Mates of State | Treat, not Trick

Our music to us is highly personal. We write about what’s going on in our lives, people we know and characters that we meet, and situations we encounter.



Mates of State recently released Mountaintops, yet another refreshingly infectious album with an inexhaustible amount of energy and sincerity, and will be stopping by St. Louis on Halloween to give us a taste. This taste will be better than anything you’ll find in your pumpkin pal or pillowcase that night. Jason Hammel, drummer/vocalist and one-half of the husband/wife duo, took time to talk about, among other things: the theme of Mountaintops, karate, The Simpsons, trick-or-treating, and Queen Latifah.

Who is responsible for the order of the songs on Mountaintops? The juxtaposition of the slower songs with the faster, upbeat songs is fantastic.

It’s Kori [Gardner] and [me]; we come up with it together. We take the sequencing of the album very serious, almost as much as the songwriting. Especially in today’s world where people’s attention spans are pretty short: In order to get them to listen to an entire record like a piece of work, you have to really be careful about the dynamics and try to keep them interested.

Do you ever compose your songs as you did in your beginning, by attaching parts together to make a whole?

In a sense. We used to write shorter parts, and we’d have like 10 parts and then…it would just be in chronological order. Like we wrote this part, then we wrote that part, and then we just figured out a way to make them go together. Now it’s a little bit more like we write the parts and then we’ll think about it a little bit more, maybe having the changes be more fluid and not so abrupt. Sometimes if you write two parts and you throw them together without any thought, they can be very jarring and maybe prog-rock-y. Now we just try to make the parts flow a little bit better.

Did I hear a shout-out to Queen Latifah in “Maracas?”

Yeah, there’s a reference to “U.N.I.T.Y.” I think it was just sort of spontaneous. We were trying to figure out something to spell there, and it just kind of came out, and we were like, “Oh, let’s just do it and pay homage to Queen Latifah.” At the time, we definitely knew we were doing it.

Moments of loneliness and alienation appear throughout the album, and it seems that these issues are resolved within the music. Would you say making music is a way to deal with these feelings?

Definitely. Music is expression, and it’s a way to work through your daily stuff. Our music to us is highly personal. We write about what’s going on in our lives, people we know and characters that we meet, and situations we encounter. I definitely think you’re correct in assuming that. All of those things exist in there because we’re normal human beings with regular feelings.

Not many bands comment on the money for art factor as you do in “Basement Money.” What message are you trying to get across in that song?

Maybe it harkens to a bigger problem with the recession, and everybody’s feeling the money crunch, you know what I mean? That song for us is our personal experience on the fact that we sit down in our basement and we write songs. Ultimately, those songs are what help us pay our bills.

“Total Serendipity” is a fun song filled with mystical lyrics. Did I hear correctly? Do you and Kori yell “Unicorns” at the end of that song?

[Laughs] Yeah. Yeah, we do. On the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons, Lisa’s with her friends and they’re watching TV, and [on the TV] they’re saying the differences between boys and girls, or something like that, and all the girls are watching the show, which is clearly directed toward boys. So they brought out this princess, which is totally clichéd about the gender, and then some unicorns, and all of sudden they all went, “Unicorns!” Then all the girls immediately started paying attention. We just thought that was hilarious, like how it’s kind-of-sort-of stereotypical, but oftentimes how true that is, like what genders are drawn to innately. So we thought that was hilarious and threw that in at the end of “Total Serendipity.”

You say in “Changes” that you’d better welcome it. What changes in your life has set you free?

Over the last two years, we both started doing martial mrts, like training karate, and also meditating. The big thing with Vipassana Meditation that I’m doing is [that it’s] all about not clinging to anything—in essence, allowing change to happen, because that’s what all things do. You and I aren’t even the same people we were five minutes ago when we started this conversation, because our cells are constantly going through division and change. That whole song is about being open to it and realizing that you can [neither] stop it nor control [change], so you should just open yourself to it.

Your music is so life-affirming. Do you hope to instill in the minds of your listeners to keep on keeping on, no matter what life throws at them?

On this record in particular, I think that is one of the major themes. The title, Mountaintops, is about, yeah, you get to the top of one success and you feel like you’re at the peak. You look around and all you see are other mountaintops, and the only way to get there is to start heading down back into the valley and start climbing up again. That’s sort of a metaphor for life. That’s just the way it is. If you want to deny it or reject it, then you’re just going to make it harder for yourself. Ultimately, everybody wants to be happy, whatever it is that makes someone happy; that’s what they want to achieve. We think the theme of Mountaintops is to just allow things to change naturally and to embrace them. That’s where you’ll find your happiness.

Could you explain the last line of the album, when Kori sings, “I need you, and it’s not normal if I refuse to be by myself”?

I think that’s just more about people being social animals. As much as we value our personal time and isolated time, at the end of the day, we all want somebody to love and have somebody to love us back, unconditionally. I think that’s what that line is harkening to.

Your show in St. Louis is on Halloween. Are holidays an issue? What are you expecting of the show? People to be dressed up?

We don’t expect people to be dressed up, but it’s always nice when they [are]. We always want to dress up. Halloween is one of our favorite holidays. It’s funny; over the years, we’ve been touring on many Halloweens, and I remember trying to take Maggie, our little one—we were in London—trick-or-treating. I remember it was impossible because they don’t celebrate Halloween the way we do.

Then there was another time when we were playing the Voodoo Festival, actually on Halloween, and everybody was dressed up and it was great. It’s New Orleans, so everybody’s into the costume spirit anyway, but we were stuck on the grounds of the festival and didn’t have any way to get into residential areas. There were all these booths set up, and we were trying to go from booth to booth, trying to trick-or-treat. We were like, “Do you have any candy back there?” It was just us makeshifting trick-or-treating for the kids.

So will you be dressed up for the upcoming show?

Oh, yeah.

Do you want to reveal what you’re dressing up as, or do you know yet?

Oh, it’s got to be a surprise, man. | Alex Schreiber

Mates of State will be performing Mon, October 31, 2011, at The Firebird. Doors are at 7 p.m., show at 8. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit


Photos: Nick Gordon


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