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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Matt and Kim Bring Their 'Grand' 10-Year Anniversary Tour to the Agora on Oct. 17

Posted By on Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 1:23 PM

  • Caleb Kulh

Matt and Kim — keyboardist Matt Johnson and drummer Kim Schifino — self-recorded their 2009 album Grand in Matt’s childhood bedroom in rural Vermont. At the time, they didn’t anticipate it would become their big breakthrough.

“I never would have thought that,” says Johnson during a recent phone interview. The band brings its tour in celebration of the album’s 10-year anniversary to the Agora Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 17. “All we knew when going into that was that we had made our first self-titled album and did it in about a week. I think we intentionally made kind of a mediocre record to avoid the sophomore slump. All we knew going into the second one was that we wanted a lot of time. I had never recorded anything before. I was just learning how to do it as I went on. It’s pretty wild.”

Recording in Johnson’s childhood bedroom had its drawbacks. For one thing, it was January and the room was particularly cold during the sessions.

“My entire life, there was no heat in the top floor of my parents’ house,” says Johnson. “I would be piled under blankets every night. We did it in January, and there are pictures of us wearing winter hats and scarfs while working.”

One of the main instruments Johnson used was an old Yamaha CS-5 that he found in his neighbor’s garage in Vermont.

“We really couldn’t figure out how to play it,” he says. “It wasn’t like a piano. It just went ‘woooo wooo weeee weee’ and made all sorts of weird noise. I ‘borrowed’ it from him. I still have it to this day. I figured out how to play it. It kind of got me into keyboards. There’s other random things. On [the song] ‘Daylight,’ there’s a synthy sound, but it’s actually a melodica, which is a piano you blow into.”

For the current tour, the group will play the entire release from start to finish.

“We’re [rehearsing] now,” says Johnson. “It’s nice. Some stuff is so simple. We spent so many years amping up the energy of our live shows. So we want to stay true to the sound of these songs, but we want to give it the fuller show energy. At the core of it, it’s my fun voice singing these little songs we wrote ten years ago.”

The tour will mark the debut of the lurching mid-tempo tune “I’ll Take Us Home.”

“We’re working it out now, and it’s such a cool song,” says Johnson. “If it had been my band’s best song, I would’ve been happy. There are a couple of songs that received a short amount of play. With ‘Spare Change,’ which is claps and stomps and a piano sound, we tried to bring it to the stage and it didn’t really work. We are trying to figure out how to get the audience involved and want it to be a ‘We Will Rock You’-type of song.”

The album’s centerpiece, “Daylight,” just hit a hundred million streams on Spotify. The snappy song’s call-and-response vocals and swells of synths stand up well over time.

“The thing I remember about it is that I have a long history if a song is good and natural, it happens really quickly,” says Johnson. “It’ll be done in a day or two days. That was absolutely not the case with daylight. We worked on it for seven months. We kept coming back to it. I knew there was something there. It just took a lot of tweaking and messing with until the eleventh hour. It’s funny because a lot of times if it’s the case, that song will be garbage. If you spend that much time on something and don’t trust your instincts, you mess it up.”

Grand is about 30 minutes long, but the band will play more material in the set’s second half. At the time of this interview, Johnson wasn’t sure which songs from the catalog would make the cut.

“We’re playing Grand in order, so it’ll start with ‘Daylight,’” he says. “Let’s hope no one is late. We’ll do 45 minutes after that. Getting six albums in, we have to cut things we love playing. We want there to be as much impact in the last part of the show where we can draw from our whole catalog.”

Fifteen years on, Matt and Kim continues to regularly tour and record. Johnson admits one key is that he and Schifino, who are married, have a great relationship both on and off the stage.

“I think for us and our personalities, it worked that we’re in a band together,” he says. “For a lot of bands, it’s tough to dedicate 100 percent of their lives to their bands when they have a whole other life with a significant other and children. We put all our time into this band because we do it together. It’s not leaving someone out. There are plenty of couples who would’ve killed each other long ago if they had spent this much time together. I don’t suggest it for everyone, but it’s worked out pretty well for us.”

Matt and Kim, Beach Goons, 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $29.50-$35, agoracleveland.com

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