New Jersey indie poppers Real Estate have plenty of connections to the scrappy lo-fi scene: they've released music on Underwater Peoples and are recording their debut LP for Woodsist, they're led by former Titus Andronicus member Martin Courtney, and guitarist Matt Mondanile also records as Ducktails. But perhaps more than most of the artists in their immediate circle, Real Estate specialize in hazy, shimmery summertime pop music. Rather than using tape hiss as a punk affectation, Real Estate's muffled sound lends their songs a dreamy, faraway oldies radio feeling. Their songs don't bash, they unwind gently.
Recently, we spoke with Courtney about suburbia, Weezer, and how songs sound more modern when you pile on the effects.
Pitchfork: How did the band come together?
Martin Courtney: We all went to high school together. And we've been playing together forever. Me, Matt [Mondanile], [bassist Alex] Bleeker, and Etienne [Duguay, drums], we were all in a band together two or three years ago with our friend Julian Lynch. They went on a big tour and everything. I didn't go with them. And even before then, I've been playing in bands with Bleeker since like ninth grade. I played in a Weezer cover band [laughs] with Matt in high school.
We've all been playing music together for a really long time, so this band came together last summer when I came back. I had gone to school out in Olympia, Washington, and I moved back here. We were all in the area, and we started playing music in my parents' basement. We were playing songs that I wrote, and we were just kind of jamming on ideas that I had and other people's ideas. We played our first show in October. So it basically came together last summer, I guess, just trying to start a band with a summer-type vibe.
Pitchfork: What was the Weezer cover band called?
MC: Blue Album Band, I guess? We covered the Blue Album. We did the whole record, and we did it at this party at our friend's house. It turned out to be a pretty big party. 200 kids came, which was kind of a pretty big deal for high school. We only did it for one day. We also did a Strokes cover band, and we played at Cassie's. Cassie [Ramone] from the Vivian Girls-- We played at her Sweet 16 birthday party.
Pitchfork: Did you dress like Weezer and the Strokes for those shows?
MC: Not really. In general, we tried to emulate that style. We tried to be cool high school kids.
Pitchfork: You write a lot about the beach. What led you to that?
MC: I don't know. We started the band in the summer. We figured it's good for a band is to have a certain aesthetic, and we really didn't know what our aesthetic was going to be. Especially for me, because I'm writing lyrics, I'm trying to think of things to think about while I'm writing the words. So, I don't know, we were just having a really great time last summer, and that's just sort of what happened. The songs came together and all had a similar vibe to them, and it just happened like that. Then we threw some beach stuff in there because, well, who doesn't like the beach?
But I think the vibe that's a little more solid behind all the songs is more a nostalgic kind of growing-up-in-the-suburbs type thing. The summer is always the best time in the suburbs because you don't have to go to school and you have free reign over the town. We had all been away for four years, so coming back together and playing music together at that point, we were all feeling nostalgic for when we were hanging out in high school. That kind of crept into the music. So the summer plays into that, but it's really just more a growing-up type feeling for the band. The beach thing is something that got latched onto. I mean, we probably played it up a little bit, I'm sure. But at this point-- I mean, it's cool, but it's not totally us. We didn't spend every day at the beach or anything like that. [laughs] We go there sometimes. I mean, we're from Jersey, so we go to Jersey shore every once in a while. But it's more part of the whole package of good vibes.
Pitchfork: There's almost an oldies radio-like innocence to your music. Is that something that you've been going for?
MC: We try to be influenced by really classic songwriting, so I can see the oldies influence. We try to write songs that are just classic pop songs and then stretch out certain sections of them to make it a little bit jammier or to emphasize things that wouldn't normally be emphasized in your average classic rock song, to try to make it a little bit different or a little bit more up-to-date. You can write a pop song and put a bunch of effects on everything, and it'll make it sound a little bit more modern. We just try to keep everything sounding sort of spaced out and underwater.
Pitchfork: Do you all still live in the suburbs?
MC: I live in Jersey City now, but I go home. My parents still live in Ridgewood, so I'm there frequently. Matt still lives there with his parents. We grew up a block away from each other. When we met in high school, we realized that we lived pretty much right around the corner from each other. He still lives there, and Bleeker lives one town over in Midland Park. Etienne, our drummer, lives at the Market Hotel in Brooklyn. So half us live in the suburbs, and half of us don't.
"Green River" from the "Fake Blues" 7", out July 20 on Half Machine (UK only