Real Estate; Tweedy, Jerry and a New Altas
At this point, Real Estate’s sound is pretty recognizable as Real Estate: that high-pitched electric, a shuffling beat. Do you remember the first time you guys created that sound? Did you know you were on to something?
Alex: It happened in the basement of Martin’s parents house in the summer of 2008. We’d just graduated from college, and we were all living at our parents’ places in New Jersey. That’s already written into the narrative of this band. (Original drummer) Etienne (Pierre Duguay) was there. We were drinking a lot of vodka in Martin’s pool, for some reason. We’d been away at college for years, and we were having this no-parents night back at home. It felt weirdly liberating.
We had gear set up in the basement, and decided to go jam. We started playing what wound up as “Suburban Beverage” (from their self-titled debut). That was the moment Real Estate started, the moment we found that sound.
Martin, I understand you’re expecting your first child. First off, mazel tov. How important will music be to the way you bring up your son or daughter?
Martin: You don’t want to force anything on anybody, but of course — I like to play music for my wife and for the child to hear. I didn’t necessarily grow up with too much music; my dad loves classical, but I didn’t grow up where music was playing all the time. I discovered my type of music by myself. Everyone finds his own way. But I won’t stop playing whatever music I like in my house. And hopefully, my kid will like it too.
Alex, I know that you have long been into the Dead, Phish and the like. Do you feel like the spirit and freedom of those bands shows up in your music?
Alex: I try to frame that sense of possibility in the live performance. Not that we’ll jam quite as extensively. We’ll have moments of spontaneity on stage that those bands bring, but what puts it over the top for me how special and completely unique all the live shows can be from one another. Each show is a live event. I never want us to play the same set twice in a row. There are a lot of bands in our indie realm that make a set list for the tour, and just play it every show. Nothing could be worse for me — it’s like a play. The lines are written, composed. I won’t stand for that.
And everyone agrees, it’s not just me pushing. I don’t want to regurgitate what we do on the record. I want fans to experience it with us. We have the ability to land on special things some nights. When that happens, like a great Dead show, you can tell. Maybe Bobby did a little extra run; you can tell when the band is feeling it. That happens with us too. Even if it’s imperceptible to the crowd, we can feel new things happening. That’s the whole thing for me — that makes it all worthwhile.
There’s a song on this record that we called “Phil ’72,” its informal title. The bass line reminded us so much of a Dead song. In songwriting, we see a bit of influence from the Dead. But the spirit carries over to the live show.
It often seems like the fans of jambands and indie rock don’t mix, but Real Estate holds some appeal for both. Why do you think indie fans, and especially indie publications and blogs, seem so turned off by jambands and improvisation?
Alex: I love Phish. I’ve been to 25 shows; but on the same token, I can see why somebody says ‘This isn’t for me.’ But when you talk about the Dead, there’s such a cannon of incredible songwriting, standout American music. You have fans of CSNY who say “Fuck the Grateful Dead.” The music comes from such a similar scene and attitude! There’s no reason to feel that way except for social stigmas. Say you grew up a Black Flag fan; you were told the Dead was a separate camp. But people who really understand the philosophy of both bands understand that there’s not much of a difference. Both are about freedom of spirit and not being judgmental. To place yourself above the Dead, as some higher art form, is just elitism. They’re not actually listening.
And yet, when a band like The National or you guys talk about loving the Dead or Phish, it’s suddenly okay. Does it bother you that people are so hesitant to jump in until a band they like sort of, says it’s okay?
Alex: It’s happening now more than ever. But however people will get turned on to the music, it’s cool. And yet, all of a sudden artists want to be part of The National’s Dead cover album.
Martin: It’s like with Animal Collective; they sampled The Dead. Or Cass McCombs, who plays with members of Bob Weir’s band. They’re part of both scenes. So when websites won’t want to cover something until a band they respect makes it alright… it’s snobbery. It’s a weird cultural thing. The thing is about the whole (jamband) scene — that’s the dream! To have people that are so dedicated.
Alex, like me, you’re a young Dead fan. You never saw Jerry play. What do you say to people who question your love of a band who haven’t had the complete lineup in 20 years?
Alex: No, I never saw Jerry. I wasn’t a three-year-old in the parking lot. But I wasn’t alive when Shakespeare was writing plays, or when Beethoven was creating symphonies, right? That theory just doesn’t hold up for me.
Phish, of course, is more of our generation. Did you catch any shows last year?
I saw a bunch this summer—the entire SPAC run and two of Chicago shows. We were recording in the city at the time. Two of fall shows. Two MSG shows; a bunch more. The first shows I saw were original comeback shows in the early 2000s [Dec. 31, 2002], and maybe it’s controversial—or maybe not—but I think they’re the best they’ve ever been. I didn’t see any original Phish 1.0 shows, those hallowed shows, but I’ve been seeing them for 12 years. I’ve seen some good ones.