Instrumentally, Hammel and Gardner play a Yamaha Electone organ, a Music Man amp head split between a Kustom bass cabinet and a Marshall (3/4-size) 4X12, and a 1960s Gretsch round-badge drum kit. That means no guitars, and the melodies are largely taken up by the space of their pure, solid vocals. As Mates of State say (collectively, via e-mail), "We both enjoy singing, and it's exciting when you can sing in unison or in harmony with someone else. The vocal part, to us, takes a high priority, just as much as the instruments."
Their vocal harmonies are so strong, sometimes they conjure the pretty storytelling melodrama of Broadway musicals. In other words, they're more professional sounding than many of the impotent, breathy-voiced pop bands of today's indie scene. When asked if it was hard attaining such virtuosity, Mates of State responded, "It was difficult at first. We spent the first year and a half trying to sing while playing, and then to sing with one another. Now it's easier to feed off one another's melodies."
Don't call their music all happy, though. "We think the music is happy-sounding, but the lyrics aren't necessarily so. Although the lyrics may be about a negative emotion or experience, when they're lain against the backdrop of upbeat music, the final point may be about optimism," they say.
In addition to writing interesting pop music, Gardner and Hammel are a real-life couple, and will be married this July. They've also just finished making a home movie about different methods of carpetlaying with director Benjamin Tuttle. Finally, they say (collectively, via e-mail), "We love Portland." (Perhaps it's because the last time they were here, they packed two separate shows, even though Godspeed You Black Emperor! was playing the same night.)