Pleasant in music temperament and in personal demeanor, it’s pretty easy to see why the members of Real Estate appear to be having such a good time. How could anyone making such warm, dreamy music get too mad about anything? We caught up with singer Martin Courtney at the Pitchfork Music Festival to discuss lazing around and just how close he got to being an actual real estate agent.
Could you talk about the bands you and the other members of Real Estate played in while you were growing up?
Martin Courtney, singer/guitarist: Well, I met Alex [Bleeker, bassist] in the third grade, but we became friends in the eighth grade. I met Matt [Mondanile, guitarist] in the 9th grade. We played in a lot of different bands, but we didn’t necessarily play together. I played in a band with Alex that was like a ska band—he sang and I played bass. Matt played in kind of a pop-punk group at the beginning of high school. I kind of became friends with him because he asked me to basically audition to play bass in their band; they were a year older than me and I thought they were really cool, but I didn’t end up getting the spot.
But no, the three of us, the only other band we ever played in before college was this band that was more like a recording project: we started to learn how to record using Matt’s computer and called it Hey There Sexy. I don’t know why we thought that was funny. Then in college, we played in a band with our friend Julian over summer break, and did a tour and made an album and stuff. Mostly we just talked about making music together; we’d write together and sort of listen to each other’s songs and stuff. We didn’t really play together but we were best friends.
You mentioned ska and pop-punk bands. What led to to gravitate toward Real Estate’s more relaxed, melodic style?
At the time in early high school you’re into all different types of things. I was in a ska band because I knew all of our friends wanted to be in the band, so they’re all playing trumpets and stuff. The music that we make now is the music we gradually listened to as we started to realized who we were and what kind of things we liked. We were all liked Built to Spill and Pavement. The Pixies. That sort of indie rock stuff that we identified with the most, so as I started writing music, that’s what style I started playing. It’s just, as you get older you find your way.
I read an interview in which you called playing Coachella to be sort of an overwhelming beast; “a cog” was the wording, I think. What’s the difference between playing a place like Pitchfork?
It’s just smaller. It’s definitely not DIY by any means; Pitchfork is still well-run and everything, but it’s a little less corporate even though there’s still obviously corporate stuff involved. With Coachella everything seems a little more calculated and everything’s perfectly fine-tuned to make the most possible money, so it’s just way, way, way bigger. We played our set and there’s a million other bands and five other stages and everyone is playing at the same time. Here, it’s us and we’re playing one of the main stages, and there’s two more bands and then it’s over. I guess it’s just a smaller scale thing. We don’t have Radiohead playing Pitchfork Festival, so the stakes are a little bit lower. It’s just more our scene, I guess. Coachella is a little more all inclusive in terms of genres and stuff, which is really cool in its own way. It’s a little bit better exposure, I guess, to play a place like Coachella because more people have never heard of us, whereas Pitchfork is like, I feel like a lot of people here are people who obviously read Pitchfork and definitely know who we are, and who most of these bands are.
Have you started recording a new record?
Not really. We’ve been working on a couple of new things, every once in a while we’ll kind of work on new tunes, but recently, we just started focusing on working on new material. I’ve been writing a lot but I usually write a song, and then like, you know, the song isn’t really complete until we bring it into the room and work it out as a band.
So we just started doing that, because really up until now we’ve just been touring and haven’t had time to work on new things. And also, Matt’s been working on the new Ducktails record, and if anything, he’s recording a new album that’s pretty much almost done. Same thing with Alex, he’s doing an Alex Bleeker & The Freaks record, so those should both be out before the end of the year. And then they’ll probably tour and do that for a little bit as I’m writing the next Real Estate record, and if anything we’ll probably start working on it next year.
I thought Days was a more refined version of your first record. Where do you go from that? Do you think you can get more refined?
I think we can. I don’t see us really veering off into any new directions. The new songs we’ve been working on are definitely still Real Estate songs, you know? I look at us, like, a lot of people think maybe all of our songs maybe sound kind of similar. But to me, as the person writing them, I see each song having its own style. So these new songs are pretty new style for us but still two guitar-bass-drum-keyboard-vocal stuff.
Did any of you actually work as real estate agents for a while?
I did. That’s what my parents do, and right after college I got my real estate license to get a job, you know? [laughs] Because I didn’t know what else to do. I was going to work for my parents, and as that was happening—basically, it’s like three weeks of classes—and as I was doing that we were having our first Real Estate practices, which is kind of why I named it that. So I did get a license, though I never sold a house. I worked in my parents’ office for a little while to be able to make money and stuff but I was never a full-on real estate agent. They’re based in New Jersey.
Since your music is perfectly fitting for this, could you describe the laziest day you can think of?
That’s too easy. Just not do anything. Wake up, listen to records, read a book, make some eggs. Not leave the house. Not even turn the AC on, and get all hot. That’s too easy. I wouldn’t even say go to the beach, because that takes a lot of effort.