With three studio albums now lining their discography, Brooklyn-via-New-Jersey jangle-rockers Real Estate are mainstays of the American indie music scene. Yet, according to bassist Alex Bleeker (also of Alex Bleeker & The Freaks), the status of guitar-rock bands in indie music has shifted to that of the underdog, in a domain largely dominated by electronic music.
Even over a crackly phone line, he sounds calm for someone closing out the first night of Illinois’ Pygmalion Festival in just a few hours. “Right now we feel like there’s a community of rock musicians, the rock bands, and we all sort of know each other,” Bleeker says, cheerfully. “We’re kind of the underdogs here [laughs], which is an interesting thing to feel.”
“More electronic music is much more popular than guitar rock music in this musical climate, and so it’s almost like we’ve become this throwback or revivalist band because we’re this sort of old-school rock band, and our music is retro in that way. Which is cool!” he says, raising his pitch in pop-rock optimism.
So what shall become of rock music? Will it rise, Lazarus-like, to reclaim the self-awarded cultural throne from which it appears to have slipped? “Part of me thinks that rock music is almost going to become like classical music, in that it’s part of the lexicon and will always be there, and people will turn to it and it’ll make them feel good,” Bleeker says.
Real Estate still feel limited by convenient but pesky labels like ‘beach band’ or ‘nostalgic’. Those tags may have stemmed from the group’s bright and warm aesthetic, but now only serve to box them in. “It just feels like lazy journalism to me,” Bleeker says. “People get an assignment to write about us, and then they Google us and then that’s what’s written about us in every article.
“So it’s this self-generating thing of ‘Real Estate’s a beach band’, which I don’t know if anyone would say that about our most recent album. There’s elements of it in there, but it’s just funny because it’s a self-fulfilling thing. It’s cyclical journalism.”
Real Estate are spending much of 2014 touring in support of their third full-length release, Atlas. Upon release in February this year, the album highlighted frontman Martin Courtney’s most mature lyricism to date. Coupled with Real Estate’s highest-fidelity and crispest-sounding studio recordings yet, Atlas was instantly captivating.
What lies at the core of the album, though, is a heavy sense of maturation tied to the realities of adult life. Real Estate, still largely in their late 20s, are increasingly fixated on the effects of time and responsibility.
“I feel older than I did when we did the first album,” Bleeker says. “Martin [Courtney] has got a baby now. So now every time we’re on the road Martin’s away from his baby, which is not something you’re really caring about when you’re 23. You’re just so excited to be on tour and go wild and party and [be] crazy and meet new people.
“Now we eat healthy food [laughs], stay healthy and live a good lifestyle whilst we’re touring, rather than a raging party all the time. So in that sense I feel older, or just maybe more mature or something…But I can’t even relate [with Martin] because I’ve never had that type of experience, of having a child. It’s definitely a significant shift in his life, for sure.”
With self-professed “worrier” Courtney now a father (though he’s still “the same old Martin”, Bleeker assures me) Real Estate’s thematic concerns are shifting towards typically anti-rock concepts like rewarding long-term relationships and the requirements of 21st century suburban life. “I really romanticise that kind of domesticity,” Bleeker admits.
“But then I feel like I’ll miss being a wild dog too [laughs] Lately I have been craving a more mellow lifestyle. I’ve been thinking about leaving the city and just going some place beautiful. I miss waking up some place beautiful and calm everyday. I haven’t had that kind of life in a while.”