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Real Estate

Real Estate

Interviewed by
Martyn Pepperell
Monday 7th January, 2013 8:55AM

Bringing together members of Ducktails, Alex Bleeker and The Freaks and musicians associated with the Underwater People's and Woodsist independent record labels, American indie rock band Real Estate have a breezy summertime cool to their music. Laid back and casual, they make songs which while informed by a continuum of psychedelia which stretches from The Velvet Underground to The Chills and beyond, also pays homage to the sleepy pace of their hometown, Ridgewood, New Jersey. Since 2009, through two albums, a bunch of singles and a whole lot of touring, they've become well loved globally.

With the band scheduled to appear at Laneway this summer, Real Estate member Alex Bleeker took some time out to talk to us about the environment that created Real Estate, his personal connection to the band, their relationship with their record labels (past and present) and the power of Pitchfork Media.

How are you going?

Good. How are you?

Great. I've just been listening to your songs on YouTube and wondering why I haven't played any of your records for awhile?


First of all, I was wondering if you could explain your role within Real Estate to us?

I am the bass player. I play the bass during the shows. I also write some songs and sing some songs. I dunno. It is a very casual vibe. Do you mean socially or musically?

A bit of both would be good?

I kind of joke around. I try to keep things light when I can. I'm also sort of like the brass tacks guy when it comes to loading in and out. I'm the only one in the band who knows how to load the van properly. I lead the load out after shows. That is definitely a big part of my role. When we are on tour in the states I find us cheap hotels. [laughs] I'm usually the guy who books the accommodation. I wouldn't say I'm fatherly, but I am concerned with the orderly stuff. I have to be the bad guy sometimes to level things out. 

Someone has got to be the villain.

Right. It's kinda fun. [laughs]

Tell me about your relationship with the rest of the band members?

Two of the other guys, Martin [Courtney, IV] and Matt [Mondanile, of Ducktails], we grew up together and we went to high school together. We've been playing music together for as long as we've known each other. Music was what really brought us together. We'd always share our love of certain bands and then we would start playing music and we started bands together. I would go over to Matt's house on Saturdays and he would basically show me how to play the guitar. He was basically my teacher. Then after our lessons he would teach me songs and stuff. We continued our relationship right though. We all went to different colleges. We kept in touch and we would always play music together on breaks. I don't know it just always seemed like a very natural thing for us to do. Then we all graduated and came home and started playing music together again.

So you guys are like super bros?

Yeah. We're like bros from way back. I remember these guys when they were little kids. I know tons of embarrassing stories about them and stuff.

You guys started out with relationships with labels like Woodsist, Underwater People and True Panther Sounds. These labels all have real community and scene vibes around them. Can you tell me about your association with them?

All three of those labels you mentioned are really great labels. Underwater People and Woodsist, those are both labels that have continued to be completely independently operated. They're relatively small scale operations who have had some success, which is really awesome. Underwater People are also good friends of ours. One of them we grew up with in high school. he is one of the founding members of the label, so it is a very personal, friendly type of relationship. The first record they ever put out was our record, our first seven inch ever. We grew together, so we are forever linked, in that way. They are part of our immediate day to day friend group. We just hang out with them all the time. Matt actually has his own label and he shares and office with them, just down the street from where they live. It's very neighbourhoody and communal. We consider Underwater People to be one of our strong artistic homes.

Woodsist is a similar thing. We met Jeremy who runs the label completely by himself, just by playing shows in Brooklyn [NYC]. We felt he had the coolest label in the world. We still kinda do. We just had so much respect for him, his punky ethos and the way he curated together a really cohesive set of bands. We really like all the other bands on the label. We get together with them every year for a festival. I don't know. It's like a similar but larger community. One we feel really proud of and still connected to.

In contrast with that, what was it like making the shift to the next level when you started working with Domino Recording Co?

