Before his band kicks off its “This American Life Tour,” Mates of State’s Jason Hammel catches up with Daze.
Daze: Okay, why don’t I get started. You guys are about to embark on your “This American Life” tour. How did you get involved with this program?
Jason Hammel (drums): Actually we’re just big fans of the show and friends
with Ira [Glass], who runs it. We just told him ‘we wanna be a part of it if possible.’ We just kind of put our name in the hat and luckily we got it.
Daze: Cool, how will this leg of the tour differ from other tours you’ve been on?
J.H.: The biggest difference is just the venues. The venues are huge and they’re more sit-down, classic style venues. I think we’re going to try to use a grand piano and make the songs fit the evening.
Daze: Your recordings, especially Bring It Back, disguise your status as a duo. How do you achieve the full sound for the album?
J.H.: Live, you mean, how do we do it? Or on the album?
Daze: On the album and also live.
J.H.: In the studio, it’s all about tricks. You can just layer something. You really are unlimited and you can imagine a song in your head, exactly how you wanna hear it, and just keep putting layers or doing a vocal. Live it’s like a totally different energy. People are just excited to be out in the hot live energy. You just crank up the volume and sing like and people get into it. You hear the record because in that energy, it is there.
Daze: How and why did you guys originally decide to become an organ-drum
band versus any other incarnation of instrumentation?
J.H.: It was kind of an accident. When we first met, we played in a pretty standard rock band with guitars, a bass player and a drummer. We just sort of got sick of it and Kori [Gardner] and I wanted to practice a lot more than they did, and sometimes they wouldn’t show up. Prior to that I had played the drums and Kori had played the piano and the organs. It had never left her.
[A toddler gurgles in the background.]
I just sat down at the drums one night and she sat down at this big organ, messing around, and we would do that all the time when the other members of the band wouldn’t show up to practice. Before we knew it, we had a handful of songs. We just decided to play them out one night. So we played them. We never really thought of it as a band so much as a science experiment until the first time that we actually played a show, and then we were like, ‘Hey, maybe we should just focus on that.’ We did; we just never stopped.
Daze: What projects were you guys involved with before you met?
J.H.: We were both in just like a million bands before we started this one, starting in high school, like really pop-punk bands and then straight up punk bands. Kori played in acoustic bands and that sort of thing. In college, we both started to get into college rock, and then it’s sort of been a continuation of that. Its really just been an ongoing process of starting when you’re young, and then you write better songs with each band you’re in.
Daze: You guys switched from Polyvinyl to Barsuk Records for Bring it Back. Is touring and promoting the album, or even the making of the album itself, different in any way this time around?
J.H.: Not really. Labels in general do the same thing for you. It just depends on who has different ideas to get the record heard. For us, we still love Polyvinyl, but we just wanted a newer direction. We’d had three records on Polyvinyl, and we’d been friends with the Barsuk people forever. They were always threatening to release our records so when our contract came up with Polyvinyl, we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s talk and see what kind of ideas they have for our new record.’ They just had really good ideas and we got fresh ideas.
Daze: The same concept, for promotion, how have myspace and youTube or blogs affected you guys? Have they given you more notoriety?
J.H.: It’s hard to say. They definitely help. I would say that not to the extent of Clap your Hands Say Yeah, Tapes ‘N Tapes or Cold War Kids and all those bands. But definitely it’s a lot easier, because you don’t really need your own “matesofstate.com” anymore. Fans don’t even use websites anymore because they just go to myspace. We’re all in high school now, you know? It’s a lot easier now to get information and book tours and all that. Get on your computer and you can book a tour in an afternoon. You used to have to spend months calling. I love it; I think it’s a great, efficient way to exchange information and exchange art.
Daze: How is it touring as a family? Does it make it easier to be on the road or are there reasons why it’s harder?
J.H.: It’s just a lot more regimented. We used to get bored on tour because we’d get to the car and just be sitting around waiting to play so we’d just get drunk or whatever. Now its more about us hanging out with Magnolia [their daughter together,] and staying on her schedule, stopping for lunch, going to hang out at the park in between all of sound check and loading in. Its just a lot more regimented, and maybe exhausting. Before Magnolia, we could just lay in the van and sleep or go back to the hotel, but now obviously we want her to be exposed to the world, especially since we have the opportunity to be in different cities. I think by the end of a monthlong tour, we’re just like, exhausted, and I think she wants to go home to. We could just sit around and watch TV for one day in my life [laughs.]
Daze: Is that her at the end of “Nature and the Wreck?”
J.H.: Yeah that’s her. We were recording and she came into the studio and one day we just put a lapel mic on her in the studio. She was just playing tambourines sitting down with mom at the piano, and we put a mic out for her for about thirty minutes. So whatever she said, we captured. We pulled out pieces that we thought sounded cool.
Daze: How collaborative is your writing process with Kori?
J.H.: It’s pretty much fifty-fifty. We just bounce ideas off of each other. One of us will put something down on the computer and then pass it along to the other person. And then we have a skeleton of a song, and we’ll go down to the basement and play it and start figuring out how exactly its going to fit together live.
Daze: How has your music changed since [your first album] My Solo Project?
J.H.: The writing process, definitely. We used to sit in a garage or a basement and we’d have our instruments and hammer out parts, and we’d have ten different parts. And then we’d say, ‘We have ten different parts, let’s try to put them together.’ And now, this is a lot more cerebral in that we try to craft a song rather than put a bunch of parts together. That’s the biggest change between My Solo Project and Bring It Back.
Daze: What are you guys listening to lately?
J.H.: I love the Cold War Kids record.
Daze: What about it exactly?
J.H.: I think its just raw rock, sort of blues rock from Fullerton, California, kids, which is totally like doesn’t make any sense. Like, The O.C., and then they make this sort of bluesy, raw rock ‘n roll.
Daze: I’m a native San Franciscan, and I’ve got to ask why you guys relocated to East Haven, Conn.?
J.H.: That’s a good question! We ask ourselves that question all the time. We love San Francisco; its our favorite city in the world. In fact, we sold our house, like, a week ago in East Haven.
Daze: So where are you guys now?
J.H.: We’re actually in New York right now, staying at our friends’ parents’ place for a couple of weeks. We want to move back there someday. The reason we left is, we were like, ‘Well, we love it here but we’re young. Maybe we should go see New York for a while, and see if the East Coast better. And if we don’t we’ll come back to San Francisco.’ And we realized we don’t like the East Coast better; we like California the best, and we wanna get back.
Mates of State will be playing at Hamilton College on Saturday, February 17th. Their latest album, Bring It Back, is available at amazon.com, iTunes and many other music outlets. Visit www.matesofstate.com for more information.