REAL ESTATE. PHOTO BY SHAWN BRACKBILL
It’s an exciting and nerve-wracking time for the boys of lo-fi surf-pop band Real Estate. Their sophomore album, Days, drops tomorrow, and then they’re off on a double tour: 10 days in Europe followed by three weeks across America, beginning with a Halloween show in Chicago. There have been some significant changes since Real Estate’s much-lauded debut in 2009. The band said goodbye to their original drummer, Etienne Purgay, and welcomed new drummer Jackson Pollis and temporary keyboard player Jonah Mauer. Founding members Martin Courtney, Alex Bleeker, and Matthew Mondaile left their native New Jersey for the big, bad borough of Brooklyn, and signed a new contract with Domino Records (home of Interview favorites Panda Bear and The Kills). But perhaps change is good; a healthy rite of passage, rather than Behind the Music melodrama—Pitchfork has already deemed Days‘ first two singles, “It’s Real” and “Green Aisles,” Best New Tracks.
We caught up with Martin Courtney, songwriter, singer, guitarist, and sometime keyboard player, to discuss Real Estate’s growing fame and ongoing attachment to the Garden State.
EMMA BROWN: Your first album got a lot of positive feedback; were you nervous about living up to these expectations while recording the second one?
MARTIN COURTNEY: No, not really. It’s not that we were super-confident; it’s just kind of hard to think about that all the time. It was definitely a different experience, knowing that Days was going to be coming out on Domino. I wanted the label to like it; I was worried that the label would hear it and be disappointed or something, but at the same time, we were pretty confident the whole time that we were doing the right thing, or at least that we were doing as best as we knew how to do. You have two options, really—you can either make the record, and just do it how you want to do it, or you can not make the record. We weren’t going to think about it so hard that we’d change what we were doing.BROWN: Is this a nice phase to be in, when you’re about to release your album and you don’t have to worry about writing new material?
COURTNEY: It’s just a different phase I think. Right now we’re leaving for tour, and I’m just kind of stressing about getting my affairs in order. We’re going out to Europe first, we’re going to do the Pitchfork festival in Paris, and then we’re flying from Paris to Chicago, so we’re not even starting in our hometown. We’re going to have our friends drive our van out to Chicago for us. We’re kind of preparing for two tours right now; it’s a little stressful. In terms of writing songs, I never go through a phase where I’m like, “I’m just not going to write songs right now.” I’m always thinking about it. It’s good to be able to play new songs on tour and to have time to work them out before you record them. We’ll probably throw in a new tune every couple of nights or something, just to be able to work out the kinks. I did want to have an EP pretty soon after this tour is over, if it’s possible, in the spring or something.
BROWN: That’s a nice reward for your fans as well; they come out to see you in concert, so they get to hear your new stuff first.
COURTNEY: I’m aware that people want to come and hear songs that they know; they want to sing along. I never really was a huge fan of going to see a band and having them play new stuff, I would just kind of sit there and be like, “Oh cool, new songs. This is cool, but I really want to hear songs from the album.” I’m aware that we can’t really overdo it with the new songs; it’s mostly for us as a band to be able to work out new tunes.
BROWN: Are you going to be touring with anyone this time?
COURTNEY: In Europe, we’re touring with this band, Spectrals, from the UK that are really good, they’ve got an album coming out pretty soon. They’re our friends—we met them the first time we went to Europe. In the US, we’re touring with another band, Big Troubles, they grew up in the same town as us, Ridgewood [New Jersey]. I wasn’t exactly friends with them in high school, they’re a little younger, but we’re buddies now. They’re an awesome band, so we’re really excited.
BROWN: What music are you going to be listening to on tour?
COURTNEY: We get into these situations where we’ll play the same shit over and over again. We went on tour right around when that Ariel Pink song came out, “Round and Round,” and we couldn’t stop listening to that song, we were kind of obsessing over it. I can’t predict what it’s going to be this time.
BROWN: Do you have quite similar taste in music?
COURTNEY: Yeah, that stems from us all growing up together; we’ve listened to the same music for a long time. Jackson (Pollis) and Jonah (Mauer)—Jackson plays drums and Jonah plays guitar and keyboard and they’re also our friends, so we all have similar taste in music. It’s kind of fun getting to tour and delve really deep into someone else’s music; your friend that you see every day, but then all of a sudden he’s playing all of the music off his iPod and it’s like, “Oh, never heard this before!”
BROWN: Are you going to have any downtime while you’re in Europe; are you going to get to explore?
COURTNEY: Not really, we never do. It’s so amazing to get to go to Europe with your friends and play music every night, it’s like this dream, but then it’s also kind of bittersweet, because you’re only in this amazing, beautiful city for 10 hours, and for most of it you’re either sitting in a venue or sleeping. You see all of this beautiful stuff from the window of your van. We go back to Europe in December, after our US tour, and the tour ends in Oslo, in Norway, and I’m thinking of pushing my flight back and staying a little longer.
