With sophomore album Days, Real Estate take a shimmering, dusty look backwards.
A few guys knocking out breezy indie pop jams and singing about the beach. There’s been no shortage of bands like this over the last few years. It’s a concept to relish, but there’s been such a plethora of music like this, a bit like that plaid shirt you loved to wear in 2009 that’s just too worn out now. But to overlook Real Estate as just another drop in the prevalent ocean of lo-fi surf rock would be a tragic mistake. The truth is Real Estate are a special band with a depth of soul you could potentially miss on first listen. Their music encapsulates the bittersweet sensation of nostalgia with pinpoint precision.
The band grew up in Ridgewood, a suburban town in the Glen Rock borough of New Jersey. Like anyone who spent their teenage years in a small town, they were bored as hell and dreamt of moving out from their parent’s places and into the big city. In that painful transition to adulthood, the naive optimism of youth is shattered. They soon realised those endless days in Ridgewood were really the best. The essence of Real Estate is the way their music evokes the contrasting feeling of both joy and melancholy you’d get from browsing through faded old Polaroids of summers spent with friends you don’t see any more. It’s a pretty universal sentiment, so maybe that’s why such a nonchalant sounding band like Real Estate has grabbed the attention of so many people.
Real Estate have been touring persistently to promote their superb second album, Days, their first release with Domino, a credible but relatively lucrative independent label. So when Crack met up with lead guitarist Matt Mondanile (who also records and tours as Ducktails, a solo project which is equally as prolific as Real Estate) and bassist Alex Bleeker, they’re a little exhausted and a maybe a couple of beers deep, but it’s put them in a pensive mood and the guys are keen to chat.
The band is now based in Brooklyn. The move was obligatory if they were to function on a full time level, but their music is so heavily influenced by suburban life, is it therefore important they’re still within travelling distance to Glen Rock? “Moving to the city was a new thing for us and it’s really appropriate if you’re in a band because it’s close to all the venues and clubs and stuff. But my mother and Alex’s mother still live in small towns in Jersey so we still go visit them fairly frequently”, Matt explains. Alex feels the band can continue draw inspiration from Ridgewood without inhabiting it, “Ridgewood is always going to be this place we’re able to viit, or at the very least a place of memories, fond memories of our youth and our upbringing. So whether we live within 30 miles of there is not like, super, super important because it will always be what it is to us no matter what.”
Matt, Alex and singer Martin Courtney have been friends since high school. Alex feels this affinity between them is a source of the band’s strength. “I think it’s like an aspect of why we play well together, we’ve been playing for a really long time and we’re really comfortable with each other. It’s preserved the memories because there’s a lot of history between us, so we remember a lot of stupid things from when we were kids. Like funny stories or weird ones, you know when you get together when your high- school friends and you’re like ‘remember that kid!’?”
While we’re on the subject of this history between Real Estate’s members, Matt is reflective about the groups dynamic since their recent re-shuffle. This year they parted with original drummer Etienne Duguay, replacing him with Jackson Pollis and recruiting multi-instrumentalist Jonah Maurer for their live set up.
Matt explains: “It’s funny because we’ve known the other two people in the band for a while, but they aren’t as close as me, Martin and Alex, so we’re almost like the kind of core group in a way”, he pauses, seeming slightly disconcerted by how his words sounded. “But not really, it’s not like we’re separated. The other guys are just as equal as us when we’re communicating musically, but even so… we’re just not quite on the same wave length.” Sensing Matt is struggling a bit to articulate what he means, Alex chips in: “We’ve just got a deeper and richer history you know, so it must be a little harder to break into that. We understand what we’re all thinking all of the time which can be really good, but also really bad! It’s like we’re brothers or something, we can read each other’s minds.”
It just so happens that some of their old Ridgewood buddies are in widely successful bands now too. Cassie Ramone and Katy Goodman of the internationally popular noise-pop outfit Vivian Girls have been good friends since high school. Martin was also once a member of local witty punk band Titus Andronicus, whose second album The Monitor, was released on XL last year and met with glowing critical praise. So does it feel weird that their Ridgewood days are being mythologised, that there’s kids all around the globe curious to hear anecdotes of the ‘Ridgewood scene’? Alex is typically demure in his response. “Yeah it’s the same for us though. We always looked up to regional music groups, stuff like K records from Olympia (Washington). We were like ‘whoa that’s so cool they’re all just friends and they hang out with each other!’. For some weird reason we have lot of friends from our town or close that we’ve known for a really long time and make really cool music – so as soon as you have any kind of platform no matter how big or small it is, I think it’s important to represent our friends too.”
