Matt & Kim: We want to hit on an instinctual level
|Photo by Jonathan Mannion|
In Gimme Songs, musician Mark Mallman talks songwriting with his peers and heroes. This week, a conversation with Matt Johnson of Matt & Kim before their performance at Rock the Garden on Saturday.
Matt and Kim have a lot of good karma coming back to them. The indie punk duo have been whipping crowds into wild dance parties since 2004. But at the root of this frenzy is a raw backbeat and constant earworm melodies. Matt and I talked about their pattern based technique in writing, what I've been calling, "happiness anthems."
Rock the Garden 2014 lineup
Mark Mallman: I've been trying to figure out where songs come from, how they form, and why they work the way they do. What inspires you? How does your process work?
Matt Johnson: It's really all in the computer these days, where it used to be in the practice space. There are basically three elements: a chord structure, a beat, and some sort of melodic hook on top. I'll mess around on the keyboard 'til there's a progression that sounds cool, and then me and Kim will talk about if the vibe is right. With melodies, I could write an infinite amount, but then I walk away for a little bit. Things become a little clearer when I walk back.
Your songs operate on simplicity and repetition. So creation is a matter of creating patterns, stepping away, then returning to see which patterns speak to you?
Yeah, I guess so. The ability to have any option to do anything in the world is kind of intimidating when you start thinking about it. Why is a certain melody the best possible melody? When do you ever know when the right one is? Who knows! Sometimes when your doing it, they all sound great.
Maybe a killer melody is more about commitment and repetition. Say you put three separate but awesome melodies in a row, it doesn't have the same power as one melody repeated three times.
And sometimes loops that feel unfinished, are actually what keep you caught in. It's like the horn loop in the song, "Thrift Shop." Maybe if you'd written that, you'd think "This doesn't even complete itself." But that's kind of what makes you want to hear it happen again ...and again and again!
Our lives are loops. Every day repeats, and our patterns of living, eating, and sleeping are loops. Also, the history of melody, coming from tribal worship music, is repeating patterns over and over as well.
You know, instinctually, as humans, what we probably have liked for who knows how many years is a beat to bob our head to, and a melody which we can hum along to. Everything else is intellectual. But I want what we do, songs and videos too, to hit on this instinctual level.