Real Estate: TAS In Session
Local band Real Estate might not have the easiest name to navigate on Google (although you'll find some intriguing New Jersey house listings when looking for tour dates), but the savvy rockers are becoming far easier to find, thanks to their accomplished sophomore album, Days, out now on Domino Records.
The band — bassist/vocalist Alex Bleeker, vocalist/guitarist Martin Courtney, guitarist Matthew Mondanile and touring members Jackson Pollis on drums and Jonah Maurer on keyboards — recruited producer Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, The Walkmen) to guide them on their second release.
Real Estate are touring the States now and will arrive at New York's Bowery Ballroom on November 23 for a sold-out gig (another show, opening for Girls at Terminal 5, is set for January 14). They recently dropped by The Alternate Side to chat with Russ Borris about the genesis of Days and also played a generous set of four songs, including "Three Blocks" and "It's Real."
You can hear Real Estate's session on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, November 18 at 11 a.m. ET or streaming on The Alternate Side:
Russ Borris: Do you want to talk a little about the recording of the album?
Martin Courtney: Well, we recorded the record up in New Paltz, New York and it was actually sort of our first time in a professional studio, but in a way not super professional because it was actually in this old, converted barn with our good friend and producer Kevin McMahon who we’ve known for a long time. It was a cool marriage of a more hi-fi sound but also a more homey, do-it-your-self version of a hi-fi sound.
Russ: Was that the goal going in? Find an alternate location or you didn’t have anywhere in particular.
Alex Bleeker: His studio was there.
Martin: We had him in mind. So we decided to go where he is.
Russ: How did this differ from the first record you did.
Martin: The first record was recorded in the town where we grew up in our friend’s attic. Some of it was recorded at home on a cassette eight track. It was more of a compilation of songs that we put together as an album, maybe in a way? It was our first album, but this one is more of an album written, in its own self, that contains itself.
Alex: The first record was recorded all over the place. It almost did feel like a compilation when we eventually put it together because the songs were recorded over the course of eight months. This time it was all done at once, in one place and that was one of the goals for the second record. To do it all at once instead of piecing it all together.
Russ: How does that work with the songwriting? Do you sit down collaboratively? Individual songs and bring them to the table?
Martin: It depends on the song I think. Some of the songs are written as a group. It’s the same process. We’ll either all bring a song to practice and learn it, write our own parts and write songs through jamming, but it depends on each song.
Alex: We’re touring all the time behind our first album, but the second album comes together in that time. Some songs get thrown into the pot and stick for the whole time. Some don’t really. You have that time to try out what’s going to work and what’s eventually going to make it on the record.
Russ: So listeners are already getting behind the first batch of songs and you guys are a little bit ahead, working towards the next.
Martin: Yeah, we’re already working on our next record now.
Russ: So “Easy” is the first one you wrote for the record?
Russ: It kind of sets the tone though. It sounds easy, which is the feel of the album, where listening-wise there’s something kind of light about the record, but at the same time, everything seems well-crafted. So it probably wasn’t that easy to record it.
Martin: That’s interesting (laughs). That song was one of the last ones we wrote, actually. There’s some older ones on there, relative to the other songs.
Russ: How does the recording process work for you guys? Are you really meticulous? The songs breeze by as a listener, but as bandmates that must be a different process.
Alex: This record was a lot more meticulous than we were used to working, I think.Kevin, who we were working with, was really pushing us. After a take, we’d be like, “That’s fine,” and he’d say, “Actually it’s not fine. It sounds out of tune.” He’d go all the way up the neck, check the intonation, make sure everything is as good as possible and that was something we definitely we had to get used to. We were pretty meticulous. You don’t want to make it devoid of soul though. It’s a happy balance. You don’t want to get obsessed with perfection.
Russ: Has that changed you guys being out on the road and soundchecking?
Martin: I think it’s helped, at least for me, singing. Spending a lot of time trying to get the vocals right has helped me as the singer. But in terms of getting each part right, it was meticulous, but in terms of the arrangements, on this record, it doesn’t feel like we did it that much differently than we’d done in the past. I don’t think we spent a lot of time in the studio coming up with cool, new arrangements.
Matthew Monandile: It was more a lot of little stuff. The new record is definitely less bare bones than the first record there because there’s keyboard on more of the songs. Auxilary percussion, just to make it sound a little more full.
Russ: The melodies are really rich and run together all through the record. The way the guitars all blend is pretty beautiful because they’re complimenting each other. Here it seems that the melodies go together.
Martin: Thank you. We don’t know why that is.
Russ: You’ve known each other for a while; you grew up in the same area in Jersey. Did you start writing songs as teenagers?
Martin: We played a lot. Alex and I played in a band and we did a lot of covers. Me, Matt and Alex played in a band together.
Alex: We recorded a four song EP.
Matt: We all wrote that album together. It’s not like one person wrote it.
Russ: What were the cover bands? Martin: They covered a ton of different songs from various artists.
Alex: From Lynyrd Skynyrd to Ben Folds Five.
Matt: The Tetris song. Song for Tetris.
Martin: It was the cover of a cover.
Alex: The actual name of it? Of the Tetris song?
Martin: That was a Russian folk song that Ozma covered because it was a Tetris song. We covered their rendition of it. And they were pretty much a Weezer cover band. But they were great.
Russ: When you usually get band influences, you get Beatles, Stones … Tetris song works itself in there.
Martin: It was a hit!
Russ: I’m not denying its hit status.
Martin: Matt taught me how to play guitar in a lot of ways. I used to come over to your house after school. We had the same guitar teacher and we had lessons the same day. After, I’d come over to your house.
Matt: I met Martin because my friend took bass lessons from the same guy as Martin.
Martin: And in all of those little bands I never played guitar. I played bass.
Russ: But you guys figured out how to be a functioning band at some point.
Matt: The first shows of this band were just the three of us switching off on instruments on almost all of the songs.
Martin: Playing each others’ songs.
Alex: It’s evolved.
Russ: The Jersey element definitely comes into play on this record. There’s a lot of suburbia feel to it. But it’s most definitely different because I’m a Jersey guy too and when people come up to you and talk to you about Jersey, the mention the Jersey shore and you look at them like you want to punch them in the face.
Martin: Where in Jersey are you from?
Russ: Central Jersey.
Martin: It’s not wrong to talk about the Jersey shore element, but it’s much more complex.
Russ: It’s like you’re in constant defense of your state.
Martin: And it makes you really proud of your state.
Alex: Jonah and Jackson are from New York.
Russ: So there’s infighting.
Martin: Now we’re more of a tri-state band. Russ: When the first album came out I tried to Google “New Jersey Real Estate.” An endless loop.
Alex: It’s really hard. [You’ll also come up with] Sunny Day Real Estate. There are also real estate blogs and aggregators that will blog about our band by accident beause they think it’s real estate news. You’ll see a blurb about our album on a realtor’s blog.
Russ: So it was a grand marketing scheme from the beginning.
Matt: We figured they’d see the band’s name wherever they go.
Russ: We were talking about the melody and guitars earlier and one of the other things that I think runs through the record is that the songs have a timeless feel to them. There may be a little bit of Smiths in there, but there might be elements of The Byrds. Are there certain songs or guitar players that have influenced you?
Martin: That’s a tough one. I don’t know. What were we listening to a lot when writing this record?
Alex: I think The Feelies, another New Jersey band. Yo La Tengo … I think The Feelies were a big thing when we were trying to come up with the sound for this record. A lot of strummy, acoustic guitar.