So far, Real Estate have chosen their record labels wisely. Previous to their singing with Domino, they released numerous singles and 7 inches on reputable independents such as Underwater Peoples and Mexican Summer. Their self-titled debut album was released by Woodsist, a label with an exceptional catalogue run by Woods front man Jeremy Earl. The recording process for the first album was particularly DIY, the band used cheap equipment in their apartments with just little help from a few close friends. Woodsist seems to have functioned as a kind of launch pad for a number of lo-fi indie bands. Kurt Vile, Vivian Girls, Wavves and now Real Estate have followed a similar path, establishing their name on Woodsist, then moving on to bigger labels, polishing their sound and therefore reaching wider audiences.
So did the more professional recording process of Days feel like a logical step? “I think the first time round we made a lo-fi record because we had to. We could have put it on Garage Band to try and clean it up and it would have sounded worse! We just used the resources we had at our disposal to make the best record we could and, really, we just did the same this time round,” says Alex.
Domino is a much bigger label than Woodsist, and judging by the level of Real Estate’s recent publicity and hectic tour schedule, a more demanding one too. But Alex insists that the team at Domino are driven by a passion for music rather than profit. “Domino is cool and I think what drew us to them, as opposed to other labels of maybe a similar size, is that they do seem to care about their artists and music. These are music fans, you know, they get behind it because they like it. They put out great records that they’re not sure are gonna sell. So they’re bigger than Woodsist or Underwater People and I guess it’s more of a business, but I can recognise it’s coming from the same place as everyone else we’ve worked with. We totally love and respect the others we’ve worked with, we continue to have a good relationship with the guys at Woodsist and I share an apartment with (Underwater Peoples boss) Ari Stern, so I live at Underwater Peoples headquarters.”
Real Estate’s lyrics and song titles are saturated with summer imagery, but coming from New Jersey, they weren’t exactly baked in heat all year round and they didn’t get to spend much time at the beach. Matt explains Real Estate’s allusions to the summer are figurative. “I think it’s more escapism, we’ve never been that close to the beach. Like Atlantic City, this demo I made – I mean the whole idea of that is escapism of like this beautiful paradise in your head, not actually in front of you. But the sound can help you visualise that.” Alex agrees: “It makes a lot of people say ‘you guys must be so chill, are you really chill?’ But like, no, I don’t think any of us are really that chill. I mean we try and be nice guys and be relaxed, but I think we’re all a little neurotic, perhaps more than our music would make you think, so maybe were are this music as a kind of peaceful place to go.”
Although listeners might be quick to pigeonhole Days as a feel-good ‘let’s-hit-the-beach’ soundtrack, the songs express a wistful desire for days that are long gone. There’s something painful about that right? “Yeah definitely man, I mean these are really sad songs”, Matt agrees. “And they’re like that because – Martin made this clear to us quite recently – we’re touring a lot and he has a long time girlfriend, so he’s always thinking back to this time when we didn’t have to tour at all. And even though he likes touring, there was this time when he was kind of free with his girlfriend to spend an endless amount of time, so now he’s kind of reflecting back on the beautiful aspects of that as a musician. But the pain, the sad part, is the distance. The music he loves to make takes him away from his girl, because he has to support the record and tour through it, so that’s definitely painful.”
On a song called Green Aisles from the new album, there’s a lyric which reminisces the carefree days of youth: “All those aimless drives/ all those wasted miles through green aisles/ our careless lifestyles/ it was not so unwise.” Do you remember those days fondly, driving around in your parents car, the most pressing concern being whether or not an older sibling can be persuaded to obtain your weekend booze, but in reality, weren’t those days were characterised by a feeling of boredom and ennui?
“But now you look back on it and you’re like ‘that was great!’”, Alex says with a smile. Maybe that was the best place you’ll ever be psychologically? “Haha, yeah it’s like the womb! I think a lot of people experience that. It’s so funny because you forget that when you’re that age in the good old days all you want to do is move forward. But you get to where you thought you wanted to be and then you’re like ‘oh man, remember when shit was so simple and easy’, the biggest thing you had to worry about was like a test in school.”
And that’s tragically ironic isn’t it? “Yeah because when you’re there you can’t enjoy it. It’s super funny, because even back then this is what we wanted. If you told us then, ‘this what you’re going to be doing when your 25, you’ll be signed to Domino and touring in Europe and stuff’, we’d be super psyched and we probably couldn’t wait to get here, but the ironic thing is, the music is really about us like…wanting to go back to that time! But I don’t doubt that one day we’ll make music about getting back to this time. I can tell that I’m going to remember this time of my life super fondly, because it’s really exciting and who knows how long it’ll last. Even if when I’m in my 50s and I end up working a 9-5 I’ll be able to be like, ‘man I used to be in a rock band!’ I dunno, it remains to be seen.”
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Words: David Reed