Real Estate: 'We're not chillwave!'

'You read shit that's so off-base, then you realise it's probably some kid!'

Real Estate: 'We're not chillwave!'

Chris Eustace - 27 October 2011

New Jersey/Brooklyn five-piece Real Estate may have only just released their second album, 'Days', but as we meet singer/guitarist Martin Courtney as the setlist for their sell-out show at The Garage in London is being drawn up to find out they've been making music since forever.

We met in middle school and played in bands, and even when we came home from college in the summer we’d play together, so when we all moved back after, it made sense to start a band.” says lead guitarist Martin Courtney, retreating to a quieter room as song titles continue to be scribbled down.

Being on tour is no barrier to writing new stuff either: “Sometimes we’ll bring songs in, other times we’ll just improvise. I feel like we’ve got the roots for a couple of songs now, just from jamming on this tour during soundchecks. Usually it’ll take me a couple of weeks to come up with some lyrics.

With Martin recently quoted as saying that he didn’t feel lyrics “were as important as melodies,” but with many picking up on a theme of suburban wistfulness running through ‘Days’, even as far as the cover, there must be some thought put into them, surely?

It’s just how it turned out, that’s the kind of the sound that I like!  But we picked and designed the artwork around the feeling we got from the record - I do think lyrics are important, I don’t want them to be shitty, but I try to build them around the melody, and make them fit the feeling of the song.

With nuance a big feature of Real Estate’s laid-back tracks, they’re not afraid to go without lyrics at all, as with ‘Kinder Blumen’ on the new album: “I can’t think of many bands that have full-on songs that are instrumental. It’s something we can do that’s ours.” says Courtney. “We went into the studio being like ‘Oh, we’ll come up with some words for that’, but we’d been playing it on tour for so long without any, we felt good about leaving it. It felt fully formed as it was.

The catchy, bubbling psychedelia of ‘It’s Real’ and ‘Green Lanes’ show off  ‘Days’ as a notable step up sound-wise from the band’s lo-fi 2009 self-titled debut – exactly as intended: “We deliberately wanted to make it sound better than the first record.  We wanted it to sound concise, we had a hard time holding ourselves back from overdubbing a shitload of stuff!”

"It does feel fuller, mostly because we did it in a studio, and on the first record we did it all over the place in people’s houses. We didn’t want it to sound too ‘new’, we wanted to sound like it could’ve come out 20 or 30 years ago, so if Real Estate come on your iTunes after The Beatles, it doesn’t sound like crap!”

Such timeless indie-pop soon brought them to the attention of Domino Recordings, home to luminaries such as Pavement, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, who promptly snapped them up, and it seems the band are still pinching themselves. “We were in shock! They’ve put out so much stuff that we really like. They turned out to be really nice people too, they have ideas for us that we wouldn’t even think to do.”

Interest in the new album was also helped along by a wave of positive reviews online, though not every blogger got it right in Courtney’s view: “It’s helped us, but sometimes you read shit that’s so off-base you’re like, ‘you’re obviously not a good writer’, then you realise it’s probably some kid! That’s what’s cool about blogs, anyone can start one, and it can get big, and it’s some fucking 14-year-old in his Mom’s house. It can be annoying when the same words or genres get attached to us over and over again.

Pressed for an example, it turns out Courtney has both musical and grammatical beef with one tag in particular: “It annoys me when people say we’re chillwave. My understanding of that word is like electronic-based stuff, like Washed Out or Toro Y Moi. They’re not bad bands, but we’re a totally different style. I also think it’s just a stupid-sounding word!

While the band have not had massive experience of festivals so far, save for Primavera, Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival and The Great Escape, it’s something they could certainly get used to: “Primavera was the most posh weekend for us ever, walking around seeing rock stars everywhere. It was really cool playing to a big crowd and looking out onto the Mediterranean over the heads of the audience!”

With all the glamour though, comes sensory overload : “You don’t have much time to soundcheck, and the set goes by in a haze. I’m always super nervous before we go on, I’m almost in robot mode – I’m trying to be good but at the same time I’m trying to take in everything that’s going on around me.

In that case, you wonder what will become of them once they get a summer of UK festivals under their belt, and it looks like we’ll find out next year: “I don’t think I can say yet, but I know for a fact we’re doing at least one. Our booking agent was like: ‘It’s a really good one’ so hopefully we’ll get a few others.

Guitarist Matthew Mondanile promptly bounds in, presenting Courtney with the provisional setlist and enthusing about the Pitchfork Festival in Paris, which the band are set to play soon. Having played Field Day this year as other project Ducktails, he observes: “Festivals are cool if you have enough time to soundcheck and the people there are nice to you! At Field Day I only got a linecheck, which was a bit stressful, but I had a good time.

When it comes to current listening for the group - it’s strictly “bands that sound like us that we want to sound like!” according to Mondanile – “Cass McCombs is a big one for us.  Felt, Television and Ariel Pink.

Jackson, our drummer, plays a lot of krautrock like Can, and a lot of African music, and we’re about to tour with our friends Big Troubles in the States, they’re a great live band.” Asked for their ultimate festival line-up, “Television!” is shouted back almost in unison, before Martin’s Grateful Dead are countered by Matthew’s suggestion of “Paul McCartney doing ‘Paul McCartney II’." The  bill continues: ”Felt, Galaxie 500 if the original line-up would do it, George Harrison playing ‘All Things Must Pass’ with Phil Spector behind the soundboard, the Beach Boys performing ‘Our Friends’ and ‘Surf’s Up’, and Animal Collective because they have to play every festival!

It turns out Mondanile has given this a lot of thought: “I do think about that all the time, and I go crazy in my mind: ‘why don’t I do a real festival, with all my friends’ bands?’ – Duckyfest 2012!” he laughs.

As we leave, the setlist is still being debated – there’s a “double mellow, double old album situation” that needs sorting out, but what’s one of those between friends? If you need reminding of hazy summer days with festival season still such a long way off, you ought to buy up some Real Estate.


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