Wonder Years: Real Estate

“Ideas flow out of me involuntarily..."

If you’re a member of New Jersey five-piece Real Estate at the moment, life straddles the realms of “kinda rad” and “kinda tiring”. These pups are being worked hard on a post-Days international tour, Days being their excellently dreamy second album, released last October. Singer Martin Courtney and bassist Alex Bleeker are bone-weary when we catch up with them on a Monday morning, but they’re having an “awesome time” meeting people and snaking through their conveyor-belt lifestyle with healthy nonchalance. The band had played the Leeds Brudenell Social Club the previous night, kitsch upholstered hovel and purveyor of wobbling pickled eggs, which left them perplexed. But their gig at London’s teeny Sebright Arms that night was a packed, one-in-one-out industry schmoozefest. These guys are the serious darlings of the DIY scene, Domino Records have their hands on them, and they’re rising fast.

But when can they step off this crazy rollercoaster and find time to write new material? Not often enough, it seems. Courtney says he’s finding it “really tough” to write lyrics at the moment. The influences for self-titled first album, and in fact Days, are absolutely rooted in the nostalgic recollections of their childhood in East Coast USA, seemingly a land of perpetual sunshine and jubilant suburban japes. So where do they scrabble around for inspiration now they’re all based in the urban playground that is Brooklyn? “We have to cherish our time off these days,” croaks Bleeker, “so it’s hard to just switch into creative mode. Whenever I sit down and try to write songs, it never works out. The results are terrible and have to be thrown away. I just write based on things that happen to me, emotions, stuff like that.”

The hirsute and affable bear, who also plays with side project Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, then floats off into a lengthy diatribe describing a documentary about the Chicago Cubs, and a unwitting crowd member who became a hate-figure after accidentally catching a foul ball. That’s where he gets his inspiration, he says- places like that. “Ideas flow out of me involuntarily,” he says, “so I can’t predict when I’ll write my next song.” Courtney says he doesn’t know where his next inspiration will come from either- “let me work that out,” he says. They’ve bought themselves some time with Days and a tour schedule to make you wince, so for now they can concentrate on gigging.

Real Estate have a strong foothold and loyal fanbase in Europe. Their debut UK gig in early 2010 at London’s Lexington had stratospheric buzz, and is considered a personal favourite by Courtney. “Gigging is one of the best things about being in a band, but also one of the worst”, he says. “The routine is that you have no routine, and that’s tiring.” Bleeker agrees: “I love travelling but it’s mostly just exhausting. You just get out a van and play.” But with an adjunct sunnier than the choral chants of the bands signature track ‘It’s Real’, he adds, “but it’s really great meeting people all the time.”

The band will be busy with festivals soon, including Coachella and Barcelona’s Primavera Sound. Their last visit to the latter involved a pristine secondary set in the city’s Joan Miro Parc, with a salty sea breeze and lapping palms creating a pitch perfect location for a band whose timeless sound encapsulates a lazy summer. But there’s not much chance of them kicking back at a festival on their time off. “I never really went to them anyway, but it would be hard to go back to a festival as a normal person,” says Courtney. “Being in a band you get to go backstage, not queue, see the other side.” “Get free beer,” chips in Bleeker.

They’ll mainly be hanging out in New York, where Bleeker prefers to sleep until noon, play computer games, hang with friends and “watch movies on Netflix”. Courtney is a neighbour, but is partial to “going out for dinner”, his quiet but assured nature suggesting he’s a disciplined musician and the band’s driving force. They, along with fellow band members Matt Mondanile (also behind washed out bedroom-electro outfit Ducktails), Jackson Pollis and Jonah Maurer, live close to each other in Brooklyn. Friends of theirs own the label Underwater Peoples, so Real Estate are immersed in the micro-scene attached to this. “We have our own scene which is mainly just our friends hanging out. It’s acts like Big Troubles, Julian Lynch, Spectrals. It’s kinda like the same DIY ethos as something like Upset the Rhythm in London.”

Their international success- they’re soon to cruise into another far corner by means of Australian dates in March- they put down to internet buzz. “There’s no way we’d be where we are now if it wasn’t for the internet,” drawls Courtney. He backtracks a little: “well we might be playing gigs and selling records, but it would have taken us a lot longer and been harder.”

“We got to bypass all the normal steps people had to take, like taking your record down to a radio station and hoping it got played,” says Bleeker. “We got a buzz about us that spread, and we were playing gigs before we were even signed to a label.” That label being Domino Records, which they chose –for they had pick of the bunch – as they love all the other bands on the roster.

But are they not disgruntled at people accessing their music for free? “Not at all,” says Bleeker. “If we’d made it big 30 years ago and were used to making revenue from records, we might notice the difference. The internet is all we’re used to, so it’s all relative. For me, the positives of the internet far outweigh the negatives.” But for all the power of the Pitchfork, these guys have resiliently grafted for their growing success. “We’ve always been an ambitious and hard-working band,” says Courtney. “We always wanted to be successful and well-received.”

The band’s three founding members, Courtney, Bleeker and Mondanile (Pollis and Maurer were belated additions in 2011), are New Jersey childhood buds, but the real drive for the band came slightly later. “We’d just finished college and had that period of not knowing what to do,” says Courtney. “The band really flourished then as it gave us that sense of obligation again, so we really went for it. Personally, I hate having lots of time of my hands and feeling like I’m not doing anything. I get really depressed and like ‘what am I doing with my life?’. I like to keep busy, so we took some considered steps in making sure we were recognised as a band, one of which was to play as many gigs as we could.”

Bleeker agrees the critical success, mainstream and underground, is no accident. “We definitely tried to do it for real. It was more than just a casual thing. Not that there’s no point in doing it for fun, but we had a specific thing in mind. We had friends who were getting successful, so that kind of spurred us on.” This ethic seeps out of them as we speak. Yes, they’re spent and drowsy, but a foul balls throw away from being a rock and roll cliché. What’s lined up for them, asides a creative block and more scuzzy riders of warm beer? “Hopefully a couple of trips to California before the summer”, says Bleeker wistfully, glazing over again. “Maybe some recording.” Time to call it a day, give them a chance for pre-gig shut-eye. “It’s fine,” says Bleeker. “I’m tired but I work then I have one big vacation. You really value your time off from your job, although it’s really hard for me to call it a job.”

Photo Credit: Shawn Brackbill
Words by Natalie Hardwick

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