Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mates of State

My interview with Kori from Mates of State appears online at

Two heads, eight eyes, one vision: Mates of State's Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner.

Two heads, eight eyes, one vision: Mates of State's Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner.

One’s husband might make for a great bandmate, but he doesn’t always pass on pertinent information — such as, say, that a journalist will be calling for an interview. And yet, Kori Gardner, one half of the aptly titled indie-rock duo Mates of State, laughs off the intrusion of an unexpected call, playfully blaming her partner, Jason Hammel, for the mix-up. She’s currently playing with her and Hammel’s blonde moppets, four-year-old Magnolia and one-year-old June, and within a few minutes of launching into the interview, it’s apparent that her self-deprecating demeanour has helped forge Mates of State’s cheerful and quirky organ-laden indie-pop sound, up to and including their 2008 album, Rearrange Us.

Despite the fact that the couple are packing up the kids and leaving for their North American tour in just a few hours, Gardner gamely answers questions with as much humour and graciousness as if an old friend was calling to catch up. It’s called rolling with the punches, and is just part and parcel of being a rock ’n’ roll mom.

You’re touring with Black Kids, an indie-dance band in their early twenties. Is there any concern about them being kids who want to party, and you may want to party as well, but you’ll have real kids of your own on tour with you?

Gardner: Yeah, on tour we definitely go to bed earlier than most bands. [Laughs] Mostly me, I guess. Jason will stay out. We’ve toured with people that are 18, and toured with people in their forties. The only difference is we have to get up at 6 a.m.

You blog a lot about your kids and your life with Jason. Do you worry about providing too much access to your life?

Like, “I can’t believe you put that picture of me online!” I get that from Jason. We were supposed to do [the blog] together in the beginning, and he was like, I don’t really want to share that stuff. And, I’m not gonna share everything, you know; I’m not going to write about every second of the day. Just the main points. And every now and then he’s like, “Take down the picture you put up of me. I’m wearing my robe” [Laughs]

Some of the reviews of Rearrange Us were really positive, and the album ended up on some critics’ year-end lists, whereas others came down really hard on it, partly for the lack of organ.

Even if it seems on the outside that everybody loves a certain record we put out, we’ll read reviews and see the one negative line, like, “It didn’t live up to my expectations.” And we’re like, What does that mean? What were your expectations? We want to exceed them! But, that is not what we’re making music for — for what people write in their reviews — so I think I’ve gotten a lot better about that. But, at the same time, how can it connect so well with some people and just make some people so angry? I don’t understand that, but it’s just about taste. Ideally, we write a record that everyone in the world loves, because it would be this great thing to connect everybody and it would be great for our band, but that’s not the reason we’re doing this anymore. I don’t wanna analyze it anymore. And I think this is the first time where we went in and were like, let’s just make the record we want to make and not even think about it.

Stuff that’s charting on Billboard now seems to be breaking down the barrier between mainstream and indie. Neko Case debuted really strongly, as did the Decemberists. Do you feel Mates of State fits into that “independent” world still?

I don’t know. I don’t feel we’re mainstream, but I don’t feel like we’re always making indie-rock anymore. I feel like I don’t ever want to write the same record, and I hope our sound evolves. We never wanted to fit into one category, and I hope that kind of continues.

Do you have that mentor relationship with anyone currently?

It’s funny. You’re the second person to point out, like, Black Kids are in their twenties, and you guys are in your thirties. [Laughs] I guess we’re totally delusional and still think we’re in our twenties. I don’t think of myself as a musician that could be thought of as a mentor at all. Actually, I have to say, one thing we do give advice on, and maybe too much advice on — we sort of feel like we’re experts at touring. We’ve been in every sort of touring situation. I could definitely be a mentor in that realm. I would love for someone to think of me as a mentor, musically, but I just don’t feel that role. [Laughs] I have all these insecurities, like, I’m not really that good, but don’t tell anybody!

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