Kim Schifino of the indie electronic duo Matt and Kim shares how recovering from a torn ACL inspired her life as a runner and musician.
Life As An Injured Runner—And Touring Musician
Being a runner with an injury is bad enough. But what if you’re also a drummer for a band with a busy touring schedule and a reputation for putting on high-energy shows?
The indie electronic duo Matt and Kim have cultivated a reputation for such performances with their pop-leaning beats since forming in Brooklyn in 2004. Featuring vocalist and keyboardist Matt Johnson and drummer Kim Schifino, Matt and Kim have performed on several large stages in the United States in recent years (including at Coachella and Bonnaroo), a significant progression from the small venues they occupied in the earlier years of their musical career. As the band’s following grew, so too did their onstage antics. Just two years ago, it wasn’t unusual to see Schifino leaping behind or standing atop her drumkit in the middle of a show, further energizing their audience members while somehow managing to stay on top of the beat.
That changed suddenly in March of 2017, when Schifino was jumping around onstage and landed at an awkward angle to avoid a fan that had been placed right next to the edge of the stage. Though she struggled back to her kit and managed to play a few more songs, the pain from what Schifino later learned was a torn ACL resulted in surgery, revisions to the band’s touring schedule and drastically impacted Schifino’s lifestyle as a runner.
It took several months before Schifino was recovered enough to start running again. In the meantime, she worked with bandmate and partner Johnson to create the duo’s latest album Almost Everyday, released last month on FADER. Shortly after the album’s release, Schifino touched base with Women’s Running to explain how her identity as a runner and her struggle through injury recovery influenced the sound of their latest album.
When did you first get into running?
In seventh grade, I tried out for the track team and loved it. In ninth grade, the high school cross country coach recruited me to run cross country at the start of high school. That is when my love for distance running took over. I ran cross country, indoor and outdoor. I was a distance runner. That is when running became my entire life!
As someone who leads an active lifestyle that often involves travel and live performance, why does running remain such a high priority for you?
It works in two ways: One is for exercise and maintenance, so that I can fully do the type of show we do onstage. The hardest thing about coming back from my ACL surgery was that my cardio was shot, and if you have seen one of our shows, it is cardio-packed! So I need to get a lot of runs in when we are prepping to go on tour. Running is also a priority because it gets all my angst out. I can deal with a lot more problems in my life if I get any aggression out in the morning on a run. I also get a lot of thinking and brainstorming done on my runs. It also makes me feel happy.
In what ways does running serve as a stress reliever?
When I first tore my ACL and I was doing physical therapy to prep for surgery, I realized that I was snapping about things and my patience was short. At one point I even apologized to Matt, because I realized I was doing this. This is when I realized that running was a way that I relieved stress. I had to keep that in the back of my mind for that entire year. When I felt myself snapping, I had to remember to take a step back and chill out. After surgery, I was dying to get back to running. I remember the first time they put me in the [anti-gravity treadmill] AlterG and I could run again. I was in the best mood for the rest of that day!
How do you stay active while touring? What does running look like for you when you’re on the road?
I try to stay active on tour even though I am exhausted from the shows. This past tour I was doing five days of physical therapy, which consisted of specific workouts for my knee and running.
How has your relationship with running changed since your knee injury last spring?
I definitely appreciate it more. I’ll say before the injury there were mornings where I didn’t want to get out of bed (especially because Matt was still sleeping) and go do a run. But since I had a year and a half when I couldn’t do it, I now feel grateful that I get to. I do think that will wear off—especially when mid-summer hits and it’s already 90 degrees when I head out on a run.
Many runners who have endured injuries acknowledge not just the physical aspect of the injury but the mental component. As someone who loves to run and is generally a very active person, how did you deal with the restrictions that coincided with that injury?
I got super depressed. I am usually a very happy, upbeat person, but for the first time, I felt beaten down and really unmotivated. It took a family member who mentioned to me that it seemed like I lost my spark to get me to realize this. But it was good to realize it so that I could work on it. I was not only working on building my muscle back, but getting my spirit back, too.
How do running and music overlap for you?
When running in high school and college, I never listened to music. But in the last maybe five years, I began listening to music while running. It’s nice, because it helps distract me from being too serious about it.
I focus less on mile splits, my form and my breathing and I just enjoy the activity. I will say it was very hard for me to let go of the competitive runner side of things. I do think I would like to run 5Ks again, but I don’t know if I could do it non-competitively.
Since this injury is part of what drove you and Matt back into the studio to focus on creating Almost Everyday, I imagine that the injury might have influenced the material or direction of the music on some level. How did you approach this album? What was going through your mind during the writing and recording process?
This album was completely the outcome of the crappy year we had when I was injured and also the outcome of all the horrible headlines we would wake up to in 2017. We and the world were in a very dark place, and writing this album was a therapeutic way to deal with that.
What’s the biggest takeaway you want listeners to have while listening to this album for the first time?
I hope people get to know us a little better, and maybe it helps them deal with some of the sh*t that is still going on in the world.
When you’re onstage, how do you feel that running contributes to your role as a drummer (and vice versa when you’re running)?
Running gave me a work ethic that brought me to the drums. I didn’t grow up playing the drums, but one day I went to a see a band play and I thought, Drums look like a lot of fun. I got a hand-me-down set and put in the hours trying to teach myself to play. It was the same work ethic that helped me become the runner I was when I was in high school and college, never giving up and pushing through when it gets really hard.
Have you ever had an idea for a new piece of music while running? How did you capture the idea in the moment to prevent it from slipping away?
The song “Don’t Slow Down” came from a run. We were in Vermont recording, and we had the instrumental but were stuck on lyrics. One morning, I headed out to get in a quick 3 miles before we went into the studio. There was this one section of the run that was super hilly. I was humming the song in my head and then started to sing “don’t slow down” to push myself. When I got back from the run, I told Matt about it and we put it into the chorus.
Do you listen to music when you run?
I get so excited when I find out we’ve made it onto someone’s running playlist! I once wanted to make a Matt and Kim running playlist where I would pop in and give motivational shouts! If you are going to add us to your playlist, I would first say add all of our six albums and put that on shuffle. But if I had to pick a few songs: “Don’t Slow Down,” “Youngest I Will Be,” “Glad I Tried,” “Now,” “All in My Head,” “Make A Mess.”
Now that Almost Everyday is out, what’s next for you? Do you already have ideas for your next big musical project?
I just want to tour nonstop. I absolutely love playing shows and slamming away on the drums. I don’t want to take any more breaks and I don’t want to have any more injuries.