Matt Johnson, one half of the band Matt & Kim, has a special place for Alaska in his heart, and all it took was some cans and a handgun. Until a trip to Alaska, Johnson had never touched a gun, and quickly realized why that was a good thing.
"I just remember we were throwing cans and trying to shoot them, and as I was turning to shoot one Kim was right over my left shoulder, and I shot right in front of her face and I thought, 'Jesus, I should never touch a gun again,' " Johnson said.
Matt & Kim's April 2008 tour to Anchorage, put together by Reverse Retro, had the Brooklyn duo playing in near-pitch black for small crowds at the Kodiak Bar. Now, five years and three albums later, they regularly play the festival circuit for tens of thousands. This Thursday they'll take the main stage at the Egan Center.
You've probably heard this band, even if you don't know it. Their music is featured in ads from Converse to Verizon and Bacardi. Their shows consist of two very attractive and charming young people, covered in sweat, performing fast-paced, synth-laden, lyrically simple pop music for hundreds, or thousands, of other young and sweaty people. Drummer Kim Schifino will likely spend a lot of time screaming and standing on her drums.
"Kim spends half her time standing on top of her drum set," says Johnson. For a band that has both members stationed on stools behind their instruments (Johnson plays keyboards), success relies on their ability to interact with the crowd.
"What completely fuels the energy of the show is an active crowd. If I was looking out at a crowd that was just looking down at their feet, it would be really difficult."
It's Matt & Kim's reputation for lively performances that made them stand out to the concert board of University of Alaska Anchorage, said concert board member Audri Pleas, who also saw them play at Bonnaroo.
"They have such a great banter with their audiences; it's always a highly interactive show. Even in front of a Bonnaroo size (crowd) they knew how to talk to the audience," said Pleas
The band is extremely open with their music, their creative process, and their lives. The two have been a couple for as long as the band's been around, and they don't shy away from intimate questions. Their Reddit "Ask Me Anything" Q and A reads like a juvenile romp through a chat room for 15-year-olds. Johnson attributes his openness to never having had his own room, whether it was sharing with his brother or living with Kim. He said it doesn't really faze them.
"We got what we expected," said Johnson, "I don't really understand people who want things to be private."
Independent music review site Pitchfork gave Matt & Kim a dismal 5.1 out of 10 for their last effort, 2012's "Lightning," writing the band hadn't grown and was merely echoing earlier work. Johnson conceded in a recent phone interview that the album wasn't a progression for the band, but an extension of their second album, "Grand."
He also said they weren't sure if they would put out another full-length album. He likened the band to mainstream comedy and said that many reviewers are often looking for dramas.
"Who cares?" said Pleas, who in addition to working on the concert board is a longtime fan and station manager at the student-run KRUA.
"They are the prime example of a band that uses the niche that got them where they are to continue propelling them.
"It may not be what the reviewers want," Pleas said. "But it is what the fans want."
In the end, Matt & Kim's pop tunes are simple and infectious, their banter is disarming and charming, and their on-stage energy will be hard to resist.