Real Estate: Sounds fit for lazy summer days

Thursday August 9, 2012


No one would mistake Real Estate for a technologically cutting-edge band, though for its second album, released last year, it did upgrade from informal home recordings to a studio -- albeit one in a converted New Paltz, N.Y., barn.

As the New Jersey-spawned indie darlings wrap up many months of touring behind "Days," the 2011 album of hazy, mildly psychedelic pop that was as well-received as the group's self-titled 2009 debut, the band is ready for a break, but feeling like it's getting the knack of rock and roll success.

"We just knew what we were doing a little more. We toured a lot. but we kind of put our foot down in terms of booking too many shows. It got to be too much [after the first album] because we didn't really know what we were doing," frontman and guitarist Martin Courtney says of the learning curve the band has experienced. "We actually had a sound guy for a lot of this tour, which was really nice. We've never had that before."

Real Estate plays Mass MoCA in North Adams tonight.

It has a few more East Coast dates upcoming, and then the thrust of the touring behind the sophomore album will be complete.

Though the core of the band -- Courtney, guitarist Matt Mondanile and Alex Bleeker on bass -- attended the same high school in Ridgewood, N.J., and had even played together in a Weezer cover band, it wasn't until they each returned to their hometowns following college that they formed Real Estate.

Within two years of starting to play gigs, they had a well-received debut album on their hands that even made the prestigious "best new music" list of online indie tastemaker Pitchfork. (The feat was repeated with "Days.")

The sound is fit for lazy summer days, with jangling guitar riffs, laid back vocals and lyrics about driving around the suburbs, not doing much of anything.

In fact, the band's matter-of-fact tales of life in New Jersey cause some observers to describe the its perspective as nostalgic.

Real Estate's debut record was made in home recordings at different times and in different places. Courtney says he hears an inconsistency in approach, and aimed for a more cohesive sound for the follow-up.

In a first for the band, the sessions were led by an outside producer (Kevin McMahon, who's worked with The Walk men and Titus Andron icus) and in the same location over the course of five months.

The goal, Courtney's said in the past, was to create a "timeless" sound. He explains they didn't want the album to sound recognizably like it came from any particular musical mo ment.

"I wanted it to sound like it didn't come out this year or last year, it could have come out 20 years ago. We wanted it to sound more professional, but we didn't want it to sound too high-fi or too shiny," he says. "The drums sound like they're from the ‘70s and we wanted the guitars to sound like they were from the 90s or whenever."

Courtney says his lyrics aren't meant to romanticize a particular lifestyle or form part of any grand theme. They just flow from what he knows and seem to fit the mood of the music.

"I don't know what I'm trying to do. When I write songs about growing up or high school or whatever, it's just a personal thing. I think that maybe I write sometimes in a vague enough way that people can apply it to their own memories. Maybe our music our music is [nostalgic], but I'm not pining for high school or something. I'm just writing about it."

Though the band's New Jersey roots are an indelible part of Real Estate's backstory (and helped link them with other emerging bands from the state, like Titus Andronicus and Vivian Girls), each member has now followed indie-rock form and crossed the Hudson to move to Brooklyn. Should we expect a more urban edge to enter the music or lyrics?

"I don't really see myself writing songs about living in Brooklyn," Courtney says with a mild chuckle. "It's hard for me to predict what the next batch of songs will be about. I just think, the experiences that we're having definitely inform the lyrics. maybe not in a literal way.

"I also still have a tendency to want to write about the past all the time."


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