Immediately apparent when listening to Real Estate is their sense of motion. Melodic guitar lines swirl; the rhythm section bounces and folds along; and their literal knack for memory and/or scenic based songwriting transports the listener to a specific place. All of this holds true on their fourth LP, In Mind. Recorded in Los Angeles (and with a augmented lineup), the band is in fine form.
Preparing for some high profile gigs around the globe, we caught up with Martin Courtney and Alex Bleeker on the eve of the album’s release, touching on their bi-coastal band arrangement, favorite venues, and recording in LA. Plus, all of the members sent over some tracks that inspired the new record (vibey, as expected).
Aquarium Drunkard: The band is now bi-coastal. How has this impacted the writing, recording and rehearsing for the new album? Any growing pains and/or nice surprises?
Martin Courtney: Living in different cities definitely forced us to approach this album very differently. In the past, we were able to get together a few times a week and work on new songs as they came. This time, I spent a few months writing and demoing songs and sending them around to the band before we ever got together to work on them. Then, the rest of the band came out to the town where I live (very nice of them), rented a house down the street from mine, and we spent three weeks (in two different sessions) working on the songs and recording full band demos with Jarvis from Woods in an old converted high school art classroom.
Doing it that way, we actually probably ended up spending about the same amount of time on this album as we did on Atlas, just all at once instead of spread out over a few months. And, it was super fun getting up every day, walking to the school together, and spending a few hours jamming. The vibe was really good the whole time, and we approached the songs in a looser, more free way. I really feel like the good vibe during the writing sessions carried through the whole process and is audible on the record. This was a fun album to make.
AD: In Mind is a great step forward in your catalogue. It’s full, rich and the songwriting is lyrically observant, as ever. What would you say the biggest outside influences were for the record? Martin – I’ve read your family is growing…imagine that plays a role? Maybe just the ol’ ‘wisdom comes with age’ adage?
Martin Courtney: Well, first of all thank you. I always have a hard time pinpointing specific influences. There were five of us there during those writing sessions, and we each brought our own set of influences to the mix. I think the best thing about this album is how much each band member contributed, not only in their parts, but also with ideas in the studio. On that note, one of the biggest influences on this record was working with Cole as the producer. He brought a lot of ideas to the table and in the editing and mixing phase. We really trusted his ideas, like another band member.
It’s true that when Atlas came out, I wasn’t a dad yet (though my wife was 7 months pregnant), and now I’ve got two kids. Having a family definitely works its way into every aspect of making music. It makes certain things harder (touring especially), but it’s also super motivating and obviously inspiring.
Aquarium Drunkard: Along those lines – how about recording in Los Angeles? Did the sunny clime and coastal roar seep into the studio?
Martin Courtney: Recording in LA was basically a logistical decision, albeit a happy one. We wanted Cole to produce, and he wanted to record in LA, so we went to LA. It’s really fun getting to record away from home and spend a few weeks of concentrated time in a city we usually only get to see one or two nights at a time on tour. We rented a very sick house on the side of a hill in Los Feliz. We had an amazing view and the fridge was literally stocked with champagne that the owner said we could help ourselves to. It was very “Entourage”.
The actual recording was done at a studio in Eagle Rock owned by a guy who, we found out when we got there, happened to grow up in the same town in NJ as Alex, Julian and I. Amazing coincidence.
AD: There’s something about an outdoor setting that fits your vibe perfectly. Joshua Tree, Big Sur, a random tree-shrouded patio bar in Austin, all immediately come to mind. Given that your music is so scenic, do you feel most at ‘home’ in those types of venues? Do you consciously look for that marriage of sound and space?
Martin Courtney: We are honesty psyched to play almost anywhere, there is something special about playing outside though. I’m not sure if the feeling is specific to us, but I do think our music sounds good in open air settings. It’s certainly more fun for me to be able to zone out staring at a sunset while playing a show than an exit sign at the back of a rock club.
Big Sur is definitely a stand out. That’s one of the best places in the world, period. Playing in the Parc Miró in Barcelona during Primavera festival back in 2010 also sticks out in my head. There are too many to list. I’ll take a backyard over an ornate theater any day.
AD: We appreciate the Dead over here, and think it’s safe to say y’all fall into that camp as well. To that end – can you share some of the background on your contribution to last year’s epic Day of the Dead compilation? How did you arrive at “Here Comes Sunshine”?
