Real Estate is Listening to Weezer, Roxy Music, and (Obviously) the Boss

Published February 27, 2020

Photo by Jake Michaels.

This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the ones they want to play at their funerals. In this edition, we speak with Martin Courtney and Alex Bleeker, childhood friends and the founding members of the Ridgewood, New Jersey-born indie band Real Estate. Ahead of the release of their record The Main Thing, Courtney and Bleeker discuss Weezer, music ethnoecology, and the Patron Saint of New Jersey himself, Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen. 

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MARTIN COURTNEY: You’re calling from a 201 [area code]?

ETHAN SAPIENZA: Yeah, I’m actually from Ridgewood.

COURTNEY: Oh wow, cool.

ALEX BLEEKER: You’re from Ridgewood? I saw the 201. I was going to ask you later in the interview.

COURTNEY: That’s insane. I just played a show last night at The College of New Jersey, a solo gig. Both of the people who opened were from Ridgewood too. 

BLEEKER: How old are you? When did you graduate?

SAPIENZA: I graduated high school in 2014.

COURTNEY: Whoa, crazy. 10 years after us. 

SAPIENZA: What were you guys listening to when you were recording this album?

COURTNEY: What were we listening to? When we were going into making this record, it was Avalon by Roxy Music. The name of our album is a nod to one of the songs on that record. Just in terms of production and the sounds, with the way that album feels really open and the ambient sections between songs, we were aspiring at least in one sense to do that on this record.

BLEEKER: The production was incredibly high on Avalon. We had this tape in mind and we were like—pardon my French—”This better be a fucking great record.” It just hits those notes for us. It’s really well-rounded. It’s kind of poppy, weird, and experimental. It’s really good. I would add that I was listening to a lot of Haruomi Hosono and related projects of his. He’s a Japanese artist and producer from the band Yellow Magic Orchestra who also has a lot of solo records and has produced a lot of pretty disco music. He’s all over the map. He’s got records that sound like Bob Dylan. He’s got records that are electronic. It’s Japanese and poppy and super, super clean production. 

COURTNEY: I think it came out in some of the choices [keyboardist] Matt [Kallman] made in terms of synth sounds and stuff like that.

SAPIENZA: Were there any everyday sounds that you were hearing while working on the album that worked their way in?

BLEEKER: An interesting, sort of a sideways way of answering that question—[guitarist] Julian [Lynch] got a degree in anthropology. He’s a doctor, Dr. Lynch. He studied music ethnoecology and sound, and his thesis was about how ambient sound and noise affects the population in a city. I think he would say that sound in general influences him a great deal. I don’t want to speak for him, but that is an interesting thing you ask and we have a person who has written hundreds of pages on that subject.

COURTNEY: [Laughs] For sure. Just the environment we were in, the sounds but also the general messy, chaotic nature of the studio. We were in this old barn that was covered with old musical gear—old, broken things in states of disrepair. There’s a huge mixing desk, a console that’s on its side that [producer Kevin McMahon] has been fixing for a friend for, like, years. I think it was there when we made Days. He’s just got all kinds of stuff like that. There are wires everywhere and pictures torn out of magazines. I feel like it’s a little bit of a glimpse into Kevin. There’s a method to his madness. Especially in comparison to what we’ve done before, like with In Mind, which feels like a very clean and tight-sounding record to me, I think this record feels a little bit more chaotic in a really nice way. 

SAPIENZA: What was the last song you’ve listened to?

BLEEKER: I play in a Grateful Dead cover band locally in California. I am trying to learn the lyrics to this one song called “They Love Each Other.” Literally just before you called, I listened to it 35 times.

COURTNEY: The last thing I probably listened to actively was A River Ain’t Too Much to Love by Smog, which I actually hadn’t listened to in a long time. The last song on that album, which I think is “Let Me See the Colts,” that’s the last thing I listened to.

SAPIENZA: What music do you remember listening to growing up? Like, the stuff your parents would play?

BLEEKER: For me, it was The Beatles. They played The Beatles for me as a kid in my crib. Also, Billy Joel—tons of Billy Joel. I remember listening to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” in my dad’s Mitsubishi Eclipse. [Laughs] I remember thinking I could see the musician if I looked into the speaker hard enough.

COURNTEY: Those are all good things. My parents weren’t as overtly into music. Well, my dad loves classical music, so as a kid that kind of washed over me like water. My mom, when she was younger she told me she saw David Bowie. She loved music. I have a sister that’s eight years older than me. That was my introduction to Smashing Pumpkins, and she had the Nirvana CDs and Pearl Jam CDs that I would steal from her room. That would’ve been like ’93 or ’94, when that stuff was coming out. Through her, I found out about alternative music. We would always listen to Z100 in the car, which, back in those days, it was a pop station but the pop music was grunge and stuff. 

SAPIENZA: How about you, Alex? What was the first music that you personally got into?

BLEEKER: I have two distinct memories along those lines that Martin has probably heard me say a million times because obviously we grew up together. You may not even remember this, but when we were young in the early 90s, there was this thing called Columbia Club Records or something, where you could order 10 CDs. It was mail order. I remember my parents wanted CDs, but they didn’t want that many. I had two brothers, and one of them was old enough to be interested in music. They let us each pick three to order from this catalogue. The three I chose for myself were Green Day, Dookie; Weezer, The Blue Album; and REM, Monster. I think I just really liked the single “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” It was on Z100 as well. The Blue Album and Dookie were just, like, massive!

COURTNEY: All of my friends at that time were like, you have to have Dookie.

