Last year, New Jersey’s Real Estate followed up their stirring self-titled debut album with Days, a release widely acknowledged as one of the year’s finest by music scribes across the country — including those at Pitchfork, which rated the breezy indie rock record among its top ten albums of 2011. That first record conjured sepia-toned images of sun-dappled seaside days and childhood innocence. Similarly, Real Estate’s latest, full of nostalgia for growing up in an American suburb, feels like the musical equivalent of a faded Polaroid.
Seven Days spoke with Real Estate bassist Alex Bleeker by phone, in advance of the band’s upcoming show at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge on Tuesday, January 17.
SEVEN DAYS: The new album is more focused and refined than the first. Was that a conscious effort or simply a product of growing together as band?
ALEX BLEEKER: In general, it is more focused. It’s not so much intentional as it is a product of simply being more focused when we made the record. It was made under different circumstances [than our first album]. The first record was made over a longer, more random period of time, almost entirely home recorded. This time we were in more of a professional studio, releasing it on a larger label [Domino Records]. We had more of a traditional producer, which was a factor. And we were able to dedicate the time to record, and not stop until we were finished, whereas the other record was a rambling process, like, “We’ll finish it when we can.”
SD: Was there any trepidation in working with a producer and putting your baby in someone else’s hands?
AB: In this situation, no. We’ve known [producer] Kevin McMahon [Titus Andronicus, the Walkmen] for years. So there was a trusting relationship there. I would say he has a pretty light touch. He just wants to help you achieve what you want. He’s more of a helpful force than someone who tells us what he thinks we should do.
SD: So he wasn’t like, “This is gonna be an electro-dance track, dammit”?
AB: [Laughs] “We need the hit! Where’s the hit?” No, he was very sensitive to our vision.
SD: You guys grew up together, so I’m guessing this is not the first band you have been in with each other. Tell me about some of your earliest bands.
AB: Martin [Courtney, guitars and vocals] and I have been playing in bands together since we were 13. I think the first band either of us was ever in we started on the last day of eighth grade. And it was a … um, ska band. [Laughs] It was because we were into ska and poppy punk. But also because there were so many of us who wanted to be in a band, we couldn’t really exclude anyone.
SD: So a ska band made perfect sense.
AB: I think there were, like, eight or 10 people in the band — guitar, bass, drums, three different horns, maybe a turntablist at one point. I couldn’t play guitar in it so I was just the singer. That lasted a summer, I think, but obviously couldn’t sustain itself.
SD: What was the name?
AB: Emerson X-Ray Solutions.
SD: Aw, I was hoping for a bad ska pun.
AB: [Laughs] I think pretty ska-y, though, right? Anyway, then we were in a band that just covered songs we liked. We did Weezer and Ben Folds Five, stuff like that. It was early high school. But that band lasted for, like, two years. And we played a lot with a friend’s band called Paperface, which had Julian Lynch, who is now making music under his own name, which is really awesome.
SD: He is pretty awesome.
AB: Yeah. So we carved out our own little music scene that way. So Matt [Mondanile, guitars], Martin and I became really close and we started a band called Hey There Sexy.
SD: Great name.
AB: Thanks. I think that might have been the only band all three of us were in together before Real Estate. During college, we would play together when we were all home, but we couldn’t really be in a band. So after college we started Real Estate.
SD: Do you guys still have day jobs?
AB: We don’t right now. It’s full time now and for as long as it can be, which, hopefully, will be a long time. But it’s the kind of thing where you never really know. After the first album came out, I left my job for a while and we went to Japan on tour. Then I looked at my bank account and was like, “Oh my God, I’m completely broke.” So I got a job for six or seven months — actually while we were recording this record — bussing tables.
SD: Ah, the glamorous rock star life. It must have been a cool feeling to wake up one day and realize that Real Estate was your day job.
AB: It’s a dream come true.
SD: There’s a pervasive sense of nostalgia on both albums, and particularly the first. Where does that come from?
AB: I think, especially on the first record, it came from a point of affection, of hanging out and growing up together in Ridgewood, New Jersey. That was recorded right when we came home from college and were living with our parents. And that’s how we relate to each other. We couldn’t help but conjure old memories of being together in this town. In a lot of ways, it’s a reflection on coming home … after you haven’t lived there for a while and [you’re] realizing everything you’ve been through, and having this mythologized, nostalgic childhood and high school period. And it’s about our relationships with each other. I think that carried over into the songs that we’ve continued writing.
SD: Speaking of looking back, what was your favorite record of 2011?
AB: I think it was Pleasure, by a band called Pure X.
SD: Anything you’re looking forward to in 2012?
AB: I think maybe, just maybe, there’s a new Black Dice record coming out. I know a few people who have heard pieces of it and they say it’s their most accessible record, but it’s also as crazy as it’s supposed to be. I’m excited to hear that.
Real Estate plays the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge with the Babies and Wildlife this Tuesday, January 17. 7:30 p.m. $12. AA.