Cozy up to Real Estate

Despite the difficulty posed by trying to google a band name as ambiguous as “Real Estate,” things have already started to pick up for this young group. In addition to being labeled “best new music” by Pitchfork in November, they were recently featured on both WNYC and NPR, and they’ve been playing at increasingly larger venues – including a packed Brooklyn Bowl on January 5th.

Front man Martin Courtney, bassist Alex Bleeker, and guitarist Matthew Mondanile have been playing music together since high school (drummer Etienne Pierre Duguay came later to round out the four-piece). Given the group’s shared history, their lovely nostaligia-laced sound makes a lot of sense.

Take a listen to “Beach Comber”

When writing album reviews or band blurbs, it is all too tempting to begin the piece with a cliche, joke, or pun, and things are no different with Real Estate. I’m very tempted to call attention to the group’s origins of the suburbs of New Jersey. After all,  their debut album has song titles like “Beach Comber,” “Suburban Dogs,” “Atlantic City,” “Suburban Beverage,” and “Lets Rock the Beach.”  But there is definitely more to this group than their not-so-hip origins.

Real Estate playing at the beach Photo: Colin O'Neill

What follows is a Q & A session with Real Estate singer Martin Courtney. I think it sheds some light on the band’s motivation and inspiration.

Sonic Smörgåsbord: You’ve been involved with a number of musical projects over the years. Now things are heating up. Do you think you’ve found the right mix with Real Estate?
Martin Courtney: Real Estate is in a lot of ways a collaborative project, that’s part of the nature of the band, but it’s also an outlet for the songs that I write.  Alex has another band that I play in called Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, where he writes all of the songs, Matt has a solo project called Ducktails, and Etienne is involved in a few bands in Brooklyn.  However, I think we are all focusing on Real Estate in terms of putting the most time into it because it seems to have caught on and we all feel like we can play a creative role in it.

SS: Why choose to focus on that locale so much for your album?

MC: It wasn’t really a choice to focus on NJ.  It’s just where I’m from, so it ends up coming out in the music and lyrics.

SS: Do you think you’ll stay in Jersey or jump on the bandwagon and move to Brooklyn?
MC: As of right now, Alex and Matt are living in the suburbs where we’re from, I’m living in Jersey City, and Etienne is living in Brooklyn at the market hotel.  Personally, I don’t think I’ll be moving to Brooklyn any time soon.  We have lots of friends there, but it’s just more expensive and I like where I am a lot.  It’s just as convenient to Manhattan, not very far to BK at all, cheaper, and I still get to rep NJ.  It’s not like we’re making a choice to not move to NYC though, I’d love to if I had the money, but I’m perfectly happy in NJ.  I think way more young people would be moving to Jersey City instead of Brooklyn if not for the stigma that Jersey carries for whatever reason.

SS: Do your lyrics come from personal experience? Did you spend a lot of time at the beach growing up?
MC: Most of the lyrics come from personal experience, but not all.  Definitely spent no more time at the beach than anyone else growing up.  The beach stuff was just an aesthetic choice that we made at the time those songs were being written (summer of 2008).

SS: Beach-inspired music seems to be big this year (Wavves, Beach Fossils, Beach House, The Drums, The Darlings, etc.). Why do you think that is?

MC: Not really sure.  Seems like maybe it was a coincidence.  We are definitely looking to separate ourselves from that pack.  I’d rather not have the band be associated with one specific season or locale.

SS: To me, your music seems to express both a sense of carefreeness and a sense of longing for something else. Would you say that is an accurate assessment? Is this a nostalgic album? Your EP was titled ‘Reality.’ How do you balance nostalgia and reality?

MC: Many of the songs on the record have a nostalgic feel to them because they were written at kind of a nostalgic time.  Summer after college, moving home, seeing old friends, seeing your old town in a new way, not knowing what to do next (that’s the reality part).
We actually called the EP reality because we thought it sounded funny (Real Estate – Reality) and because our van is named Reality.

SS: What has it been like to collaborate with people you’ve known so long?
MC: It’s great, we’re all really familiar with each other’s musical styles in a kind of subtle way.  It’s easy for us to jam together and come up with things that we wouldn’t be able to separately.  It’s fun to get to travel and create music with your oldest and best friends.

SS: Do you have any favorite stories from adolescence?
MC: Matt, Bleeker and I used to be in a band together called Hey There Sexy.  We sounded like shitty interpol, but we started playing together about a month before we heard interpol.  Then one day Matt bought the interpol EP at rocks in your head (RIP) and we listened to it and were bummed because we knew they were going to take our highly innovative sound and blow up with it.
They may be hard to Google (and typing in “Real Estate New Jersey” certainly doesn’t help matters), but this four-piece is definitely worth checking out.

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"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being


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