Interview: Jason Hammel (Mates of State)

Jason_Kori.jpgThe band Mates of State consists of just two members -- the husband-and-wife team of Jason Hammel (drums) and Kori Gardner (keyboards), though the two seem like such equals that I could've just as easily called them the wife-and-husband team of Kori and Jason.

Their excellent fifth album Re-Arrange Us was released this spring; it finds the duo broadening their sonic palette in a bunch of hook-laden songs. Lyrically, the songs cover relationships -- no surprise there -- but more so about the hard work of relationships after the initial attraction fades.

In addition to their rock albums, Gardner is known for writing a blog about her experiences recording and touring with Gardner's and Hammel's two kids, Magnolia and June. They also covered "Jellyman Kelly" for the For The Kids III compilation and are going to be appearing on Yo Gabba Gabba! this season.

All of which is why I talked with Jason Hammel last for this kids music website. He chatted with me for a few minutes by phone last week. Read on to find out his first 7" record, daughter Magnolia's favorite song off the new album, and what prevents them from recording a kids album.

Zooglobble: So what music did you have around the house growing up?
Jason Hammel: We had that holiday Snoopy album, and my Dad had some Monkees albums... My first 7" record was the theme from The Greatest American Hero...

That's a great song!
Yeah, I remember taking it to school in first great and thinking it was so great to have my teacher play it there in class.

You and Kori made the band a full-time thing in 2001, but did the birth of your kids somehow change how you approached your musical career, business-wise or otherwise?
Well, with the birth of our first daughter (Magnolia), it was just the sudden realization of, we need a paycheck. With the second daughter (June), we haven't thought about it much.

There are a couple things -- the first is, you're not gonna get a paycheck every Friday. Sometimes you're not getting anything, and sometimes you're rolling in it.

The other thing is, we had less time to write. Before the kids, we were so lacksadaiscal about writing... but now we're much more focused -- Mags is at school 4 hours a day, and we use that time to write.

What are the cool things about touring with kids?
Well, I didn't have a passport until I was 25; our kids had little baby passports when they were 6 weeks old. They've been to Spain... They get to watch all these great bands from the side of the stage...

The other cool thing is we get to raise our kids together.

It's like you're both stay-at-home parents. Except you're not always at home.

MOS_RearrangeUs.jpgIs there a particular song off of Re-Arrange Us that your kids particularly like?
Well, the song that Magnolia listens to the most, or at least sings along to the most, is "You Are Free."

Are there ever times when you hear her singing along to one of your songs and you think, eh, that's not so appropriate?
No, nothing really embarrassing... our songs tend to deal with cultural and personal matters rather than vice...

You played a lot of festivals this summer -- any particular favorite for you or your kids?
Well, for me, I think Spain. We played a festival there -- they had a pool in the VIP area, and the food was great... For Mags, Lollapalooza and Kidzapalooza. They had temporary tattoos, you could get punked-out hair -- I think she thought it was an amusement park.

You covered "Jellyman Kelly" on the For The Kids III album, and you recently did a song for Yo Gabba Gabba! -- any thoughts of recording a kids music album?
We're always threatening to do that... at an undetermined detriment to our rock 'n' roll reputation.

But haven't you heard? Everybody's recording kids' music these days...
Maybe that's what we need -- a kids' album to push us into the Dan Zanes stratosphere...

Finally -- what's next for the band?
Business as usual -- we're going to finish touring and start working on the next album. We've got a couple other projects we're exploring -- maybe a film score or a TV show...

Mates of State photo by Crackerfarm.