NO FAKING IT "I never want to forget that it's supposed to be fun," says Matt Johnson.
In the event of thermonuclear war, only two things will survive: cockroaches, and the smiles on the faces of Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino. The rest of the spiky, kinetic synth-pop duo — known better as Matt & Kim — may turn to ash, but those smiles are indestructible. This you'll quickly realize when you see (and you have the opportunity this Sunday at the House of Blues) Johnson grinning as he belts a nasal yelp and bangs on his keyboard and Schifino beaming as she thwacks her drums during one of their eminently euphoric, entirely too sweaty live sets. Even in their video for "Daylight" (from their recently released second album on Fader Label, Grand), where the pair are playing in a back-alley dumpster, the smiles survive.
"It was supposed to be a clean dumpster, but by clean they meant they just took all the garbage out, so there was still a thick layer of who knows what on the entire inside," the upbeat, friendly Johnson says over the phone from the couple's Brooklyn apartment as Schifino — who's eating cereal near-by — giggles audibly in the background.
"That's, like, Kim's worst nightmare. She might have smiled through the whole thing, but if you look close . . . basically she has a couple different types of smiles. One, she's excited, which is usually the smile you'll see. Another one is that she's terrified, and she'll smile a lot then. And in the dumpster she was totally uncomfortable — so she definitely had the uncomfortable smile going. But, yeah, there's usually a smile of some kind going on. We're mostly happy people."
What's not to be happy about? The pair are lovebirds; they've been together for the seven-plus years since they first met in art school. They're indie darlings, adored and respected for their homonymous 2006 debut and gigs in which they're encircled by pogoing fans singing along to every word. They've turned Matt & Kim into a full-time endeavor over the past couple of years, touring incessantly, packing venues, and becoming festival mainstays.
And in Grand they have a second album that's been favorably received and has so far avoided the dreaded blog band backlash — which was a possibility, since Grand is a departure from its predecessor. Recorded just months after the pair started playing their respective instruments, the charmingly amateurish Matt & Kim is bright, speedy, and punkish. The melodies and lyrics in this latest set are slower and more pensive, the production is thicker, and the arrangements are more considered.
"People ask me if I was nervous about the legendary 'sophomore slump,' and I was never nervous," says Johnson. "I knew we had so much more material in us and so much more diversity. It's just that we never had the time to do some of our other ideas when we did the first recording, and there was a whole side of us that people hadn't even heard yet that I thought was really important."
Although they're intent on bringing that side of Matt & Kim to the people this year, they intend to cut back somewhat on their road-warrior habits of the past few years, for reasons that range from the need to nurture their relationship to fears of burnout or the whole thing's turning into a job. "I never want to forget that it's supposed to be fun," Johnson avows, "and I'm very passionate about being honest — if we're psyched to play, I want to show we're psyched to play, and if it's been a rough day, let's just be pissed off and let that come out. We like to play from an inspired place, and it has to be real. People can tell in a second if it's fake, and nobody likes a fake smile."
Matt & Kim + Cut Copy + Knightlife | House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | March 22 @ 8 pm | $20 | 888.693.2583 or www.hob.com/boston