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Make no mistake ¸ it's Mates of State

Mates of State play Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave., along with Rainer Maria, Milemarker and the Blood Brothers on Monday. The show is $10 and begins at 8 p.m.
By Jessica Suarez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 20, 2003

When Mates of State played Tucson last April, it had very little interaction with the audience. Normally, this is the kind of thing that gets bands labeled as poor live performers.

But people don't come to shows to check out their chemistry with the audience ¸ they go to see the members' interaction with each other. Though Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, the duo behind Mates of State, barely looked at the audience, their on-stage love fest kept even the most jaded music elitists' sarcasm at bay.

It's pretty obvious that the two are in love, but it's not something they advertise, though it's what audiences pick up on the most.

"We didn't try to let people know Ě we aren't trying to play it up or downplay it at all," said Hammel.

Though they may not make their marriage explicit, their relationship is the center of the band. The two are not just cute ¸ not just in love ¸ but cute, in love, and in a cute band together. So entwined are their lives and music that fans left messages of congratulations when the Mates took a few days off to get married ¸ and went back on tour soon after. This tour looks equally busy for the band.

"Right now we're in Seattle getting ready to eat Ě this tour is jam-packed," said Gardner, before a soundcheck at the band's Seattle tour date.

They are the kind of couple who make others jealous, especially the way they stare at each other, blocking the rest of the world out. Of course, it could be more than just young love. It could be that Gardner and Hammel improvise so much during their concerts that they have to focus their complete attention on each other or else risk messing up badly.

"It's a little bit of both; we do look at each other a lot Ě we have to get it together. Sometimes we're just communicating, other times it's about the song. We're just looking at each other and expressing it to one another, " Hammel said.

The Mates' love story is a classic one: they met through friends, fell in love and got married. They had been playing in different bands in the Lawrence, Kan., area. They began dating and immediately knew they wanted to move away together.

They also decided that two people were enough for a band, so they dropped their guitars and learned to play the keyboard and drums. While other bands have to worry about getting all the people they need to complete the standard drummer-guitar-bass-singer setup, the Mates did it all themselves ¸ the only problem was how to make two people sound like they were an entire band.

You would never know their music is produced by only two instruments. Gardner's instrument, the Yamaha Electone, is a 200-pound beast produced just before synth keyboards became popular.

"It's two hundred pounds with a flight case," said Gardner. "We got two of them on Ebay."

Gardner's keyboard belts out thick organ notes and warbling vibrating low ones, making any room they play in sound completely full.

Their music is danceable, almost embarrassingly so ¸ yet, their frequent time changes make it hard to keep up.

Mates of State are currently on tour with Rainer Maria. Another tour, consisting of Milemarker and the Blood Brothers, will open up the show. The two sets of bands are completely different, but Hammel isn't worried about Milemarker riling up the crowd before he and Gardner take the stage.

"It'll be an interesting show," he said. "I like aggression."

Gardner and Hammel have moved to a house in New Haven, Conn., where they can be close to Gardner's family and work on music exclusively. Both quit their jobs (Gardner was an elementary school teacher, Hammel researched cancer treatments) and do Mates of State full time.

"We just wanted a change of perspective," Hammel said. "We also bought a house. We just wanted to not have any distractions, so it had to be a little outside of our city (San Francisco)."

The two went very, very outside their city when touring Japan last fall, when Mates of State were asked by a small label in Japan to come to their country.

"We were like, ╬OK,'" said Hammel. Though the band had been working on songs, they packed up and went to Japan, where Hammel says the audiences were "definitely more enthusiastic about American music."

Touring and writing music, they say, is a lot easier when you only have to worry about one other person.

"When you're writing songs, you only have to get one person to like it," said Hammel.

"Being on the road, as far as where you want to eat and where you want to sleep, all the decision-making is a lot easier."

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