Harmony between musical mates
It’s the same thing for all married couples. One minute you’re walking down the aisle, exchanging rings. The next it’s on the road for seven months — or about 120 shows, whichever comes first — in a rusted van, eating meals in random truck stops. Er, maybe not.
But for Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner, better known to the indie-rock world as Mates of State, that’s the equivalent of marital bliss.
“Being on the road is very difficult,” Hammel said. “It takes a lot out of you physically and mentally. So, OK, when we’re not on the road, which is fairly rare, we bought a house where we can go home to and get some peace and quiet.”
These Mates (literally and figuratively) have managed to make quite a name for themselves by not only perpetually touring, but also with various record releases, each one better than its predecessor. Since forming in ’97, the Mates have released three full-length albums, including this fall’s Team Boo. The albums have garnered the band favorable write-ups in The New York Times, Spin and Magnet out of the several periodicals warming to the Mates exuberant sounds.
And, unlike musical couples reveling in the White Stripes’ wake, this two-piece’s tuneage is rampant with child-like musical wonders and lyrical lollipops. Whereas the Stripes’ music is a knife fight on a dark winter’s night, the Mates’ tunes are the finger-paint station on a kindergarten morning.
“Some people still say ‘you’re just like The White Stripes,'” Hammel said. “C’mon, have you heard those bands? Just because there’s two of us doesn’t mean we’re like them. We’re both optimistic people, and that translates to hopeful (music). We just try to have a good outlook on our lives and music.”
Watch out, though, you just might get the optimism that oozes from Team Boo all over yourself. The record is adorned with open-ended, wild-eyed lyrical couplets and sugary, bubble gum organ work. While it may sound like shallow trash on the surface, Team Boo is actually a well-crafted piece of pop that will have listeners singing along with fever.
“We’re really proud of this (record),” Hammel said. “We accomplished what we wanted to and were stubborn about making all the pieces fit together.”
Songs like “Ha Ha” and “Whiner’s Bio” showcase the Mates’ double helix, sing-along vocals sewn together by swirling organ endeavors. The “Ha Ha” chorus also exemplifies the band’s excitable lyrics like, “This is the blood that we’re made of/ Go tell it like a chronicle/ Who’s dancing all around?/ Let’s give it to me, give it to me now.”
“Gotta Get a Problem” and “An Experiment” find the Mates mixing merry-go-round happy verses with delicately emotional chorus orchestration. Gardner croons: “I sat around tonight/ With the rocks and the ghosts in the yard/ And out of the thinking air/ One of us doesn’t care.”
Team Boo is a record seemingly sweet as Hammel and Gardner’s marriage. The pair, who quit their jobs as a cancer researcher and teacher, respectively, always makes time for a vacation while on tour.
Awww, romance and rock ‘n’ roll.
“We’re going to Hawaii in January,” Hammel said. “We decided to only play two shows. I mean, hell, we’ll be in Hawaii so we’re making a vacation out of it. And whenever possible we try to do things like that.”