Despite having found their niche, Real Estate are anything but formulaic
26.02.2020

Despite having found their niche, Real Estate are anything but formulaic

Words by David James Young

By the time Real Estate’s fifth album The Main Thing hits shelves on Friday February 28, it will have been almost exactly three years since their last studio effort.

That album, In Mind, came almost exactly three years after the album before that. You’d be forgiven for thinking the jangle-pop veterans existed on some sort of cycle, but they’re quick to dispel that idea.

“This came together a lot quicker than people probably realise,” says Martin Courtney, Real Estate’s vocalist, guitarist and songwriter. “We started work on this sooner after releasing our last record than any time before that.

“I remember making the decision I didn’t want to have a large gap – ideally, I wanted a record out a year later. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way, but I’d sat down and started writing within six months of In Mind coming out.”

One of the key factors in the relative delays of Real Estate’s creative process is the long-distance relationship set up within the band. Originally forming back in 2009, only Courtney and bassist Alex Bleeker remain from the band’s initial formation.

“Alex lives in California, Julian [Lynch, guitarist] lives in Wisconsin, Matt [Kallman, keyboardist] and Jackson [Pollis, drummer] live in New York City and I live about an hour-and-a-half out of New York City,” Courtney explains.

“We don’t get to come together to work on stuff in the same room all that often. What will happen is I’ll sit and write a set of lyrics and a chord progression, maybe record a demo for posterity in the process. I always try and leave it pretty bare, more open, so when the other guys hear it they can get creative with how they want to fill out the rest of it.”

For better or worse, Real Estate have carved a niche for themselves within the indie-rock spectrum, wherein there is a degree of wriggle room but still a certain aesthetic that allows their songs to uniformly present as identifiably theirs. While Courtney appreciates there is potential for the band to fall into a holding pattern, he has learned to trust in the process.

“I honestly don’t worry about it so much,” he says. “To be honest, I feel really lucky we have a sound that’s recognisable. I think that’s great – it’s better than sounding like nothing in particular. That said, when we put out the first single for this record, people seemed to agree it seemed like something new for us. I’m happy about that, albeit a little surprised – maybe because I’ve been sitting with it for so long.”

The song in question was ‘Paper Cup’, which features vocals from fellow indie star Amelia Meath – best known for her work in electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso. As it turns out, Meath is a longtime friend of the band’s. “Alex went to college with her, so we’ve known her for a long time,” Courtney explains. “Alex had an idea for a vocal harmony and thought it would be cool if a girl sang on it. I agreed – I thought that kind of counterpart to my voice would be really nice.”

In the early stages of the collaboration, Courtney showed a degree of concern from profiteering off Meath’s name despite her long-time friendship with the group. Thankfully, however, the vocalist was quick to alleviate any of her friend’s concerns. “She’s kinda famous now,” Courtney explains with nervous laughter.

“Sylvan Esso obviously have their own big following, and it’s so awesome to see her have the success she deserves. I guess I was kind of worried it would come across as taking advantage of her, so I told her straight up we could keep it on the down-low if she wanted. She found that really funny – she was like, ‘Why would we do that? If we’re gonna do this, let’s do it!’ It worked out really well.”

Real Estate’s new album The Main Thing is out Friday February 28 via Domino Recording Co.