Mates of State: the ultimate power couple born out of Lawrence

It’s by no accident that the vocal-laden Mates of State keeps finding their way back to the birthplace of the drums-and-organ indie-pop duo and their relationship.

“Lawrence is one of our favorite places,” says Kori Gardner, the band's female half. “I was actually born in Lawrence and obviously we went to school there. I miss it.”

Now married, Josh Hammel and Gardner had a formed Mates of State serendipitously in 1997, playing around with a recently acquired organ in a jam session that would provide the groundwork for a long-term music connection. Just five shows after their first performance together in a KJHK open-mic session, the couple rushed off to San Francisco to develop their sound beyond the guitar-heavy music scene of Lawrence.

Gardner fondly remembers the takeaways from the city where both she and her husband were Kansas University students.

“We’d go see bands every day that we could,” Gardner says. “The only thing that was different is that I had a keyboard and (the local music scene) wasn’t keyboard-centric yet. I think ... the element of surprise in songs, and not learning some sort of linear pattern, I think that really influenced us in the beginning.”

Arriving on the easy-going West Coast, they learned that the Northwest, particularly San Francisco, was pop-centric. It was just the beginning of learning the unavoidable and direct influence of location on the works they would produce, Gardner says.


Contributed Photo

Mates of State are performing at Granada, 1020 Massachusetts St., on April 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance. On this tour they are taking a special barebones approach to their music, abandoning synthesizers and bring in piano, horns and a cello.

Another fortunate change of the move was the increased female presence in bands on the West Coast.

“I was like ‘Oh awesome, I’ve been looking for you,’" Gardner says. “There was definitely a feminine element that wasn’t in Lawrence, and the fact that San Francisco is a happy, sunshiney place with European-esque architecture and everything, we were more influenced in a pop sense than when we were in Lawrence.”

Marrying in 2001, Hammel and Gardner have now toured (as parents of two kids) all over the world with the likes of Palomar, Jimmy Eat World, Taking Back Sunday, Spoon and Death Cab for Cutie. Three EPs and seven full-length albums later, Hammel and Gardner find themselves in Connecticut (with Barsuk Records) near family where Gardner grew up.

This geographical change has once again made its way into the band's continually changing sound.

“Place influences you in your personality even, and obviously in your art,” Gardner says. “When we went from Kansas to California and then to the East Coast, I’d been away from the East Coast for 10 years. So when we got back here, I had a huge culture shock.”

It’s no secret that some of country’s most friendly people reside in the Midwest, and that the chill demeanor extends West. The Northeast, Gardner says, doesn’t exactly have that charm.

“I think it’s the hardest, edgy, blunt, real honest people that live here,” Gardner says. “And at first I was like, where’s all the friendly-everything’s-going-to-be-great-all-day people?

“That definitely had an impact on the sound and the kinds of things we were writing about, too. It’s impossible to say that you live somewhere and it doesn’t affect what you put out.”

As touring musicians, the East Coast was a smart move for them, but they will surely find their way to a city somewhere in the Midwest to West region in the future, Gardner says. For now, though, the duo still make frequent trips back to Lawrence, and will be performing at Tuesday at the Granada. Their most recent album, “Mountaintops,” was released in 2011, but on this tour they are taking a special bare-bones approach to their music.

If you go

Mates of State will be performing at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Granada, 1020 Massachusetts St. Tickets are $15 in advance.

“Just for fun we decided to break everything down into the most simplest form and do a tour with piano and a few horns and a cello,” Gardner says. “Not a ton of synthesizers, not a ton of electronics, kind of just strip it down and see what the songs are in its most basic form.”

Don’t plan on jumping up and down or letting your hair bounce in pop bliss.

“Getting to just sit down and watch a show, for me, I think you appreciate so many different things about music than just standing in a crowded bar and it’s too loud, and you’re trying to have fun with the scene and not just absorb the music,” Gardner says.

They’ve been working on a new EP for a while now, which Gardner hopes will be completed within another month, but they’ve invested the majority of their time and energy in scoring and acting in an indie film since October. Titled “Rumperbutts,” the artists play a married couple in an indie band who are forced to take a job on a children’s show. It is expected to be released this fall.

“[Scoring] film has always been our dream though,” Gardner says. “To be honest we were like, ‘the first person who wants us to do anything for their movie, we’re in.’ It wasn’t like a money thing, we got paid nothing. But it’s like, please let us have this opportunity. That’s what I love to do. I just love to write all day long for whatever project.”

Their two daughters, ages 10 and 6, also keep them busy, lengthening the time between record releases (not that they’d ever put out something they aren’t fully proud of, Gardner says), and limiting their exposure.

“We’d like to go on a six-month tour, tour the world and like do it exactly how we wanted,” Gardner says. “But we have kids and they have roots here, and lives, and having to put their needs first is important. We ask ourselves is this going to be good for them and if it’s not, then we can’t do it.”


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