The Sink or Swim Interview: Matt Kimball

Kimball in the Middle Words by Nick Awad. Photo by Morgan Day.

For most people in Burlington, the evening of June 29, 2013 will probably be remembered for its torrential, sporadic rainstorms as well as several flash flood warnings. Those in the know, however, were braving the weather to come to the residence of James Lockridge (more specifically his basement) where Vermont Punk scene veteran Matt Kimball had set up a show to celebrate the release of his band’s debut EP. Sink or Swim (Matt’s band) was accompanied by a myriad of local and touring hardcore punk outfits including Be Aggressive, Get a Grip, Shorebreak/Timebomb/Good Times (three different bands but all with the same members), and Oh the Humanity. Despite the fact that the basement was at a bit of a risk of flooding, all the bands played excellent and charismatic sets.

For those of you who haven’t met him, Matt Kimball is probably one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Hard working and dedicated, you can tell that he absolutely loves being a part of helping the Vermont scene survive. He may be almost 30, but having a conversation with him reveals an energy and excitement that makes him seem perpetually between the ages of 18 and 20. I was able to meet up with a tired, but simultaneously pumped, Mr. Kimball after Sink or Swim played their set. The interview took place in the Lockridge kitchen amid a bunch of cats and dogs and intermittent punks looking for the bathroom.

Nick Awad: So, how’d you guys get started?

Matt Kimball: I was trying to create a band that was like hardcore, like fast and energetic, but with like, you know, some melody in it.

Nick: So not like Pennywise right?

Matt: (chuckles) No I mean like Ignite, 88 Fingers Louie, Good Riddance, Kid Dynamite, stuff like that. Like aggressive but it’s got a hook to it. It’s something that’s actually really hard to pull together, especially in Vermont.

Nick: What’s the scene like in Vermont?

Matt: It’s really scattered, disjointed, and all over the place. There’s no such thing as scene unity here. There’s too much going on here and it’s all really different.

Nick: How long have you been in the scene?

Matt: Well I moved here six years ago…

Nick: Where from?

Matt: Rutland, but I had been playing music there since I was like 14. Then I moved here after I graduated from college. So now I’m 27 and I’m actually getting really burned out from booking shows (laughs with an indication of fatigue).

Nick: I imagine that it’s a lot of work

Matt: It’s a pain in the ass dude.  And to do it D.I.Y., you can’t expect too much. You can like, set yourself up for failure. You just have to be like, “I’m just doing this because I like it”. And if you think anything else then…

Nick: You’re fucked?

Matt: (laughs heartily) yeah

Nick: Do you listen to stuff other than melodic hardcore?

Matt: Yeah I listen to Madball sometimes (chuckles). I personally find myself liking a lot of New York hardcore.

Nick: Like classic New York hardcore?

Matt: Yeah like Absolution, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, even Leeway. Sick Of It All’s like one of my favorite bands of all time. I actually just saw them play a month ago in Worcester.

Nick: Nice, good shit.

Matt: But yeah I’ve been in a few bands that were more straight up hardcore. I was in a band called Crucial Times for like 3 years. We toured a lot; we went down to Florida twice.

Nick: Which kind of band do you prefer to play in?

Matt: Depends on the mood. The only thing I don’t listen to too much is Ska. I did that in eighth grade and now every time I hear it, I’m like “SHUT THE FUCK UP NO ONE’S THAT HAPPY!” Except, Less than Jake’s really good. And the Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Nick: What was your craziest tour moment?

Matt: One time I was using a bathroom in a rest stop in Peoria, Illinois (this was with Crucial Times) and our singer and drummer, Connor and Bruce, lit off M-80’s in the bathroom while I was pooping and literally scared the shit out of me. There was smoke billowing out of the rest stop and people were like “call the cops! Oh my god somebody got shot!” and I was like “No, I was just pooping and fireworks went off”. I was always the focal point of pranks I think. It comes with a certain personality, like if you’re really nice to everyone. If you’re an asshole, no one will fuck with you.

Nick: What inspires your lyrics?

Matt: Personal, political, and food. I actually talk about writing songs about Mexican food all the time.

Nick: Do you find it’s tough to strike a balance between personal and political lyrics?

Matt: I don’t really care. If I feel like it, I’ll write about whatever the fuck I want. I like introducing people to things that maybe they haven’t, but I tend to go about it the way I’d like to because I’m the one doing it, not them. I’m not insensitive to other people, but this is my thing and I’m not changing it.

Nick: How was recording the new EP?

Matt: This is actually our only recording. We went to a place in Massachusetts I have been to many times and the guy there likes me so he gives us a deal. While recording I don’t think I was super confident on vocals. And now I’m like “oh shit I could have done that a lot better. I could have done a good harmony there.” I actually didn’t do any harmonies on the EP.  I didn’t want to be a b and that has all this awesome shit and is then like totally different live.

Nick: Like Brand New?

Matt: Exactly!

Nick: What are your plans for the future with either Sink or Swim or just in general?

Matt: Well our drummer just kinda quit…

Nick: Yikes. Is that awkward?

Matt: It’s not. Like, I knew that wasn’t her thing the whole time, but she’s really cool.  I only knew her because of Nick (Grandchamp. Guitarist in Sink or Swim). I’ve known Nick for like 11 years.

Nick: Have you guys always played music together?

Matt: Nah this is the first time I’ve done a band with him since like 2009. We were in a band that broke up on tour actually.

Nick: That’s terrible, (chuckles). So what are you’re plans?

Matt: My plans? I just want to find a new drummer. I can’t really afford to tour any more. I went to Europe last year with a band and I was like “alrite finally did something really cool”. Kinda like wanting to do that perfect record, and it’s so hard.

Nick: Yeah dude it’s a perfect fucking record.

Matt: It can be disappointing, but it’s the best kind of disappointment.

Nick: 'Cause it keeps you going?

Matt: Exactly! I don’t know I’m like an adult now. I like work all the time and pay a lot of bills.

Nick: Where do you work at?

Matt: The Howard Center. It’s an agency in Chittenden County that works with people who have physical and mental disabilities.

Nick: That’s awesome

Matt:  It’s challenging and I don’t get paid a lot.

Nick: It’s usually thankless kind of work.

Matt: As thankless as playing this kind of music.

Nick: There’s like a trend in your employment here

Matt: Totally. It’s just getting really hard to keep up with playing shows all the time and touring. I live with my partner right now and her child and all my debts are coming upon me. So at some point it’s good to take a little break.

Nick: I guess it’s an opportunity for a Sink or Swim reunion show.

Matt: Actually, Crucial Times is doing a reunion show next month at 242 main. July 28th. We're playing with a hardcore band from Burlington in the '90’s called Common Ground.

Nick: I’ll definitely be there.

Sink or Swim’s debut EP, 'Vermont Road Trips,' can be found on