Real Estate
Rockin’ the Suburbs
by David Holmes

Only a little more than a year ago, Alex Bleeker, Martin Courtney, Etienne Duguay and Matt Mondanile were just four friends reconvening in New Jersey to catch up on old times. But unlike most post-graduate reunions, theirs spawned a band with a winning batch of effortlessly catchy paeans to summer in the suburbs. The 10 songs on Real Estate’s self-titled debut (out November 17 on Woodsist) dream of beaches and lakes, but are firmly set in the comfortable yet insular world of America’s residential environs. Though instead of treating suburbia as an easy target, as film and literature have done for as long as the suburbs have existed, Real Estate’s songs capture the unique rush of security and nostalgia that anyone who’s ever moved back in with their parents knows all too well.

I recently caught up with lead singer/guitarist Martin Courtney to discuss the prevalence of Weezer cover bands, to sing the praises of reverb, and to wonder why more bands don’t own up to their suburban roots.

First off, the album does a great job of evoking summers past. How did personal feelings of nostalgia play into writing the songs on this album?

Martin Courtney: Well, a lot of the songs were written around the same time last year, right before we started the band. I’d just moved home for the first time in four years, and we were all kind of hanging out more than we had been in a long time. So it kind of felt like we were “regressing” a little bit (laughs). It just felt like high school so I was feeling a bit nostalgic. But to me, the songs evoke the time that they were written, the summer of ’08.

If you had to choose, would you have preferred to release the album in the summertime instead of mid-November?

MC: I don’t know. The goal was to have it come out in the summer, and we were bummed that it got pushed back to the fall. But I think actually I’m kind of glad that it’s coming out in the fall because that feeling of nostalgia will be that much more pronounced for people, and we won’t just be capitalizing on the season.

A lot of bands who write about suburbia tend to do so in a disparaging or satirical way, but your songs engage with the topic in a more complex way. What are your thoughts on growing up in suburbia?

MC: We were always aware of where we were growing up. The town that we grew up in is upper-middle class white suburbia, really generic whitebread style. So we got to a point where we all hated it for a while. But the place where we all grew up is really pretty. When we were practicing there after not having been there for a while, it gave me a new appreciation for the town. And the other thing is, what else are we going to write about it? We just wanted to be true to where we were from. We’re not going to pretend we’re from Brooklyn or something. We’re from Jersey and that’s just how it is.

It’s really refreshing to hear an album like that.

MC: I think that’s something people wanted to hear. You don’t really hear the suburbs get represented too much in indie music, which is weird because probably 90% of the people who play in indie bands are from the suburbs.

You talked to some extent about making the music sound like it’s underwater. What is it about that submerged sound that appeals to you?

MC: I’ve been writing and recording songs for a couple years and only pretty recently did I start to experiment with different effects and reverb. When we started playing together, we realized that the more effects we used the better we sounded. So it’s not like we’re literally trying to sound like we’re underwater, but it does go well with some of the words which are water-oriented. The guy we recorded the album with, our friend Sam, kept making fun of us because we told him to put reverb on everything. “More reverb on this song, more reverb on that song!”

I read that you used to play whole Weezer albums and whole Strokes albums at shows. What’s the appeal of playing those records straight through?

MC: (laughs) I don’t know, we were like 15 when we did the Weezer album, and the same with the Strokes. We were in high school and we were nerds who loved music. We all played in bands together, but I think at that point, none of us were really confident in our own songwriting skills so we played a lot of covers. When our friend had a party, we thought it’d be fun to do the whole Blue Album.

I’ve seen two Weezer cover bands in the past two years just in Columbus. They are pretty prevalent.

MC: Yeah, it’s really funny. And then with the Strokes thing, we were playing at a sweet 16 party for Cassie of the Vivian Girls. She asked us to make a band and so we were like, “Let’s cover the entire Strokes album.” That must have been around when it came out and we were really really obsessed with it.

So you’re about to embark on a national tour. Will this be your first time playing outside of the eastern United States?

MC: Pretty much. We went to Austin for South by Southwest. Other than that, Cleveland is the farthest west we’ve gone so far. This will be our first time going out to the West Coast. I’m really excited for that.

Have you written any new songs since finishing up the album?

MC: Yeah. We have an EP coming out on Mexican Summer, probably not long after the album comes out. It will be six songs. They’re all new except for one of them, which is the first song I ever wrote.

Would you say the new songs are pretty much in the same vein as the old ones or are you moving in any new directions?

MC: Lyrically maybe. I’ve been trying to stay away from too much stuff about the beach. I’m trying to be slightly more “real.” Like I said, the lyrics about suburbia were definitely based on personal experience, but since we were going for this summery vibe, there are some beachy songs on there that aren’t necessarily reflective of my life in any way. So I’m just trying to make the lyrics a little more reflective of my reality.