would be one of those you gained on first listen.

MJ: (slight laugh) That was fantastic. Someone showed me pictures from our tent (Bonnaroo’s This Tent) that were taken from a helicopter and I could not believe how far people spread out on all sides. They said it was the biggest crowd they’d seen at that tent over the festival. It was a super awesome experience.

JPG: I noticed, and I don’t know if it’s New York bands or just certain bands, but, for example seeing Sonic Youth and Tortoise play their first Bonnaroo. Both acts looked as if they had this skeptical attitude that these “hippies” aren’t going to get it. And when the reaction after the first song was massive you could see the musicians’ faces kinda light up. Did you have any preconceptions when you went there?

MJ: All we knew was it was going to be hot. We had heard it’s a great festival and, like I said, we love festivals…The other thing about the energy at a club show, everyone knows your songs but here you have the benefit of having five, eight, 10,000 people or whatever it could be in front of you at the time and the energy that that creates is huge.

So, we knew it was going to be hot and we play such an active show where everyone typically is dancing. It’s not about looking at your feet. It’s about jumping around. ‘Well, it’s going to be so hot, are people going to be in a daze?’ But it didn’t seem to faze the audience. They still were being completely wild, even in 100 degree weather.

We did see some people pass out and have to get handed over the barricade with eyes rolled back. I remember seeing that happening right in front of me. ‘What do I do? I guess, we just keep playing.’ Then, a medic splashed some water on their face, gave ‘em water to drink and they started fist pumping immediately after coming back into consciousness. Well, that says something.

JPG: Did you play anything that day that now appears on your current album, Lightning, because there are a few songs on it that sound familiar?

MJ: No, there are certain times we put little interludes and bits like that or maybe we’re inspired by a certain bit and maybe that goes over into a song. At that time no full song was played from that.

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