“Spot”light on…Mates of State
Mates of State are a Connecticut indie pop duo causing a commotion with their latest release “Mountaintops” with singles “Palamino” and “Maracas”. The band has release 7 albums including “Crushes” which was released on their own label, MOS Records. The band consists of Kori Gardner on vocals, organ, synth, piano and guitar and Jason Hammel on drums, percussion, and synth. Gardner and Hammel met in Lawrence, Kansas in 1997 and moved to San Francisco shortly thereafter and have since moved back to Connecticut. The band has toured globally with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Spoon, and Taking Back Sunday and have performed at Austin City Limits as well as a stop for Lollapalooza. Currently, they are touring the East Coast in support of “Mountaintops” with stops in New Haven this month and as the headlining act for Meriden’s Daffodil Festival. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kori Gardner.
lsg: You are a local CT band who has lived in a few different states. I know you grew up in CT for some portion of your life – I’ve spoken with people who have gone to high school with you. Is Jason also from CT?
Kori: No. He didn’t grow up here although he’s a local now since we’ve lived here for over 5 years.
lsg: So you guys met in Kansas. Were you both involved in other bands at that time? And how did you decide to go from Vostros to what is now MoS?
Kori: Well we were both playing in other bands for a while there. It’s a great music scene even though it’s small and not a big city. We first met when our bands sort of crossed paths and then we were in another band together which was a traditional 4 piece band. And we first fumbled around with this organ that I bought from this guy who was selling everything he owned so he could go backpacking across Asia or something. I got this organ. I was mostly going to use it for recording and then one time when we were playing in the band we were in previously with 4 people, two of our band mates couldn’t practice. So Jason and I just started playing around with drums and organ and we thought it was more than just a recording adventure. It seemed like it could be a full band with just the 2 of us. So that was kind of how it started. It was a little bit by chance with us just playing one day. So then we ended up deciding to go somewhere else. We were thinking of New York but I had grown up in CT so I’d lived near NY so we went in the other direction and went to San Francisco about a year later.
lsg: I’ve read some of your blog, “Band on the Diaper Run.” It makes me giggle. What made you decide to start that?
Kori: When I started it was pretty new but it’s now a pretty well know web site. It’s a site called Babble.com and they were trying to take a different turn on the typical parenting web sites. There are all different kinds of families now. You have artists and freelance parents who are raising kids and doing something different and I just wanted to contribute a couple of pieces being on the road. This was when blogs were just starting and they were getting the whole world. So it’s this thing where it wasn’t just the purpose of me sharing with other people it sort of is self-rewarding in a way because I have this journal album that I can look back at and see the little crazy issues that came up with this kind of life style and what happens on the road.
lsg: And you guys travel with your kids (they have 2 daughters) all the time?
Kori: There have been times when they stay with my Mom, who live locally, but not for very long. They’ll stay maybe a week with her. We don’t like being apart from them very much. So they do travel maybe 90% of the time with us.
lsg: Let’s talk about your current release, “Mountaintops”. I was recently listening to a year end top 50 indie track count down on Slacker and “Palamino” was at number 45 which is, I think, pretty cool considering you released your album at the end of the year. What’s that like for you?
Kori: It’s great. Anybody that recognizes what we do as something valuable, of course feels good. We have been a band for so long with so many records that on one hand I don’t really read into it at all, reading lists and all, but of course, if someone is giving you praise, it’s always going to feel good. We’ve had records that people have said are awful that we thought were amazing and we’ve had people tell us we did something great that maybe we thought we could do better. So it’s sort of like we’re proud of what we do so that’s really what we try to make matter.
lsg: Do you have any favorite tunes on “Mountaintops”?
Kori: I do. I go back and forth because there are some that are really fun to play live but didn’t come across the way went wanted to when recorded but we love playing live because they have a really good energy. And then there are songs that we love the way they turned out that are a little slower and more mellow but are fun to play and end up being my favorites. Then there are the obvious like “Palamino” which has always had this really contagious energy and that has become a favorite too.
lsg: Tell me about your song writing process. How do you guys manage that? Who writes what?
Kori: We don’t always do it the same way. Sometimes we’ll do it together. Like one day a week, for a full work day, we are together and we are just writing together. Then there are all the other times during the week when maybe I’m writing a song and he’s writing parts of another or maybe we’re editing something we’ve done before. It’s very rare that one person contributes something whole. It’s a collaborative process for sure.
lsg: You were on Letterman in October. Had you ever done that before? I loved watching that.
Kori: We have not done Letterman before. We did Conan for the last record, “Re-Arrange Us.” But Letterman. When we got there that day, we said it has taken us 14 years to get here and you know it’s one of those things that…it means something. For us it was something that we earned.
lsg: Oh yeah. Definitely. You were on Letterman. How great is that? It must have been fun for your kids to watch too.
Kori: Yeah, well they don’t think much (about it)…It was more like your parents. (She laughs). It was watching their parents so…
lsg: Robbie DeRosa, from the Homegrown show (WESU 88.1) just announced you are doing the Daffodil Festival (April 28-29) in Meriden. You guys are headlining, which is very exciting. How did that come about?
Kori: We really wanted to play, we both wanted to find more ways to explore Connecticut and music. Everyone plays New Haven and sometimes you don’t know where to go outside of that. I’m grateful that someone thought about us for that. We love that there’s fireworks that night too, either before we play or after. And it’s great because there are a lot of families. You know, since we live in Connecticut, we know lots of people with kids so this is great because it’s one of those times when it’s ok to bring everybody.
lsg: In addition to Daffodil Fest, you are doing a show in a couple of weeks in New Haven and it looks like you are doing a bunch of dates on the East Coast. What does the rest of your tour look like?
Kori: Well we’re doing a pretty short tour. We’re doing mainly the East Coast in February and we’re doing some other things in the area until April. I think we’ll hit the West Coast in the summer. This tour is taking us basically to NY, Philly, down south to Virginia and the Carolina’s and then back up to CT. We are timing it all with school vacations and everything. It’s a pared down portion so we can just get in the van and go. It’s going to be fun!
lsg: Who are your musical heroes?
Kori: That’s always a hard one for me because I always forget someone really important or I can’t think of anybody good! I love Stevie Nicks. Classic singers. I have a lot of recent people. I’m really into Tune-Yards this past couple of years. I think she’s really someone to pay attention to. I even listened to hip-hop for a while in high school and early college. And then there are also the local bands that are my heroes. They were the bands that made me want to do what I do. To me they are hugely influential.
lsg: I usually wrap up with a strange question but I have a little twist because you guys are living back here! My original thought was…When you come home to CT, what must you eat?
Kori: Oh yeah. Well I would have said New Haven pizza for sure. Pepe’s is my favorite but I’m also loving Bar pizza right now. I mean you have to say New Haven pizza. I had my first falafel in New Haven and I will never forget it.
Mmmmmmm. It always comes back to the pizza…
Mates of State are appearing at Studio 756 in New Haven on February 24, 2012. Openers will be Sean Bones and CT’s own, The Stepkids. To purchase tickets, please contact http://weareintercambio.org/