Favorite Song Right Now: Mates of State "Staring Contest"

Graham LeBron
06 16, 2015

Mates of State are one of my favorite bands. I've loved them since I saw them play a small show at SF State in March of 1999.  I loved the amount of noise Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner made as a two piece with just their voices, drums and an old Casiotone Organ. After they played a cover of "Hello" by Lionel Richie, I had to talk to these two. I soon found we had all recently moved to the Bay Area and didn't know many folks. So, we started hanging out, even jamming together a handful of times, and we've pretty much been friends since. Fast forward 15 years and they've got 2 kids, 7 albums, a few EPs, and a lifetime of great stories to tell.  To my ears, their new EP, You're Going To Make It, is a logical and very natural progression. After letting go of the idiosyncratic tones of the Casiotone several years ago, they took the opportunity to explore a variety of new atmospheres -- they continue to do so masterfully here. The production is big and modern without sounding too radio vapid. The pop is a little more refined, the synths and drum machines come forward a bit, and the songs are as strong as ever. Don't take my word for it, but I'd say it is safe to assume they've been influenced by the pop music their children are listening to, and they're no worse for it. After all, they did do a cover of Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" last year.  It's really not that different from the radio and MTV we grew up on ourselves before some of us decided we were too cool to admit we liked that stuff anymore. Maybe you grow out of it and then grow back into it. Come to think of it, the 80s section of my 45 collection is probably the deepest, and 1989 was one of my favorite records of 2014. 

After setting up a home studio, they've been recording themselves for the past few years, they self produced this one, which adds a comfort and confidence to an already tight EP. Sometimes you don't need to make a whole record. I think more bands could heed this advice. Commenting on the state of music these days, Jason said, "I don’t like it, but the long play album format is probably dead. Now we just want the hits. Don't bother me with filler; get me your best songs straightaway."

They made an amazing video for "Staring Contest" starring the whole family. I don't know how you couldn't like it.  Here is what they had to say about it.

"[It’s] based on a true story of our daughter June’s intro to her class. Kids are allowed to bring in a book to read to the class. June instead chose to sing an Adele song to them. We re-imagined this performance into a full-on blow out party. During the song bridge, we pay homage to the fight scene in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video. The kids skipped school; we flew to California to film in Pasadena."

Mates of State will be touring the east coast in June and July. Check the dates here and their new EP too!

P.S. These two can also act! I just watched Rumperbutts, the film they scored and starred in last month and it's really good! Yes, they're basically playing versions of themselves -- a musical couple sadly playing in a kiddie band they no longer believe in, but still, it's good, and funny! And it has that one guy from Silicon Valley. Check it out the trailer!

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