By Kyle MacKinnel on March 11, 2014
Martin Courtney is in the midst of making oatmeal. It’s snowing in Brooklyn. Again. Tomorrow is the final day Courtney will spend at home with his wife before he and his band Real Estate hop on a plane to Europeto begin touring behind their third album, Atlas. Ever an even-keel dude, Courtney’s voice takes a subtle downturn when this fact is mentioned. He’s no stranger to the transient realities of life as a career musician, but as a newly married young man in a successful band with broadening horizons, he admits that the novelty of touring has worn off a bit.
“We try to keep it to a minimum,” Courtney says. “If you don’t say anything, then all of a sudden you’re going to find yourself with a year of your life booked. That’s what the label wants, and it’s definitely beneficial for everyone all around for us to be gone as much as possible.” The common struggle to take the reins of one’s life is a major theme on Atlas, which was recorded in Wilco’s storied Chicago loft. On album highlight “The Bend,” Courtney sings, “It’s so hard to feel/In control here/Like I’m behind the wheel/But it won’t steer.”
Real Estate were born as a homegrown Ridgewood, New Jersey, four- piece. Founding drummer Etienne Duguay left the band in 2011 as they pulled their roots up to Brooklyn; bespectacled guitarist Matt Mondanile recently relocated to Los Angeles and touring keyboardist Jonah Maurer was replaced by Matt Kallman prior to the recording of Atlas. Despite change, the core trio of Courtney, Mondanile and bassist Alex Bleeker remains, and the fusion of these three is the band’s DNA. Courtney’s lyrics quietly transcend the mundane, captured while looking for peace in the constant shuffle of time. But Real Estate know themselves, speak as one and stay the course. The oatmeal is done.
On Atlas, it sounds like you’re preoccupied with distance and constant travel. Is this fair to say?
Martin Courtney: Yeah. I’m not a big fan of being away from home, so it makes it kind of difficult. But it’s a necessary evil, and I definitely enjoy playing shows, so it’s not a huge deal.
Are you able to bring your wife on tour with you at all?
I mean, I could. We do the Woodsist Festival in Big Sur every year, and that’s a fun tradition. She’ll come out for that and we’ll spend some time in California, turn it into a vacation. Hopefully she’ll be able to come out to London when we’re there, since she’s never been there. But she doesn’t want to sit in the van on a month-long band tour; it’s less than ideal.
How did the opportunity to record at The Loft come about?
We ended up recording there because we had talked about, as a dream producer, having Jim O’Rourke record the album. We knew that wasn’t possible, but that got us talking about Wilco because of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and the way that record sounds. Someone at the label brought up Tom Schick, who works with Wilco now. We met him, and we clicked with him pretty quickly.
So Tom mentioned that he works at The Loft all the time, and that Wilco were going to be on the road when we wanted to record. They gave us their blessing to use the space. It was great. There’re just so many instruments to play with. It feels really cool to know that you can sit on the couch and play a $35,000 Gibson or something, just crazy shit. It’s kind of overwhelming. Other bands have recorded there with Jeff Tweedy producing, but I think this was the first time a band recorded there without Wilco being there.
Has Matt moving to Los Angeles been a difficult adjustment for the band?
He did it at a time that made it easy, because we had already recorded everything for the record. He did miss a couple of mixing sessions, which was a bummer for him, I guess, but that’s his prerogative. But no, it’s fine. At least so far, it’s been really easy. The next time it will be an issue will be when we make another record, but I can write songs, and we’ll get together somewhere like we did this time. A lot of bands don’t live in the same city these days.
Was there ever a time where you wondered what you might do if music didn’t work out?
When I was in college I was a generic English and writing major, and I was like, “Maybe I’ll be a journalist.” I mean, I was playing music all throughout college and high school, but I had a pretty realistic view of it. I didn’t think it would take off the way it did. I had no expectations. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I hoped it would be something at least a little bit creative. F