Real Estate

In Hushed Tones

Jul 17, 2017 Photography by Shawn Brackbill Issue #60 - Father John Misty
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Martin Courtney chooses his words carefully-or at least his volume. Currently en route to pick up his daughter from daycare, he keeps his voice down so as not to wake his other daughter, a six-month-old who is dozing in the backseat. "Hopefully she doesn't lose it," he says softly, as she begins to stir. These have been years of transition for the Real Estate lead singer and songwriter, not just personally but professionally. In addition to becoming a father twice, releasing his first solo album (2015's Many Moons), and moving from Brooklyn to upstate New York, Courtney has been busy refining his craft over each of Real Estate's three increasingly ambitious releases. But as the band seemed poised to move to the next stage of their development, lead guitarist and founding member Matt Mondanile split to focus on his Ducktails project. For the first time in their history, they had to deal with an existential crisis.

"Let me put it this way: it made sense," Courtney says quietly. "As much as maybe it doesn't make sense from the outside, it was the right thing for everybody. So it was definitely more mutual than it seemed from the outside. All in all, it just felt like a good thing, basically." With Mondanile gone, when the remaining four members (Courtney, bassist Alex Bleeker, drummer Jackson Pollis, and keyboardist Matt Kallman) reconvened in January of 2016 at a converted high school near Courtney's home to begin writing the songs that would make up their fourth full-length release, In Mind, they were doing so without a lead guitarist. As a result, the spaces where Mondanile's guitar would have been were quickly filled with keyboards and extra textures, leading to a fuller, more dynamic sound. But if they were going to continue on as a functioning band, they still needed a lead guitarist. Enter Julian Lynch, an experimental songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with four acclaimed solo albums, who Courtney and Bleeker have known since they were classmates in the eighth grade. His presence immediately changed the creative complexion of the band.

Sharing much conceptual ground with 2014's moody Atlas, Real Estate's new batch of songs are cleaner, leaner, and, at times, more immediate than anything in their catalog. Much of that is due to Lynch's expressive, precise guitar work, with his dynamic playing pulling the band toward classic rock reference points such The Byrds ("Saturday"), The Left Banke ("Stained Glass"), and Big Star ("Darling") and away from their usual nods to Yo La Tengo and The Feelies. Even so, with producer Cole M.G.N. (Beck, Julia Holter) adding electronic beats and brightening the textures, it's also their most modern sounding album. Add in Courtney's decidedly overcast lyrics-many of which express the sort of boredom and restlessness that must naturally accompany driving infants back and forth to daycare-and you have a thematically varied, texturally adventurous release.

"The word that keeps coming up is 'experimental,' but I don't like that," Courtney says. "Obviously, it's not experimental music; it's pop music. But I think for us it was experimental, just in trying to get new sounds and getting it to feel loose and free. Atlas doesn't feel loose to me. It feels really well-rehearsed. I'm proud of that record, because we put a lot of work into it. We put a ton of work into In Mind, too, but it felt like a freer process," he says, pulling up to his daughter's preschool. "There aren't too many points on this record where I cringe."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2017 Issue (April/May/June 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

 

 

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