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Mates of State have been living the indie-rock life for over a decade. The husband and wife duo of Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner spin their sharp songwriting, harmonies, and dexterity with a suite of instruments (including piano, guitar, and drums, as well as Rhodes electric organ and glockenspiel) into finely crafted twinkly pop. Last year's Re-Arrange Us continues in the tradition of smart songs that would be perfect for a Wes Anderson film soundtrack that won't exist for another 10 to 15 years.
After meeting in 1997 in Lawrence, Kansas, the two immediately hit it off — first, musically, and then, romantically. It wasn't until they finally settled across the country in San Francisco that they released an album that would initiate a steadily expanding body of work. "When we moved to San Francisco, there was a huge paradigm shift for us — the weather, the variety of artists around us," says Hammel.
Weary of the drive-heavy grind of touring the West Coast, their 2004 move to East Haven, Connecticut, and, later, to New York enabled Mates of State to have a home base whence they could tour more easily, given the more densely populated East Coast. Regardless of the change in geography, a steady slate of recordings asserted both their knack for upbeat and catchy gems and a continuum of creativity not restricted to just albums. "When we make songs, we view them as individual works," says Hammel. "Will this fit on this record? As songs are done, we try to figure out where its home is at."
It's a work ethic that's served them well through the blossoming of online music. Hammel says, "It's a lot more immediate now. It used to be that you finished a record and it would take about five months to release. By that time, you'd have enough material for another release. Now, you can finish something and just post it on MySpace."
Even with a schedule packed with penning songs, recording, and hitting the road, Hammel and Gardner seem to have struck an equilibrium. It might be that the couple's two daughters, Magnolia, 5, and June, soon to be 2, have helped them achieve it. When the Mates of State tour, so do their kids. With offspring in tow, the priorities of the group shifted. Though the duo was never on a rock-star trip, Hammel says, "When we had kids, we found that we cared less about petty shit. As a parent, your concerns get broader, and it's more pressing matters that get your attention."
Despite the bigger concerns that they face as parents (they just found a Montessori school for Magnolia), Mates of State have integrated communication with their fans seamlessly into their life. Gardner blogs often, posting thoughts, pictures, and video on Babble.com, a magazine and community for young parents. And Hammel took quickly to Twitter. "It seems narcissistic, but it's such an innate feeling to let people know what's going on with you and to express yourself."
Juggling their lives as parents and touring musicians is already quite the achievement, but Hammel lets slip that another shake-up may be on the way. "It sounds crazy," Hammel admits, "but we're getting itchy again. We're bringing out the maps again and looking at all the awesome cities we'd love to live in."
It could simply be that when a balance strikes, that indie-rock spirit strikes back. "We love it here. We could stay here forever, but we're young."