It was definitely intense at first. That is not to say anything bad about Domino. We love them and I am so happy we chose to go with them. They're this much larger record label, international offices, tons of employees, but their approach to putting out music is still very grounded. Everybody I have met at Domino is a total music fanatic. They're not just trying to do things for the sake of money. Their hearts and minds seem to be in the right places. We get along really really well with them. So I don't think there could have been a better fit for us. At first when we started with them, we didn't have a manager and there was so much for us to do that we weren't used to. There was twenty five emails a day coming in from all over the world with different things we had to deal with. It got to be insane. It was too much. That was why we hired a manager. At a certain point it didn't feel like we were even playing music anymore. We were just co-ordinating these many different cogs on one greater wheel. But now we're settled into it and more comfortable. I'm just so happy with them. There is no other place I would rather be. We really lucked out.

Now, you have a side band don't you? Alex Bleeker and The Freaks? Tell us about it?

It's actually cool. It's a different style of music. It isn't a completely different approach, but I guess it is a little rootsier, embedded with a sense of classic rock and roll and country influences. There is a bit more of a flair for long compositional passages in that band, which is something that I enjoy a little bit more than Martin, who is the lead songwriter of Real Estate, does. So, I get to express that a little bit more in that band. It has been this sort of loose collective for a long time and taken many different shapes. Now that Real Estate has slowed down on the touring, I've been working on a new record for that, that is going to come out at some point next year. I'm also putting together a pretty serious live band. It has been cool. It's exciting.

It feels like Real Estate and your extended family of labels and friend bands have all really benefited from a lot of critical support. Best new music ratings on Pitchfork, cover stories with The Fader, etc. How much of an impact do you think that has all had on your success?

I think Pitchfork is hugely influential. Probably too influential. But that isn't really their fault. It is an interesting situation. Obviously we are really grateful for their support and feel really lucky, but they really have assumed this position of international tastemaker. A lot of the time record store buyers who maybe don't have super strong taste of their own will go through that Best New Music section and go, okay, right, we're going to stock this, this and this. This influences what people are listening to a lot. I'm not sure how it happened, but Pitchfork just amassed all of this power. So yeah, that said, we're happy that they like us. I'm not anti Pitchfork for that reason, I just think it is interesting. It is important to recognise that, that sometimes maybe the power can be a little bit unbalanced. We've not going to try to cater specifically to them just to sell more records, but if they like our music and want to include us on their website, we're definitely happy about that. For whatever reason they have a really wide reach and appeal. The good press has obviously been really helpful. It hasn't hurt us and we'll see how long it continues for.

There are two things I find interesting about it. The fact you can't comment on anything on Pitchfork gives it an authoritarian tone, but at the same time, if you want to have your say about their posts, you have to share them somewhere else online. As a result, whether you like it or not, you're doing marketing for them. That is really clever. Secondly, even though Pitchfork is this international tastemaker, if I try to think of the names of any of the writers, I just draw a blank.

Exactly. It's just like a unified voice. It's all just like this happy accident. I know a lot of Pitchfork conspiracy theorists and I'm not really one of them. I just think that the format that they happened on really works. There was this great article about the rise of Pitchfork in this arty magazine in the states called N+1. They talked about how Pitchfork isn't really an encyclopaedia of music, you know? It is more an encyclopaedia of taste where somebody can go and feel like they fit into a certain category of music fan, or cultural genre and ask, you know, what should I be liking now? Pitchfork has done all the work for me. I can assume the tastes of this taste making website and have some sort of musical cache; you know?

Kinda like having someone pick out this seasons shirt or sneakers for you?

Right! Exactly! You can just sort of carry that Pitchfork brand around and it's more countercultural? But maybe it is less countercultural than ever right now? It has this sort of wide mass appeal these days. I don't think that is bad. It has just become more powerful than they ever imagined. What can you do with that? You can't blame them. It is a website that was started in a capitalist society where you grow as big as possible; and they have. There is just an awareness you need to have as a music listener and a music fan - Pitchfork is not necessarily correct all the time. The quality of music doesn't stop and end with them. It is important to remember that as a musician as well. We could very well get a terrible review on our next record and it shouldn't make us stop making music, you know? That has happened in some cases. It's like the bible you know? It's a good book, but it's not the only book.

Tell me about any association you have with New Zealand?

We are all giant fans of the Flying Nun record label and affiliated acts. So that is a pretty direct musical association. We've been there also. We were there last year. We played in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. We had a really wonderful time. I guess that is as far as our association goes.


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