By Kyle MacKinnel; photo by Shawn Brackbill on December 9, 2011
“It was pretty hyped up—not much happened,” Martin Courtney deadpans over the phone. No, he isn’t talking about Watch the Throne. Just a week earlier, Hurricane Irene tore up the Eastern seaboard, leaving much of the Northeast to deal with prolonged blackouts and high storm surges. Despite a notably grim forecast and evacuation notices, however, Real Estate’s Brooklyn stomping ground was left virtually unscathed. “It was basically an excuse to sit around for two days and drink during the day,” Courtney adds, chuckling. As Greenpoint, Park Slope and Williamsburg managed to find solace notched in the eye of Irene, Real Estate, too, have discovered themselves at the pulse of another, more chilled-out maelstrom.
“Brooklyn is insanely saturated with bands, but it seems like there’s a reason for that,” Courtney says. “If you want to put the time into it, you can play multiple times every weekend, which is what we were doing for awhile.” Indeed, for the better part of a year after college, longtime friends Courtney, guitarist Matt Mondanile, bassist Alex Bleeker and former drummer Etienne Duguay made the weekly trek from their suburban base of Ridgewood, New Jersey, into the city to play shows. The band’s diligence and well-honed approach soon paid off in spades, as 2009’s debut Real Estate emerged on Woodsist to the tune of considerable fanfare.
By the time their second album, Days, was in the making for Domino, the dudes from Real Estate had already transplanted their roots, and have since become regular fixtures in Brooklyn. Their individual Twitter feeds read collectively like a polygonal game of Ping-Pong. At a recent show for Mondanile’s solo project, Ducktails, it’s commonplace to spot Courtney, Bleeker and touring keyboardist Jonah Maurer all freewheeling through the crowd. Just like the heady fusion of their hypnagogic pop, as people, Real Estate really seem to gel.
Nowhere is this bond on better display than in the smoky afterglow of their post-show trailer. The band has just played a set opening a summer concert series at the Williamsburg Waterfront for Bright Eyes. Several highlights from Days, including “Green Aisles” and “It’s Real,” were met with wide audience approval. The outdoor venue faces a spectacular view of the New York skyline and spirits are understandably high.
Mondanile, Maurer, touring drummer Jackson Pollis and friends pass around a spliff and discuss the looming presence of Kirsten Dunst, whom they were just introduced to in the backstage area. Mondanile swoons playfully. All of a sudden, Bleeker bursts in, clutching a bottle of Jameson and flanked by a couple of female companions. With them is Jarvis Taveniere of Woods, who is a close friend and has recorded Real Estate several times, including the recent single “Out of Tune.”
After a time, the group migrates backstage to watch the end of Bright Eyes’ set. Flashing neon tambourines have been passed out to many of the bystanders onstage as well as audience members. Among the newly anointed players is none other than Bleeker, who joins the throng onstage and plays a glowing Lite-Brite peg to Conor Oberst’s happy clown. Maurer and Mondanile reel at the delightful irony of the spectacle.
For all the fun Real Estate is having, it’s easy to forget what avid professionals they are. In the present configuration, Courtney does the lion’s share of the songwriting, waxing lyrical on suburban nostalgia and life’s subtler progressions. However, Mondanile also writes and performs solo as Ducktails, as well as alongside Duguay in Predator Vision. Maurer plays keyboards in Family Portrait and works with Michael McGregor (aka blogger Chocolate Bobka) as Free Spirit. Bleeker has his own slow-burn outlet in Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, which features Courtney on bass, Mondanile on drums and avant-garde alchemist Julian Lynch (also a Ridgewood native) on lead guitar.
They all can sing. They all know how to record. With such versatile talent in bounds, the permutations for success are endless. It’s no wonder that when these friends play together, it sounds like they’re all hardwired to a communal brain—be it a very mellow, reverb-drenched model. Courtney quickly chalks this notion up to one overarching factor: time well spent.
“Personally, I feel like it works really well because Matt, Alex and I have known each other forever,” he says. “We’ve been listening to and playing each others’ output for years. I think that has helped us to become really cohesive as a band. I can bring a song in, and most of the time they’ll know the vibe that I’m going for before I articulate it.”
Enough said. F
3 albums that inspired Real Estate’s Martin Courtney to make music
The Glow Pt. 2
Realizing that Phil Elverum recorded it all himself was really inspiring and put us on this road of wanting to record.
Before we went onstage, we used have the sound guy plug in our iPod and play “Frozen Jap.”
YO LA TENGO
I really wanted to make a band like Yo La Tengo, where you could have almost different genres of music within an album.