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Mates of State band members are partners in every way

Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel met in Lawrence at the University of Kansas and formed Mates of State, which plays Friday at the RecordBar.
Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel met in Lawrence at the University of Kansas and formed Mates of State, which plays Friday at the RecordBar. Shervin Lainez

Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner have been married since 2001 and been parents since 2005. But none of that slowed the ascent of Mates of State, the band they started not long after they met at the University of Kansas in the mid-1990s.

“Things were really pared down when we started,” Hammel said. “It was just the two of us in a van; we didn’t even have a crew. Now with the kids and a crew, there are more logistics to figure out. But it goes pretty smoothly now. Our older daughter is 10 now and our other daughter is 7, so they’re old enough to enjoy the places we go. It’s pretty fun.”

Marriage and children are the theme of “The Rumperbutts,” a just-released independent film that stars Hammel and Gardner as a married couple in a band. Hammel said he and Gardner had talked about making a film and the idea got momentum when a filmmaker friend approached them.

“We’d done some music for a short film he made,” he said. “He came to us and said he wanted to make a feature-length and wanted us to be in it. Initially, we talked about doing the Mates of State’s story in movie form, but once we started, we realized we are only halfway through the story so the movie wouldn’t have an ending.”

The idea evolved into another story about a couple in an indie band, Jack and Bonnie, who are struggling financially. They get a lucrative offer to star in a children’s show, wearing garish lion costumes from the designer for “Yo Gabba Gabba.” Eventually, the absurdity of the situation takes its toll.

“They end up miserable until they meet a guy played by Josh Brener (“Silicon Valley”) who becomes their music guru and shows them what to do to get back to making art that they love.”

Mates of State created the soundtrack and the score for the film, another step in the duo’s steady evolution from a drum/keyboard electronic/indie-pop band into something more diverse and refined.

The duo moved from Lawrence to San Francisco in 1998. Two years later, they released “My Solo Project,” their debut full-length. It received lots of positive reviews.

“With organ, drums, and belted-out boy-girl harmonies, the Mates of State crank out a giant, joyous pop sound that needs no overdubbing or ornamentation to convey its exuberance,” wrote Michael Cross in the All Music Guide.

Two years later, they released “Our Constant Concern,” then moved to the East Coast, where Gardner, a native of Lawrence, was raised.

“We wanted to have children and wanted family around us,” Hammel said. “We loved San Francisco but we had no family there. Kori has family in Connecticut.”

In 2006 they signed with Barsuk Records, home to Death Cab for Cutie, Nada Surf and the Dismemberment Plan.

On their second Barsuk release, “Re-Arrange Us,” the duo’s sound changed. From a Spin magazine review: “These proud parents ditched their old-timey organ, and with it much of the band’s hyper-active, carnivalesque vibe. About time, too: Adorned with piano and synth, the 10 songs on ‘Rearrange Us’ are fuller, more elegant vessels for the duo’s warm, intricate melodies.”

Except for “The Rumperbutt” music, Mates of State has released only one other full-length of original material since “Re-Arrange”: “Mountaintops,” in 2011.

And they have no plans to put out another full-length. In June, they released “You’re Going to Make It,” a five-song EP. Hammel said the EP will be the duo’s format for the foreseeable future.

“The industry has changed so much,” he said. “There used to be a cycle: You release a full-length and tour on it for a year or two or three. Now the cycle is constant. You’re not off the cycle. You have to keep producing something so people know you still exist, or they’ll move on to someone else.

“So we decided to produce an EP every year instead of a full-length every two or three years. We just dole out the music in smaller doses, quicker.”

At a time when many bands are choosing to produce and promote music independently, Mates of State remains with Barsuk nearly 10 years after signing.

“They understand how the industry has changed, and they’re open to different ways of doing things,” Hammel said. “It’s crucial for them to find new ways to survive that will make everybody happy. It takes some adjustment.”

Friday night, Mates of State will headline a show at RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. Gardner and Hammel have a day off Saturday, the Fourth of July, and they and their daughters will spend it in Lawrence.

“Kori has lots of cousins, aunts and uncles there,” Hammel said. “So we’re going to go hang out, barbecue, shoot off fireworks and spend time with family.”

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.


Mates of State perform Friday at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. Good Graeff and Hey Marseilles also perform. Showtime is 9:30 p.m. Admission to the 18-and-older show is $15.