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“We could probably cover a Steely Dan record, like Aja, and do our best.”

Real Estate Atlas

Real Estate, the band.

Interview – Real Estate’s Martin Courtney

– by Ria Nevada

Real Estate releases their third LP, Atlas, on March 4, the day they play the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver, alongside local favourites The Shilohs.

It has been two years since the New Jersey jangle-pop band’s Days captivated critics and fans with their its nostalgic melodies and introspective lyrics though frontman Martin Courtney and I spoke about how pleasant music doesnt seem to appeal to all people.

A week before the band begins their tour in Europe, I contacted Courtney to learn about the musical influences and personal experiences that have informed their newest record. In between stories about newlywed life and high school memories with fellow band members Matt Mondanile and Alex Bleeker, we talked about the potential of an indie supergroup that would involve Real Estate and friends covering Steely Dan.

Real Estate Atlas album cover

Ria Nevada: Youre leaving for Paris in a few days to kick off the Atlas tour. Are there any stops on the road – landmarks, hidden gems, that youre looking forward to?

Martin Courtney: Were kind of flying all over the place. In the past – usually if we start in London, which were not doing this time, were ending in London but usually if we start in the UK and then make our way to continental Europe, well take the tunnel train and drive onto it. Basically right before you get on the train, you have to wait in this long line of cars and theres this little food truck that sells breakfast sandwiches that are incredible. Weve been there about five times now. Every time we take the tunnel, we have to stop at this place and get these amazing bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches. Thats the first thing that pops into my head. But I dont really know what were doing this time.

RN: Youll be out here in Vancouver this March with The Shilohs! Will they have time to give you a tour of the city? Introduce you to some of their favourite local spots?

MC: Yeah I hope so. I think were going to have a day off up there too. So that will be really fun – Im really looking forward to touring with those guys. Ive met them a few times over the past couple of years, like they were in New York recently. Yeah, theyre the best cant wait to play in their hometown with them.

RN: I feel like your records make for great road trip music theyre kind of perfect for those long journeys where you can reflect on where youve come from, and take stock of the relationships, choices youve made in this confusing stage of life. Which records do you usually turn to when you want to tap into that frame of mind?

MC: I dont know, I guess it changes for me all the time. Let me think, I guess when I think of one of my all-time records, I guess maybe Yo La Tengo records. And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out is definitely up there for me as an album that I can put on any time and be pretty happy listening to it. So that, or George Harrison, All Things Must Pass. Thats another really good one I could always listen to that.

RN: I think a lot of your fans can relate to the coming-of-age themes in your records were there milestones that defined or strongly informed Atlas?

MC: For me? Like while I was writing the record?

RN: Yeah.

MC: Well I got married.

RN: Congratulations!

MC: Oh thank you very much. So that was a big one. Actually that definitely played into it. Thats one of the reasons why we took time off after the last album, was to sort of make time for that. Thats a big part of my life in the past year and a half, so that definitely worked its way into the record for sure.

RN: Was there some hesitation about being candid about that in your music?

MC: Yes, I mean its always kind of weird to get personal, in terms of my lyrics. But its also just what comes naturally to write about your life and your relationship. Its uncomfortable to an extent, but its also my everyday life.

RN: I saw this letter from a reader on Pitchfork that gave their contributor Marc Masters a hard time for praising the pleasantness of your music. This reader, Gabriel, actually said the words War on purely pleasant music! a little melodramatic if you ask me. Do you think that term actually captures the sound you guys have molded in your records?

MC: I dont think theres anything wrong with being pleasant. I dont think thats the only thing people think of when they listen to us. But, you know I can see how you dont want to be described as just nice. But I do think thats definitely something that plays into our music. I think its a good thing; it can be really accessible. But hopefully on repeated listens, theres definitely some layers there. Its not just easy listening, so to speak.

RN: Do you think theres this unfair assumption out there that angry, abrasive records have more depth and gravitas?

MC: Yeah, I think that would be a misconception. I think thats just somebody not taking the time to really delve deeply into the music. If something sounds aggressive or angry, that doesnt mean that its deep in any way. I dont know, thats just another taste you know? If you prefer that style of music, thats one thing. But you have to give everything a chance.

RN: You and fellow bandmates, Alex (of Alex Bleeker and the Freaks), and Matt (Ducktails Matt Mondanile) have known each other since high school did you all share similar tastes in music even then? Were there any artists you guys just absolutely couldnt agree on?

MC: I mean, we think we started out having much more similar tastes because we were younger and we were feeding off each other and telling each other about the bands we were listening to. As the years progressed, we have more different tastes now than we did back in the day. Alex is a huge fan of Phish, which I cant really get behind. And I know definitely Matt cant get behind that. But you know, thats his thing. Whatever, we all have different tastes now because were different people now.

Video – Real Estate, “Crime”:

RN: I read about how members of Beach House, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes and Walkmen are doing the No Other Tour where they do their own renditions of songs from Gene Clarks album No Other (1974). (Watch Victoria Legrand of Beach House sing “Hear the Wind” here.) Youve built a solid community with like-minded artists such as The Shilohs, youre touring with Austins Pure X this spring, and youve hit the road with Melbournes Twerps. Which influential record do you think would suit you guys, if you were to do a similar sort of tour with members from these bands?

MC: When I think of Twerps, I feel like we could probably cover like Tallulah by The Go-Betweens. That would probably be really cool on tour. I actually saw that tour that youre talking about. Its actually pretty amazing. We could probably cover a Steely Dan record, like Aja, and do our best. With that amount of talent, we could probably get everyone to work at their highest caliber doing one specific thing. So yeah, that would be a tour that Id like to a see – those four bands covering Steely Dans Aja. Well make that happen.

RN: In Real Estates downtime, Alex and Matt have put out solo records. Are those projects pretty contained in themselves, or do you guys turn to each other for some creative input?

MC: I think theyre pretty self-contained. But when Matt was recording the most recent Ducktails record, I went to the studio and played a little keyboard one thing and helped him write one of the songs. I dont think I played anything on the most recent Freaks record, but I played on the one before it. I think in terms of the ideas, whichever member is doing a side project, its their thing. But we play things for each other to listen to and get ideas, and see if they like it or not.

Real Estate Atlas tour dates:

Feb 28 – The Independent San Francisco, CA

Mar 1 – The Independent – San Francisco, CA

Mar 3 – Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR

Mar 4 – Rickshaw Theatre – Vancouver, BC

Mar 6 – Neumos – Seattle, WA

Mar 7 – Neurolux – Boise, ID

Mar 8 – Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT

Mar 9 – Fox Theatre – Boulder, CO

Mar 11 – The Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA

Mar 19 – The Sinclair – Boston, MA

Mar 20 – The Sinclair – Boston, MA

Mar 21 – Higher Ground – Burlington, VT

Mar 22 – Il Motore – Montreal, QC

Mar 23 – Opera House – Toronto, ON

Mar 25 – Majestic Theatre – Madison, WI

Mar 26 – Fine Line – Minneapolis, MN

Mar 27 – Metro – Chicago, IL

Mar 28 – Firebird – St Louis, MO

Mar 29 – Exit/In – Nashville, TN

Mar 31 – Terminal West – Atlanta, GA

Apr 1 – Jefferson Theater – Charlottesville, VA

Apr 2 – 9:30 Club – Washington, DC

Apr 3 – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA

Apr 4 – Music Hall Of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY

Apr 5 – Webster Hall – New York, NY

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