By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Being married to your bandmate isn't easy. Just ask Jason Hammel, half of the twosome that makes up indie pop act Mates of State.
"I honestly don't know how people avoid getting sick of each other," says Hammel, who has been hitched to singer/keyboardist Kori Gardner for almost a decade now. "We have this strange relationship where we've always been able to spend unprecedented amounts of time together."
Speaking from a tour stop in Seattle, the drummer is eager to talk about his band's newest CD, Re-Arrange Us, although he doesn't mind pontificating on the finer points of a stable marriage either.
"Kori and I have this sort of karma connection," says Hammel, who proceeds to list Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth as examples of bands that have members who are happily married. But then Hammel quickly recalls an infamous instance of a band where it did not work. "There are probably more couples in bands that break up," he admits. "Everyone knows how Fleetwood Mac ended up."
Hammel and Gardner, however, have managed to remain a couple while making their impressive music together. Since meeting at college in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1997, the duo has continued to garner a growing fan base—and more and more critical acclaim with each successive release.
Over the course of five albums, a couple of EPs, and numerous singles and appearances on compilations, Mates of State has forged an interesting niche within indie pop. Playful but not tediously sweet, new songs such as "Jig Saw" and "Great Dane" show a surprising vitality for such a safe-looking pair.
"I usually like to call what we do pop music," says Hammel, "even though it can get chaotic sometimes."
Yet, with their distinct harmony vocals and odd, syncopated rhythms, Mates of State has joyfully defied easy labeling. One term that has been associated with the band is "twee pop," a descriptor Hammel says he finds particularly annoying: "I dislike the term 'twee' since it has come to mean cutesy, kind of amateur. We are an untraditional rock band that plays chaotic pop music."
Except, well, the new effort isn't as chaotic as previous releases. Minus the organ that was once the dominant instrument in the band's sound, the songs on Re-Arrange Us are subtler—even mature.
And the current tour features two additional Mates of State, a cellist and a violinist, as Hammel and Gardner let a few others into their close-knit realm.
"This is the first tour we've done with other musicians," says Hammel. "Mates of State will always be just Kori and I when it comes to writing and making records, but the string section adds a lot to the live sound."