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Real Estate

Interview — Mohamed Sqalli
Photography — Jean-Baptiste Sinniger


Real Estate are among the most acclaimed bands this year. Yet, this frenzy around them doesn't make them forget about their teenage years in New Jersey which, they say, laid the foundations of their musical journey.

In the beginning of the year, you released your third studio album. Tell me a little bit about the circumstances in which this album was conceived.

Martin: We wrote it in a more collaborative process this time even if I wrote most of the songs. It was written last year and then we worked on it a couple of months.

Alex: We took a break from touring on our previous album, Days and we got together to write this album. We did it in different sections, different groups of people before gathering all together and starting to demo the songs. We had the songs written before going to the studio in July 2013. It was recorded in Chicago in a studio called The Loft, which is Wilco’s home studio.

What's new in this album compared to Days?

Alex: There’s a drum machine in a song (laughing), and we recorded it live mostly.

Matt: Yeah, and it’s our first album with Jackson (Pollis) and Matt (Kallman)!



To what extent do you feel close to your Philadelphia neighbors The War On Drugs and Kurt Vile and The Violators?

Martin: We toured with Kurt Vile a couple of years ago so we met Adam (Granduciel, from The War On Drugs), who was in The Violators for a long time. They’re friends of ours.

Matt: I feel very close to Adam.

Alex: He’s been texting me a lot. Cause Adam’s album was coming up at the same time, and he was like (imitating Adam Granduciel) “that’s cool man, it sounds awesome. Give it to me, let’s trade!”. Kurt is a little bit more of a hater … But I feel very close to him too.

Martin: Kurt’s cool. Adam’s just more outwardly friendly, I guess.

I ask you this question because I have the impression that you have in common this very American thing in your music, some kind of mental journey into wide-open spaces. Do you agree with that?

Martin: Yeah, I think it comes out in some of the songs. We toured a lot on Days, and maybe this reflected on the lyrics.

In concrete terms, I'm talking about these long instrumental sequences in which guitar loops are played, inspiring the idea of movement.

Martin: Well, I think especially the first song on the record sounds like a wide-open space. It can be a driving song. I don’t think it’s something that you’re making up, it’s there for sure.




This makes me think that touring is something you like…

Martin: Not really … Well, it’s more of a love hate relationship. But I like it right now.

The cover of “Atlas” represents New Jersey's iconic Alexander's Mural. It seems like, even if you moved to Brooklyn, you don't forget your good old New Jersey.

Martin Courtney: Not all of us are from there, but Alex, Matt and me are. I feel that the choice to use that mural on the cover has a lot of reasons, but it’s also just a cool image even if a lot of memories are attached to it for sure.

Can you tell us more about the place and the social background you grew up in?

Alex: To get a good sense of at least the surface of it, you’ve got to figure out American teen movies, that kind of town you can see in John Hughes’ movies … like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Sixteen Candles. Even Election, with Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. In fact, the movie Election was based on our high school. Growing up in that high school with Martin and Matt was pretty much like the movie Superbad for me.

Oh, so were you Seth (played by Jonah Hill) or Ethan (played by Michael Cera)?

Alex Bleeker: Definitely Seth, the fat one… Martin was Micheal Cera … and Matt was McLuvin (laughing)




How did this environment nurture your music?

Martin: It had a lot of influence on it. Literally, we played a lot of music in high school, so that was an important first step for us. And also, just having parents who were supportive, buying us guitars and things was great.

Matt: It was cool because in New Jersey we had this very sheltered, safe and confortable existence but also really close to the cultural influence of New York City. This combination made it a great place to grow up.

I have never been in New Jersey, and to be honest, we hear a lot of things about this place, without knowing if it's true or false. So, I'm going to tell you a few allegations and you're going to tell me if they’re true or not.

You live within 20 minutes of at least three different malls.

The whole band: True, very true.

Most of the state is farmland.

Alex: True. But farmland is rapidly turning into malls. (laughing)

Every year at school, you have at least one kid in your class named Tony.

Martin: It’s Matt’s real name!

Alex: No, it’s not that common. But this reputation must be because of Tony Soprano or something.

Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi are considered as gods among men.

The whole band: True, very true.

You consider them as gods too?

Matt: Not Bon Jovi…

Alex (imitating Jon Bon Jovi): Bow wow wow …




Why is the band called Real Estate, except to make it hard to find on Google?

Matt: Martin’s parents own a real estate business, and when we were forming the band, we’d all finished college and we had no idea to do with our lives. We didn’t want to get jobs and we didn’t know how to, but Martin was about to become an estate agent.

Martin: Yeah, I got it but I never released it, and I don’t have one anymore cause it’s lapsed.

Alex: We were invited for dinner at Martin’s and Martin’s mom said something like “guys, if you get your real estate licenses, we’ll hire all of you. You can work for us”. And we were like “wouldn’t it be fun if we were real estate agents by day and the night we had a band that we would call Real Estate?” It was a joke, and then it stuck.

How would you like Real Estate to be remembered ? Do you sometimes think of the legacy of your music?

Martin: I guess. I definitely think about it since I would like us to keep putting out records. It’s like “cool, we have 3 records now”. It think about how it would be nice to have, you know, many more records in the future and have this large body of work to look back on.

Do you agree with me if I say that a Real Estate song has become quite easy to recognize, with that very dreamy sound?

Martin (asking Alex): Yeah, how did we come up with this sound?

Matt (talking to Martin): I think we both decided to play clean guitar with delay.

Martin: I was writing songs and we were talking about starting a band… We were talking about delay. But there are also some unconscious choices, just brought there by our styles as musicians playing together. When you plug a pedal to a guitar, that’s like a choice that you make but the melodies that we play and the songs that we write … we just couldn’t do any differently, you know…

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