Alex Bleeker: It’s funny you should ask that question because I just met Josh Kauffman last night. He was instrumental in putting that whole thing together and he’s a really sweet guy. I’d heard that project was in the works for a long time before Real Estate was asked to contribute. I’m a pretty well documented Dead Head so I was kind of tapping my toes waiting to be asked, haha! Finally they came around after I put together this big Dead tribute night in Brooklyn with a lot of cool atypical special guests for that kind of a thing. That was sort of what they were going for on that comp so I guess the pieces finally came together. I chose “Here Comes Sunshine” for the band. I was thinking of tunes that would suit our style, with a melodic guitar lead. I asked for Althea and China Cat too …. but I could tell the people putting together Day of the Dead were real heads because they were most excited about “Here Comes Sunshine”. words / t hale
Below: Real Estate put together a playlist featuring some of artists who influenced In Mind (or who are pillars for Real Estate in general), and a few words behind each pick.
Joni Mitchell :: Coyote – I probably listened to Hejira more than anything else while writing the songs on the new album. I became obsessed. Just a great album to listen to from start to finish. It almost has one unifying, liquid-y, viscous texture across all of the songs. Lots of layered phased guitars, hand percussion, and Jaco bass lines. Great airplane listening. – Martin Courtney
Paul McCartney :: Bluebird – My two year old daughter somehow got hooked on Band on the Run. It was the only thing she wanted to listen to for a few months. She knew all the words. She’d even ask me to sing the title track to her as a lullaby. It really could have been worse though, it’s a great album. I love how it’s this huge pop album, with these giant hits on it, but it feels pretty ramshackle and thrown together. And the lyrics are utter nonsense. – Martin Courtney
Los Indios Tabajaras :: Johnny Guitar – I recently moved to the California Coast. The first place I lived out here was a very romantic little redwood cabin. I was house sitting for a friend of mine and he had stacks and stacks of dollar bin records that I’d periodically explore. Most of it was pretty junky, but I found this diamond in the rough: Los Indios Tabajaras. This is great Brazilian guitar music and it quickly became the perpetual soundtrack to just about everything in that house. I played the record every day. This was during the heavy creative period for “in mind” and it undoubtedly had an influence on me. – Alex Bleeker
JJ Cale :: Magnolia – I’m not sure why it took me so long to come around to JJ Cale. I used to think his music was cheesy or something, but all of a sudden some kind of switch flipped inside of me and I just “got it. ” Last spring, when “in mind” was being written, I’d just drive around with this song on repeat. It’s so simple and the production is nuanced and complex without losing that restraint. I think this song represents a new gold standard for me when it comes to the intersection of songwriting and production. – Alex Bleeker
Television :: Venus – I’d always wanted to emulate the guitar sounds on Marquee Moon, but that kind of tone never really fit in with my own solo music. Joining Real Estate offered a great opportunity for a different kind of playing and a totally different approach to using guitar in compositions. Marquee Moon was somewhat inspirational for the guitar sound I tried to shape on Real Estate songs like “Serve the Song” and “Holding Pattern.” – Julian Lynch
Laurie Anderson :: Sharkey’s Day – I had been listening to Mister Heartbreak a lot last year around the time we were putting together parts for In Mind and then heading out to LA to record. I definitely looked towards the production on that record, as well as the guitar playing (by Adrian Belew), as models while thinking about how to approach In Mind. – Julian Lynch
Caravan :: Magic Man – When demoing songs for In Mind there was often talk about making “kids music,” in a sense of being playful; not overthinking our approach. This tune captures that sensibility to me in a freaky, Alice in Wonderland way — virtuosic but not complex, open production, warm tones, silly lyrics (including nods to Soft Machine — whose gear they borrowed — and The Beatles). It carries a charm that would sadly disappear from most heady bands of this era and the years to follow. – Matt Kallman
John Martyn :: Couldn’t Love You More – This in reference to the 1981 version, covering his own song from ’77. I love the fact that he soft-rockified a more abstract song from his catalog to make it a single (and an album Track 1), but had still had the restraint to keep it delicate and unhurried; the way the verse subtly drops into the chorus always gets me. It’s a song that’s “deceptively” simple, and I’d like to think Real Estate can continue to make music that is approachable and attractive, but has layers that reveal themselves on future listens. I mean, he covers his own song. There’s beauty in repetition. – Matt Kallman