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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 19, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Q&A: Matt of Matt and Kim talks songwriting and Cayuga Sound

Brooklyn-based indie duo Matt and Kim are on the lineup for this year’s Cayuga Sound Festival on Sept. 21 and 22 in Stewart Park in Ithaca. Most known for their 2009 single “Daylight,” they dropped their sixth LP, “Almost Everyday,” on May 4, and the album reached No. 18 on Billboard’s U.S. Independent Album chart.

Olivia Riggio, assistant life and culture editor, and staff writer Hannah Fitzpatrick spoke with lead singer Matt Johnson about the making of “Almost Everyday,” how Matt and Kim got involved with Cayuga Sound Fest and the importance of giving back to local communities.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Olivia Riggio: Based on your previous interviews, you mention that your most recent album, “Almost Everyday,” was your most personal to date. What does that mean to you?

Matt Johnson: Well, I think we used writing that album as a sort of therapeutic exercise to get some stuff off our chest and talk about what we were thinking. I think anything could be considered personal if it’s talking about yourselves and what you’re going through. We have a song on the new album called “Happy If You’re Happy” that talks about our relationship a little bit, which we don’t really do that much in any of our songs. So it had personal qualities there too.

OR: So it takes a certain amount of synergy for you guys to write. What’s your typical writing process like? Was the writing process for this album, because it was a bit more personal, any different?

MJ: I don’t know. I mean, with our process, there’s not one concrete way to do it. We really think in beat and melody before anything. Lyrics are very important to me, and I really respect good lyrics, but lyrics are so fucking hard. It’s so much more literal than the music side. I’m so much more about the feeling. … But this time we have a couple of things that we specifically wanted to talk about. I guess it changed a little bit like that, but still, it always starts with a beat and a melody. Realistically, I think that’s how music started in the first place — people outside of the field tapping their foot and humming along.

Hannah Fitzpatrick: You did mention that you focus more on beats and melodies than lyrics. Does someone come in with lyrics and you come in with melodies, or is it a more collaborative overall process?

MJ: I think how you put that is a little bit twisted, because we do spend more time on lyrics than everything else. It’s just not the easiest. … We have to focus more on it because it’s harder. I think unlike a lot of bands where one band member writes the lyrics, Kim and I write everything together. A lot of the times I’ll sing something that’s really in her voice. I don’t know if anyone would be able to know the difference, but it’s a sentiment she’s making even though I’m singing it. For us, I think it makes sense. We’re pretty much the same person — we’ve spent every single day together for, like, a decade — just melded into one.

OR: So you have some songs on this album that feature other artists. What is the process of performing those live?

MJ: Well, what really inspired even getting other artists on was playing live shows. When we play live shows, there’s this certain energy about the song, but I think a lot comes from people in the audience singing along. … When it comes to live shows, it’s more about the audience filling in the blanks. Or maybe it’s the opposite — when it comes to the record, it’s about the musicians filling in the blanks that the audience isn’t doing.

OR: You played in Ithaca at The Haunt last spring, which is a very intimate venue, and now you’re playing a festival. How does the performance translate from a small bar to a festival stage?

MJ: There’s a great thing about both. We love playing festivals. That may be our favorite thing to do. I love the energy of having a lot of people there. Usually, a lot of people are openminded to wanting to hear new music. And maybe they’ve only heard a song or two from us, but we take a lot of pride in being a band that even if you’ve never heard one of our songs, we think you can really enjoy our set. But then, there’s also something nice about playing an intimate venue where everyone who is there is there to see your band, and maybe they know lots of words to lots of songs. There’s an energy about that too. So there’s definitely something special about both, for sure.

OR: You’ve also played giant festivals like Governor’s Ball, and this year, you’re on the bill for Cayuga Sound, which is growing but still a much smaller festival. How did you hear about it, and what made you want to play?

MJ: When we were up there last, we met with someone who helps run that festival. He was telling us about it, and the whole vibe of it sounded like something we really wanted to do. Being that we chose to play such a small, intimate venue, we considered that a warm-up show to our upcoming show. We’re trying out new material on stage, and now that we’ve been doing shows for a couple of months, we felt it was the right time to come back and show the “real Ithaca” that you’re an Ithaca performer.

OR: And for Cayuga Sound, it kind of stands out because X Ambassadors are Ithaca natives, and they’re really invested in giving back to the local community, so a lot of their proceeds are going to local charities. What does it feel like to be a part of something as philanthropic as this?

MJ: I think that’s awesome. We always, whenever we can, try to give back. We try to have charities at most of our headlining shows, and our most recent spring tour, or a lot of the times, we’ll collaborate with animal shelters for our shows. I certainly think it’s great to give back, but what I think is really cool about their connection to Ithaca is that a lot of bands, when they grow, they leave where they’re from to maybe living in a bigger city and leave behind what built them up.

OR: How do you think Cayuga Sound may differ from other shows and festivals you’ve played, and what are you most excited for?

MJ: I don’t know. Part of this is that I don’t fully know what to expect, and that’s the exciting part about playing a festival you’ve never played before. We try to bring the party and bring enough inflatable things — 15foot beach balls — and have enough of Kim shaking her booty to bring what the Matt and Kim experience is. I’ll be excited to see how it all fits in.