Alex Bleeker: Real Estate, Pinocchio and Phish
Alex Bleeker is best known as the personable bassist on the rising indie-psych band Real Estate. Bleeker is also a trained actor, who studied the performing arts for years as an undergraduate student at Vermont’s Bennington College. While at home in Brooklyn while Real Estate works on its sophomore studio album, Bleeker combined his two loves by composing the score for a Manhattan theatrical presentation of The Assassins Chase Pinocchio. Along with Woods keyboardist G. Lucas Crane, Bleeker not only worked on a score that nodded to his background in improvisation but also his roots in the improvisational jamband world. On the eve of the play’s opening Bleeker discussed the making of Assassins Chase of Pinocchio, the new Real Estate album and his formative experiences at Phish shows.
Can you talk about your background in theatre and how you became involved with Assassins Chase of Pinocchio ?
I’ve been doing theater and theater-related projects for a long time. I started as an actor and I actually went to college to study theater. And then while I was in college I got into more avant-garde, experimental theatre and stuff that involved multimedia projections and sound and video type stuff that was incorporated into live performance. So I got really into that kind of stuff and started doing some of it in New York when I graduated college. That was right around the time that Real Estate was getting started.
I always played music and I always played in a band, but I never studied it academically. Theater was the art form that I was pursuing more actively at the time. I’ve always had sort of, no pun intended, a nose for theater, I guess. But then the band started to take off and it was with my best friends and definitely another dream and an artistic pursuit of mine. So I just started following that one with more intention these days.
And then I met Max and the rest of the company at Immediate Medium—who’s putting on the production—sort of randomly, actually. I went back to my high school to do a reading for charity with all of these different alumni who are all involved in the theatre and the arts today. And one of the guys who was in the reading with me—his girlfriend—is a member of this company that I’m working with now.
She and I got to talking afterwards at a bar and realized that we have similar avant-garde experimental theatre ideas. She invited me to work on this one project—that I didn’t end up working on—and I met Max through that. He worked for some PR company or something and he was interested in music and heard I was in Real estate and was interested in that. So we kept up a relationship and when he needed music for this play he asked me. So that’s basically how it happened. And I brought Lucas from Woods into it.
What was your approach in crafting the score?
They would give us vague, general sort of visual guidelines, which is cool because you don’t often think of plays as having a score unless it’s a musical. So I kind of feel like the work that we did was more similar to a movie score where they need the music to invoke a certain theme or to invoke a type of imagery that goes along with something that’s happening cinematically within the play.
They gave us a bunch of source material saying “we like stuff like this,” but they were also like, “we need music for running.” And so Lucas and I would be like “Let’s do a running jam. What does running sound like to us?” And it turned into this appreciated synth, Miami-vice chase scene kind of vibe, but fucked with a little bit. So it was that kind of thing. We’d jam “running” for 20 minutes and then decided “this works, this doesn’t work…etc”
Is it a prerecorded score or will you be performing it live?
For most of the performances it’s going to be stuff that we have prerecorded. Then Lucas and I have plans to cut up pieces of our favorite stuff from the score that we made and put it out on a record. So we’ll be using those recordings that we did. But we are talking about getting together for two or three special performances where we perform live.
Did you bring similar influences to this project as you do your with own bands?
Yeah, I think Lucas and I both did. There were essentially two components they were looking for. One was really abstract, weird, folky experimental noisy kind of stuff and then they need a couple of songs, or more formal compositions. Lucas particularly is really good at the ambient noise thing and I think both of our inclinations are to the experimental, psychedelic side of things. So more of the compositions and songs would begin with me and then more of the ambient abstract stuff would begin with Lucas. And then both of us would meet in the middle.
I brought the pop sensibility of stuff that I do in Real Estate and my solo work to the project, and also that psych-pop, weird alternative folky type-thing. And then Lucas helped to make it all the more deranged.
What were some specific influences that played a part in creating this music?
For this one a lot of it came from us, and a lot of it came from stuff that they gave us that they were interested in. But there was this early analog-synthy thing that we were influenced by. There’s a lot of John Hammer in there and then there’s a guy named Bruce Haack. It’s kind of intended for children, so Bruce Haack really fits into that mold. He did a lot of really early electronic music with a lot of synth and instruments and drum machines and programs he created when it was really new technology. So it all has this air of [robot voice] “Welcome to the Future.” Kind of cheesy, but it’s really cool. He actually wound up doing a lot of children’s scores. He had this nutty-professor children’s persona, but it was kind of dark and sexual and bizarre. So that was a cool starting point for us because we wanted to look at both sides of the coin of what could be a weird kids show with weird kids music.
What can people expect going into this non-traditional take on a classic children’s performance?
I think people can expect a stream of self-consciousness Pinocchio, because Pinocchio was very free-flowing and dreamlike. There are some parts of your self-conscious that are very pleasant and ethereal and then some parts that are a bit scary. I’d call it almost a dream-state Pinocchio. There are live projections and live-sound beyond the music we made to enhance the entire performance.