BROWN: It’s going to be cold!
COURTNEY: Yeah, but I’ve never been to Norway—it will be cold everywhere, I’m going to go home and it will be cold there too. I’m sure it will be pretty, though.
BROWN: This album has been described as a “coming of age” moment for you guys.
COURTNEY: Yeah, that’s nothing that we’ve ever said, but it makes sense—it’s the first time we’ve ever recorded in a studio, it’s our second album as a band, it’s our first record for a bigger label. I think it’s just a natural progression for us, we didn’t make any plans other than that we really wanted to record in a studio—that was part of the impetus for us signing to a bigger label.
BROWN: Domino’s a really exciting label—you’re in great company!
COURTNEY: Yeah, we were absolutely beyond thrilled to even be talking to them; they put out so much music that we love! We’re always listening to Cass McCombs, we’re always listening to Animal Collective—it’s really funny that they are now our label mates. It’s insane to think that, in some way, we’re peers with those types of bigger bands.
BROWN: Are you going to get to meet them now that you’re labelmates?
COURTNEY: I hope so! On our last tour, last summer, we played in Atlanta on the same night as Cass McCombs. Some of the members of Real Estate, like Alex and Matt, had already met some of the members of Cass’s band, so we got in touch with them and were like, “Hey, do you guys want to hang out after your show? Let’s meet at a bar or something.” We met Cass McCombs really briefly—I shook his hand, I didn’t really talk to him or anything, so that was really exciting. [laughs] It’s cool to get to meet people, but it’s kind of like, “Cool, now I’ve met you, but it will be really cool to play together.”
BROWN: Would you want to do a joint show? Or record an album with another band?
COURTNEY: Definitely a joint show. In terms of collaborating—I dunno, we’ve never really done anything like that before, so it would have to make sense. I guess Matt and Ducktail collaborated with Panda Bear, so it kind of happened in a way. I can’t picture it occurring [with Real Estate] but it would be pretty neat, we’re definitely fans.
BROWN: Do you have a side project? I just can’t imagine how Matt and Alex find the time to work on their side projects, Ducktail and Alex Bleeker and the Freaks.
COURTNEY: No, I don’t. Real Estate, in some ways, takes priority because I think that everyone feels that they own a piece of Real Estate… [laughs] But whenever Real Estate isn’t recording or promoting, Matt and Alex are working on their own things. We make it work; we work around each other’s schedules. Personally, I don’t have a solo project because my songwriting goes into Real Estate. If I had a solo project, there would have to be a reason for it; it would have to be totally different from Real Estate, and honestly, I don’t really feel like I have that ability.
BROWN: Now that you are starting to play bigger venues, is there somewhere where you’ve always wanted to play—a dream venue?
COURTNEY: The first thing that comes to mind is the Bowery Ballroom in New York, which is where we are going to play at the end of this tour. We’ve played there before, but we’ve never headlined it. There’s always the excitement of playing a show in your hometown, so I’m pretty stoked about that. But I’m not really thinking about the places that we aren’t playing so much as the places that we are playing.
BROWN: Would you ever all go back and play a show for your high school?
COURTNEY: That would be really cool, I’d love to do that! It would be cool if we could inspire kids that are younger than us to start bands; the whole reason that we began playing music was because we saw these kids that were a couple of years older than us that were in bands and we thought that they were really cool and wanted to be like them.
BROWN: You had a slightly different lineup for Days than for your last album; how did this change your recording dynamic?
COURTNEY: We had one less person; we have new members now that are definitely full-on members of the band.
BROWN: Are they permanent members?
COURTNEY: Definitely our drummer, Jackson. Our keyboard player—I love him, and he’s our good friend—but for the time being, I really like playing the keyboard parts on the album, so I think I’ll keep doing that. When we were making Days, we had just parted ways with our previous drummer, and so we did it pretty much as a three-piece. I don’t know how much it affected the way we recorded—maybe it helped, it was easier to streamline the process of being creative because you didn’t have to run everything past four people, but I’m not really sure. I think that the biggest difference was that we had a producer on Days; he definitely helped us push ourselves. He would make us do things over and over again until it was perfect because he cared; he could tell when we weren’t performing at our peak capacity.
BROWN: Your producer-coach.
COURTNEY: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s what a producer is—I never really knew what a producer did, obviously he chose all the mikes, but I think his real role was to help us make the record as good as it could be.
BROWN: Would you ever move away from the New York-New Jersey area?
COURTNEY: It would be hard, this is where my life is, the band is. Maybe after the band isn’t a part of my life anymore, either that or we’d all have to move. [laughs] I don’t think I’d like it, honestly. I lived in Olympia, Washington for three years, for college, and I had a good time, but I had this nagging feeling of wanting to be back in the New Jersey area. I was homesick, I guess.
REAL ESTATE’S DAYS IS AVAILABLE TOMORROW. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR PAGE ON THE DOMINO RECORDS WEBSITE.