NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION had the chance to sit, or rather slouch, down with Matt Mondanile and Martin Courtney from Ridgewood, members of New Jersey indie pop outfit REAL ESTATE. The band has been giving press interviews all day, they are in Europe for a week on a quick promo tour, and the long days of traveling and the crushing effect of jet lag are apparent in both band members faces as I reach them for the last interview of the day.
First arriving on the scene in 2009 with their self-titled debut, REAL ESTATE traffics in the sunshiny, surf-guitar lade carefree songs that could only come out of the shiny surface, no-obvious-problems-here American suburbs. Interviewing this band, you realize that to bring this kind of sound to the world, you probably don’t have a ton of gripping stories to relate about your life on the razors edge blowing coke with models. When you write earnest, straightforward pop you’ll find earnest, straight forward guys. So while they were reticent to share any debaucherous anecdotes from a party they attended hosted by R. KELLY, they were happy to talk about the process of making their recent album Atlas, recording in Chicago, and the fact that they’ve never cancelled a show.
Who is the main songwriter?
MC: I am.
What’s with the geography references (real estate, atlas) in your band name and album name?
MC: A lot of songs on the record have reference to travelling and kind of thinking about future plans. The idea of navigation and navigating you future. That is when the idea of maps and atlas is kind of a splinter from that idea.
How much of your personal life is reflected in your songwriting?
MC: I always think …at least personally when I write lyrics, it’s probably out of fear of getting too personal, it’s easier to write songs that are based on my life and reality but from a perspective that is anonymous enough that people could apply to their own life.
So making it accessible to more people?
MC: It’s not on purpose, just a product of how I write.
Have you ever had anybody read into a song and just get the meaning totally off the mark?
MC: I have, whenever that happens I’m like “No, but that’s cool if that’s what you see in that song.”
Any interesting recording stories? Anyone get drunk and break something? Anything that went horribly wrong? You got to go to some interesting places to record this album, including Wilco’s studio in Chicago.
MC: We mostly recorded it WILCO’s studio..
MM: Bleeker and I went to party with R Kelly.
In Chicago? What was that like?
MM: It was pretty cool. We ended up going to his studio for a private after party. But that doesn’t really have to do with the record, it’s just a tidbit.
A stand-out track on ‘Atlas’ is ‘April’s Song’. Is there anything you want to tell me about that one?
MC: Matt wrote that one, actually.
MM: [stops looking at phone and pipes up] I wrote that song, it’s cool that you like it.
Is it about a girl named April or the month?
MM: It was written in the month of April, on April 14th, but I changed it to April because, I don’t know, it sounded nice.
So there is this sweet, loving melodic pop aspect element to your sound. In your opinion, for quality song writing do you have to have been in love, do you have to be currently in love, or do you have to have love always just out of your reach?
MC: I don’t know. I mean, I can’t..get into other people’s heads. I mean if you want to write a song, you write a song, you know?
What have been some key times for the band?
MC: That’s a tough question. I don’t know, I guess the time we took off to write this record.
What about being from New Jersey is important? How does it influence you guys?
MC: It’s very important because that’s where we met and that’s where we started. There are bands that we like, like YO LA TENGO and BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. We have been playing in our hometown every summer for this benefit show. We have friends that also make music and I think it’s cool now that we can be considered part of that lexicon. We’ve held on to that, and we put it out there that we are from New Jersey.
What was your worst show ever?
MC: The one that popped into my head was this show in Dresden. It was worst for [Alex] Bleeker our bass player. He had some weird virus, just deathly ill and in bed. We were playing in this venue which had this whole vibe, that was this 1970s German style, it had never been updated or renovated. It was cold and the middle of winter. We were staying in a lofted bed, all of us in a row, 2 feet from the ceiling, and Bleeker is just in bed sweating, coughing and dying sick. We were like “Forget it, we should just cancel the show” but and he said no and insisted. He got up five minutes before we played, he got up, played the the show and then went right back to bed.
That sounds like dedication.
MC: We’ve never cancelled a show.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
MC: [looks at Matt] We are deep in thought right now.
MM: Hope and passion, doing your life, being earnest, as well as you can.
MC: It’s like our music, taking in passionately and seriously.