POSTED ON OCTOBER 26, 2011:
Mates of State reach new heights with latest disc, Mountaintops
I think this is our best record yet," drummer/vocalist Jason Hammel said of Mountaintops last week, the latest disc by his band Mates of State. "I know that sounds cliché and a lot of people say that, but I really do feel that way."
"That's because it's our most honest record we've done to date," he explained. "We produced and recorded it ourselves, which took longer because we had to learn what we were doing. Ultimately, though, we didn't have to communicate the sounds in our head to someone else and then have to translate that. It was all up to us to get the sounds that we had in our head and I think we did that."
"We recorded drums with a friend and cut vocals then took it back to our home studio and did overdubs, so it was our project from start to finish," Hammel said. "Then we went in with Chris Coady (who mixed the album) and he helped make it more cohesive. Ultimately, I'm really proud of it and what we accomplished."
The end result is a 10 track disc that's engaging from start to finish. It's exactly what you expect from Mates of State: swirling keyboards, tight vocal harmonies and enough melodic hooks to wrap around your head and not let go. This time, though, the band's control of the entire process has made it even more engaging and immediate. It's a disc that appeals to multiple generations, effectively marrying mid-80's synth pop with modern DIY aesthetic and indie-rock credibility.
Make the Climb.
While opening track, "Palomino" hints at acts like Starlight Mints, the soaring background vocals take it to another level. Likewise, "Total Serendipity" takes off in a different direction, led by Kori Gardner's lead vocal and a more traditional electric piano, before bursting into a huge sing-songy chorus that scales back into an almost symphonic pop for this duo, but could just as easily exploded into a Polyphonic Spree track with the bouncy piano lines and gospel-infected chorus that pushes the song to expand and contract dynamically.
When discussing the creative process, Hammel said "When writing, we edit as we go. We don't write 50 songs, then take the ten best for the record. We start writing and if it's not going anywhere, we put it away and start on something else."
That focus is part of what makes the record so immediate and engaging. When discussing that with Hammel, he acknowledged that he's been gauging the response to the new material while on tour, especially as Mountaintops was released in September, less than eight weeks ago.
"So far, the first couple of songs, "Palomino" and "Maracas" have gotten a pretty immediate response live," he said. "A lot of the others, people have been OK with, and I try to be mindful of that."
"So far, people want to hear what they're familiar with, but the record has only been out a little over a month. I think this next leg of the tour will be more telling as to how people are responding overall."
"I can't blame them, because I'm the same way when I see someone with a new record," he said. "I want to hear the stuff I know and work in a few new tracks around that, so we've tried to be mindful of that with our show."
"Our old fans and the diehards seem to be really happy with the new record, so far," Hammel observed. "Our goal, besides keeping the old fans happy, though, is finding new fans, so I'm glad to hear when new people take to this CD immediately. Adding fans is definitely part of the process."
Mates of State has already wrapped up the first leg of its tour, a run with Stillwater based The Other Lives. "They're an incredible band," Hammel said of his tour mates, "and they're great guys. I'm very happy with where they're going musically and could easily see them getting really huge."
After a couple of weeks off, however, the band is starting its second leg of the Mountains tour and arrives in Tulsa with Generationals in tow as a support act. When asked how the opening bands are arranged, Hammel admitted that he didn't actually know the members of Generationals, but knew their music, so they were picked based on that. Although having Other Lives on board for the Tulsa stop would have been a bonus, it's just as exciting to bring in a new band and keep things fresh when the tour arrives at Cain's Ballroom next week.
When discussing the band's stop in Tulsa, Hammel shared that Mates of State has only played in Tulsa a few times and never at Cain's.
"I remember the first time we played Tulsa, it was at Mohawk Park and we played a punk party under a picnic shelter," he said. "We booked it through a friend of a friend and when we got there, it was this crusty punk party. We arrived and said 'Hey, I think we're supposed to play here' and they were like 'Sure, you can set up and play now.' So here we are, two random kids from San Francisco that show up in an Isuzu Rodeo and unpack drums and keyboards and start playing these really pop oriented songs. It's kind of funny to think back on, but they were cool about it and I think they really got it."
Since then, Hammel recalled playing a show at the now closed Enzo's Pizza and making an appearance at DFest in 2009, but said "We've never played a proper club show here."
On tour in support of its sixth release and strongest to date, Mates of State has skipped over the club circuit in Tulsa (as its main stage appearance at DFest would suggest) and jumped right into the limelight. While building on a solid buzz that has come with the release of Mountaintops, Mates of State arrives in Tulsa this Tuesday, Nov. 1, to headline Cain's Ballroom with New Orleans based indie-pop outfit Generationals in tow as the opening act. Tickets are still available for $20 in advance or $22 at the door for a great night of indie-pop and dance rock that will officially kick off a busy month at the Ballroom on a high note.
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