Interview: Real Estate
Just insane, nasty, sweaty high school kids with their shirts off freaking out in the basement.
Real Estate's first ever Australian tour kicks off tomorrow night in Sydney. The Brooklyn-based band's understated blend of lo-fi pop is all about warm, breezy vibes and sweet melodies. Having played together since they lived in suburban New Jersey as teenagers, while their sound is chilled they deliver a tight live performance. We caught up with frontman Martin Courtney – who is a total dude – about what the band is up to now that they're no longer insane, nasty, sweaty high school kids freaking out in a basement.
Craig Lyons: Hey Martin, how's it going?
Martin Courtney: I'm pretty good, how are you?
I'm not too bad, whereabouts are you at the moment?
I'm at home in Brooklyn.
Ah, so you've made the pilgrimage from New Jersey, how long have you been there for?
How's it working out?
It's cool, thanks, I mean, it's good. We live closer to all our friends' houses and stuff.
That's interesting, because people dwell on this supposedly 'suburban' nature of your music; you've even referenced it in a couple of songs. Do you think moving to a bigger city will influence that aspect of your music?
I don't know, I don't really think so. It's not as though I've been living in the suburbs for the past couple of years anyway; before I moved to Brooklyn I was living in Jersey City, which is basically New York. I mean, it's not New York, but it's very close – it's across the river. Whether or not I continue writing about the suburbs or not remains to be seen. Maybe I'm searching for new things to write about, but all those songs were kind of reflecting on the past anyway.
All you guys have been playing in bands since you were kids. You even posted on Twitter a photo of your first album cover. Did you play any bizarre shows as teenagers?
We played house parties a lot when we were younger. None of them were that weird, but there were a lot of really fun shows when we were kids. We've known Titus Andronicus for a really long time, and the singer used to have a show every year on the last day of school, or right around the last day of school, in his mom's basement. His name's Patrick, and it was called Patstock, so that kind of sticks out in my mind. Just insane, nasty, sweaty high school kids with their shirts off freaking out in the basement.
How important was your local music community in your formative years? A lot of the bands you played with have gone onto considerable success.
It was very important. For us, it's where we learned how to write songs, and just be a band, and tune a guitar, and work an amplifier, stuff like that. It helped us get serious about it at a young age. It's weird how many of those bands have gone on to gain some recognition and stuff through the years – it's pretty exciting – but I still don't really know how or why that happened.
I guess there's a pretty strong tradition of New Jersey bands as well, there's definite echoes of Yo La Tengo in your sound, whether it's a direct influence or not, even a bit of The Feelies... What else was influential on your musical brain?
A lot of your basic kind of indie rock, Built to Spill and Pavement and stuff. I personally was really into Elliott Smith, that was really influential on my songwriting. We all really loved the Microphones. Older stuff like Neil Young. All kind of pretty basic stuff for kids getting into indie rock at our time. We would read Pitchfork and the whole thing. I'm 26 now and we were all 14 or 15 when we met, so there's been a lot of listening done between now and then.
So you went away to college in Washington state after high school, and wrote the first batch of Real Estate songs, what were you studying over there?
I went to this weird school that was kind of like, liberal. Well, you didn't really study anything in particular, I didn't really have a major, but I mostly studied literature, English literature, then in my final year for some reason I picked up French.
You guys are out here this week for Golden Plains and a bunch of sideshows, what are you looking forward to most?
I'm just excited to go, I've never been to Australia, and we're going to New Zealand; I'm super excited about that. We get to meet people, that's the most fun about touring, meeting people that you would never have the chance to meet otherwise. I'm really excited for the festival, there are some really cool bands playing.
It's pretty much the best festival in Australia. A Kiss cover band called KISSTROYER are playing directly after Bon Iver.
[Laughs] That's pretty weird. They must be amazing to headline over a Grammy winner.
Definitely. Arcade Fire, now Bon Iver, any Grammy ambitions for Real Estate?
Totally. No but, it (Bon Iver's Grammy) didn't really surprise me, after last year. It's interesting, it makes me wonder if your friend in a band you like can actually win a Grammy, it opens up this world [that] there's some bizarre link between your local indie rock crowd and the fucking Grammys, it's a weird thing to think about.
I saw you guys have contributed a track to a Domino Records Record Store Day compilation. Are you something of a vinyl collector? And do you have a favourite record store?
I'm definitely into collecting records. I have a couple of favourites here, but there are so many, in Brooklyn, there are like six in my neighbourhood, it's retarded. It's cool, though. In my old town there was a store called Iris Records. I didn't even know it was there for the first two years that I lived there, but I got some amazing stuff. It closed a few years ago but it was good while it lasted.
Will you be looking after any records in particular while you're down here?
I don't have anything in mind, but we're touring with Twerps so hopefully they'll be able to fill us in pretty quickly. I'm really excited to tour with those guys.
Definitely. Have you played with them before? I know they're on the same label as your solo stuff.
No, we've never played together. The first interview that I did today, just before, was with Marty from Twerps, he interviewed me, which was kind of funny, and he told me he'd never seen us play either which is kind of crazy as well, but it makes sense because Australia's pretty far away.
And you're stealing them away and touring the US with them as well straight afterwards?
Yeah, they're coming back just after us and we're doing a couple of shows, well actually a whole US tour, so that's really exciting.
Real Estate's Australian Tour dates, with special guests Twerps and SURES:
Sydney – Friday 9 March, The Standard (sold out)
Golden Plains, Meredith – Saturday 10 March (sold out)
Melbourne – Monday 12 March, Corner Hotel (Tickets available via the Corner)
Brisbane – Tuesday 13 March, The Zoo. With special guests Tight Slip and Feathers. (Tickets available via Penny Drop)
Introduction: Hannah Ongley