BLEEKER: Dookie especially. I had a t-shirt with the album cover on it. I also remember being in Tower Records—did you ever go to Tower Records on Route 17?

SAPIENZA: Yeah, but it didn’t last very long in my life.

BLEEKER: Yeah, that was around when we were in high school and younger. That was our spot. That Tower Records, I remember being in elementary school and my dad was like, “You can pick one thing to buy yourself.” I picked Nirvana, Nevermind. I didn’t even know what it was though. It was just so iconic.

COURTNEY: You probably had seen the cover.

BLEEKER: I had seen the cover around, and I saw the cover and I was like, “This is what I want.” My dad was like, “You want this?” Like it was gnarly or something. [Laughs

COURTNEY: You were drawn to the danger.

SAPIENZA: Do you remember your first concerts?

COURTNEY: Yeah. I’m trying to think. It might have been that Weezer concert that we went to, Bleeker. That was Green Album times. I didn’t grow up going to a lot of concerts.

BLEEKER: Weezer was like a foundational part of our friendship, the first two records especially. They were on hiatus when we really got into them.

COURTNEY: This was after Pinkerton.

BLEEKER: We were into them as kids, but then we got into them again when we were freshman in high school when they were not like an active band. And then they came back right about the time we got into them, and they played this New York show. 

COURTNEY: It was at Irving Plaza.

BLEEKER: It was at Ballroom.

COURTNEY: No, no—wait, it was Roseland Ballroom, yeah?

BLEEKER: Which is crazy, because that was a tiny venue for them. They were just coming back. We were obsessively trying to get tickets to this show. It was like Dazed and Confused or something.

COURTNEY: I remember very clearly the tickets, holding them in my hand. The tickets for this Weezer show were so perfect for the first rock show. They were like big and glossy with the Weezer symbol on them. It was so cartoon, like, “Yes, we’re going to the show!” It was like the magic ticket.

BLEEKER: That was one of my first memorable “I’m in high school and I’m going to a rock concert” memories. I have a couple fun stories. The first show I ever went to was Billy Joel with my dad at Madison Square Garden. We were sitting behind the stage and everyone was seated the whole time. I remember during “Piano Man” this guy in a leather jacket stood up. My dad was like, “Sit down!” I was mortified, because I thought it was cool. I wish we had been standing up. I also went to this concert in ninth grade with my friends because I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes were playing Led Zeppelin songs but it was at this failed festival at Giants Stadium called Net Aid. They were trying to do another Live Aid or Farm Aid, but it bombed. We went to see Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes, but I wound up seeing Sting and Jewel and Puff Daddy—when he was still Puff Daddy—and Sheryl Crow and Counting Crows. All these people that I’m psyched to have seen play. It was raining and nobody was there at Giants Stadium. It was a total disaster.

SAPIENZA: I have to say, I don’t think I noticed any Jersey artists in your early influences.

BLEEKER: Well, Bruce. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bruce [Springsteen]. Bruce very quickly became big for me, from like middle school through now, obviously. I would be remiss if I just mentioned Billy Joel and didn’t actually mention the Patron Saint of New Jersey.

COURTNEY: I mean, yeah. I had a couple of older cousins and uncles that were into Bon Jovi. [Laughs] I remember it was like Bruce or Bon Jovi. You couldn’t have both. I don’t think I was into either, but of course I remember really liking the E Street Band Santa song, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” I was like, “That is a really good Christmas song!”

BLEEKER: Bruce was huge for me, but it wasn’t until I was like 13 or so. I remember I went to one concert where it was like me, my dad, and a friend at the Meadowlands for Bruce.

SAPIENZA: I have one specifically for you, Martin: any children’s music that you’d want to recommend?

COURTNEY: Well yes, for sure. There’s a bunch! First of all, you really can’t go wrong with Raffi. He’s extremely good. I loved Raffi when I was a kid. He’s obviously kept putting out records. I stopped listening, but now I’ve been listening to him a lot.

BLEEKER: You’re back in!

COURTNEY: I’m back in. [Laughs] It’s super quality. He obviously hires really good studio musicians. I listen to these records, and the actual music is very impressive. On that level, I can appreciate it. Also, it really helps kids who are just on the cusp of starting to talk. He sings so clearly and the songs are so simple that I swear it’s helped my kids learn to speak faster. Another one who pops into my head is Ella Jenkins. She’s kind of an old-school folk singer, and she has a lot of albums for children that are really good—participatory, but her voice is really cool and good. You can tell she’s legit and has probably been singing folk songs since like the ‘50s. She might not be around anymore, but her stuff is great for sure. That stuff is specifically for kids, but then my kids also love Paul McCartney. They love “Band on the Run.” There’s a lot of stuff that my kids love that’s not necessarily for kids.

SAPIENZA: Do you guys have any go-to songs that put yourself in a good mood?

BLEEKER: I definitely have a cache of songs that work if I want to get psyched up. One of them I just thought of was “Glad Tidings” by Van Morrison. It’s just got a very uplifting kind of vibe.

COURTNEY: There’s probably a million of those. This is a question where I could say anything. Maybe it’s because you were asking about Jersey influences, and I was going to say it wasn’t until later in high school that I got into Yo La Tengo. If you were to put me on the spot right now, they’re probably my favorite band. For some reason, when you said song that puts you in a good mood, “Stockholm Syndrome” popped into my head. That’s such a good song. The guitar solo is kind of hilarious and amazing.

Listen to Martin and Alex’s “Add To Queue” playlist below, and follow Interview on Spotify for more.