I might want to hate Mates of State if I didn't find them so adorable. The happily married, impossibly good-looking and successful duo Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel make charming, melodic and seemingly effortless pop-rock music on their own terms. It's joyful, danceable and has substance.
They also find time to balance a 13-year-old career with parenthood, raising two young daughters while they recorded and independently released a sixth album, the enticing Crushes (The Covers Mixtape).
Pretty much everything about this band makes sense—even Hammel's description of the Mates of State mission statement.
"Music is to us a very personal thing, and we love melody and to sing in harmony. We start with something that's personal and happening in our lives, trying to make sense of that and then maybe expand on it, so the message is a little more universal," he said during a recent phone interview from their home in Stratford, Conn.
Mates of State will headline a special Fourth of July bash at Hotel Congress. Dubbed the Indie-Pendence Day Extravaganza, the concert will feature nine bands on two stages, as well as an after-party at which Hammel will demonstrate his skills as a DJ.
Crushes (The Covers Mixtape) comes at a time when it seems appealing to rock and pop artists, who otherwise make original music, to record and release albums of covers, Hammel said. "I don't know if it is a trend officially, but it seems to be."
He cited The Bird and the Bee's recent album of tunes by Daryl Hall and John Oates as one example. Also out there is a new album by blues singer Bettye LaVette on which she performs classics from the British rock songbook.
On their new album, Mates of State interprets the work of Nick Cave, Fleetwood Mac, Daniel Johnston, Girls, Vashti Bunyan, The Mars Volta and others.
Hammel says covering songs by other songwriters offers the chance to "rub shoulders with your favorite musicians or artists by playing or recording their songs. It's an opportunity to pay a little homage to artists and songs that we love or who have inspired us, and we can share a little bit of our sort of energy with the song."
The Mates' energy can lead to some surprising reinterpretations. It's a safe bet that Tom Waits' brooding "Long Way Home" hadn't previously been done as a blaring electronic anthem filled with a "yeah-yeah-yeah" chorus.
"Anybody can just make a close copy of the original version of the song. But if it's going to be interesting, there's going to be a little something of your style and approach," Hammel said.
The new Mates of State album also marks a logistical business change for the band. Released independently, Crushes is available primarily as a digital download on the band's website for $5. A limited-edition version of the CD will be sold only at gigs.
"I think everybody knows that CDs soon are going to go away pretty quickly," Hammel said. "It's kind of going to be like 8-tracks and cassette tapes before them; it's a medium that has served its purpose well, but it's over. We wanted to make it as simple and easy to buy the digital and keep it available for those who are still buying CDs."
Adding to that challenge is the fact that a lot of young listeners assume they get music for free, ripping, downloading and sharing music files with abandon.
"It's like dubbing cassettes used to be," Hammel said. "Only now, it's much easier, and the sound quality is basically the same as the original. It's really like, 'I think I want to hear this music; what way, out of so many, do I choose to get it?' Buying it? That mode is soon going to be long gone."
So what's a successful business model in music in the 21st century?
"We're making adjustments to that as we speak. It's just not certain at all yet. You just have to get creative on how you get people interested in what you do. They're still willing to part with their money if you can give them a reason to be interested, if you can create something that they want. Maybe they want to get something more from you than just your music. Maybe they want T-shirts in the same package, or maybe they want to get a CD when they come to a show. I still like the idea of offering them different opportunities to get involved."