Mates Of State
As one of half of the husband-and-wife indie pop duo, Mates of State, Kori Gardner recently announced a new tour. The Kansas native, who has been performing alongside her husband, Jason Hammel, handles the vocals, synthesizer, electric piano and, occasionally, the guitar. Mates of State, has over the past 14 years released seven full-length albums, including Mountaintops, which just hit stores last September. They have also made several appearances on hit television shows such as The O.C., 90210, Ugly Betty, One Tree Hill and The Late Show with David Letterman, as well as touring around the globe with some of the biggest bands in music such as Jimmy Eat World, Death Cab for Cutie and Taking Back Sunday.
Gardner and Hammel experienced one of the more difficult challenges any parent-pop duo can ever encounter: raising a family while being on tour. In our exclusive interview with Gardner, the indie pop singer talks about various topics which include how to balance the life of being both a parent and performer, her experience performing on Letterman, how she met Hammel, the highs and lows of touring, what keeps them grounded and plans for the future.
- Q: What are your mantras for balancing life on the road, writing new music and raising a family? - Lauren Morrell Rueger
- A: The most general one is, if everyone is still happy and healthy, we keep going. We've always reevaluated things sort of on a yearly basis: Is everyone good? Is everyone happy? Does this work? Even the first year when we decided to be a band and quit our jobs, we were like, “Let's just do it for a year and if this time next year, we're like 'I'm not happy, this sucks' or we're not able to make a living, we can do something else. So that's the biggest one. It used to be also: play anywhere, play anytime, try anything. I sort of think that is still a part of our general philosophy as people, even the way we raise kids.
- Q: How do you handle the education for your kids while your on the road? - Lorena Apostol
- A: Well, we did have to make some sacrifices and put our – well only one is in elementary school, the other is in preschool. Preschool is sort of more flexible with whatever a family wants to do, you know, in the way they raise their kids. You're paying for it so they don't really have a big say in it. Once you get to elementary school you have truancy laws, and public schools can be cool in some places and not cool in others if you take your kids out. So after this long clash trying to figure out what to do we decided we had to pay money and put her in a private school, and we had to pick a school that was very supportive of what we do and how we want our children with us. The school we picked is a Montessori school, and they're extremely supportive of her leaving, and they send work and they can't wait to hear about her adventures. It's an expense for us, but it's worth it.
- Q: Were you nervous before playing on Letterman? - Dave Graz
- A: Yeah, I was the most nervous for that than I've been in probably ten years. I don't know why. I think partly because no one else was as nervous as I was. People were making fun of me because I was sort of freaking out beforehand. I think it's because it's one of those things where we wanted to do that for so long and, maybe it doesn't mean anything, but to us it was sort of this mile marker, you know? This one thing we wanted to do and I was really nervous. We knew also, if we kick ass, people will never be able to say, “Oh, they can't hold up on TV or they can't hold up in different environments or special events or whatever.” We went in there seriously just wanting to do our best.
- Q: We wanted to know the story about how you and Jason met and started to play together. - Uinterview User
- A: We met in college and we were both in, obviously, other bands, and we were sort of in more expanded circles — you know, you meet all the other bands. We met through that and eventually just started dating. I think I was playing a show, and he was there. We met and soon after started dating and a couple weeks in we decided to start playing music together. It was one those awkward “Is this going to ruin everything? Or is this going to be great?” things. It went the good way.
- Q: Were there any moments of tension where you thought the music part might not work because of the relationship part? - Uinterview User
- A: We've been a band for 14 years. I'm not going to lie, there's been moments like, “Aaahh, it's so frustrating working with you, and living with you and raising kids with you,” but we have a really good grasp on where we are. But also we can change, and we're OK with each other wanting to try new things. It doesn't have to follow some sort of pattern that we've done in the past. That's come up before where, “Oh, you've never done that before! Why do you have that idea now?” kind of argument. We've gotten to this place where it's cool. We should be able to evolve as individual musicians and as a band.
- Q: So we know you're on tour now. Tell us a little bit about how it's going. What have been some of the highlights and lowlights? - Uinterview User
- A: We're actually on a break right now. We're headed out this coming week. We did a bunch of fall touring and then we took off over the holiday time and January and we're heading out next week. I think we're really at a peak with our live show. We have these other musicians who've been playing now with us for almost two years. That's something we hadn't done for ten years. It's just been the two of us always live. It's a different vibe now, just because there's more people, there's a higher amount of energy. I think people that have seen us in the past and maybe are like, “Oh, I've already seen it,” it's a different thing – it's “next level” as we call it.
- Q: When will you guys come play to Chicago, IL again? - Kristen Eckstadt
- A: We are not in February but there's a good chance for April and if not April, definitely this summer – we're doing a bigger tour this summer.
- Q: What keeps you grounded to what you love rather than what makes the most moolah? Have you ever regretted a decision in the music biz where you wrote a song that wasn't you or settled with something for what some call "success"? - Jacklyn Byers
- A: I think it's really hard to separate our relationship into different categories – this is band-related, this is parenting-related and this is a couple. We recently decided to have band meetings, where we just talk about issues we need to get done with the band and the business side of things because so many times in the past it was really hard to separate. We'd go out to dinner and be like, “Let's talk about the band stuff,” and then we'd end up talking about our kids. So, I think you do have to make a conscious effort to separate conversations into different roles. The other part of that question was compromising based on music industry pressure and I have to say we've been tempted with things like that. You know, there have been people who've been like, “You have to do a reality show. You'd make so much money, it seems like such a great story.” And we're like, “That'd be kind of cool to make a lot of money just because we are who we are.” Then we actually had a couple cameras follow us for a couple days just to see what we had going on and after the end of a few days we were like, “Never in a million years would we need to do that just for money.” So there've been moments of that and us realizing, you know, we want to make music – we're not in this for, not saying no to opportunities that sound fun and creative but we have to remember what we do. Every time that's happened where someone is like, “You should make a song that's more like this” or “You should do a TV show or you should do this” we might toy with it but we always come back to, “No way, we're doing this the way we've always wanted to do things.” We write our own rules and that is how we've always been as a band.
- Q: Kori: When did you write "Why you little...", what does it mean, and why don't you play it live anymore? - Amanda Clare
- A: Because right now I can't remember what song that is (laughs). Must be one of the very, very first ones. Text me the lyrics and I'll try and remember it.
- Q: This might be a little premature, but what are your plans for the next project? And how soon can we expect it? - Ben Simon
- A: Well, we're already writing. We recorded one song. We would both like to put something out sooner this time. We waited a couple years, had a covers record in between the last two legitimate releases. I think we're ready to put another record out soon — within the year.
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