If you haven't heard of him, let us introduce you to Real Estate's frontman and lead songwriter Martin Courtney. We caught up with Courtney last week at his show in Detroit and discussed his debut solo album Many Moons, which was released this past October via Domino Records. The album was produced by Jarvis Taveniere of Woods, a Brooklyn-based folk jam band, who Courtney met through a mutual music scene. Below, read up on what Courtney had to tell us about his decision to go solo, his current jams, what’s next for Real Estate, and much more.
What The Sound: Why did you decide to branch off of Real Estate and go solo?
Martin Courtney: Well, we've all written songs since before Real Estate, so technically "Alex Bleeker and the Freaks", that name came after Real Estate but he wrote songs before that. They were just under a different name for that project. Then the same thing, Ducktails started that name, it's just the music that we all kind of… Real Estate was always my primary songwriting output. It's where I put my songs. I also ended up writing most of the songs for Real Estate, so all the other songs that the other dudes wrote would be put towards their other projects. First of all, I'm just friends with Jarvis (Taveniere) and he had an idea to do a series of singles with his friends who are songwriters, so he said "let's do some stuff together". I had actually texted him out of the blue one day to ask him to jam sometime just for fun, so that kind of turned into this. It was like Real Estate had just finished the Atlas record but it wasn't out yet. We were done mixing it but we had a few months before it was going to come out, so if I kept writing songs, which I did, there was no reason for them to be Real Estate songs because if I wrote a song then it wouldn't be on a record for another two years or so. So, I just kept writing songs and put it towards this project and it developed its own kind of style.
WTS: Where was Many Moons produced?
In Brooklyn. A lot of different studios. Jarvis had pretty unlimited access to this one studio and it was really cheap, so we wanted to do something with that. Then, that studio closed and then we recorded some vocals in the Real Estate practice space and then we did some stuff at another weird little studio in the old Pfizer building. Then, we finished the record at this place called Thump in Greenpoint.
WTS: Your new project, Many Moons, is your first solo work outside of Real Estate. Within Real Estate, we know there is Alex Bleeker (Alex Bleeker & The Freaks), Matt Mondanile (Ducktails), and then Matt Kallman... is he in your band right now?
Not on tour, but he played on the record and he'll play the New York show.
WTS: Then, there's Jackson of Real Estate. What’s he up to?
He does stuff. He actually has a project, first it was called Son of Dad now it's called Image Man. He makes more dance music, it's a little more abstract, but he opened for Panda Bear.
WTS: New York based?
Yeah, he grew up in Brooklyn.
WTS: I’m from Seattle. I saw that you attended Evergreen State College in Olympia, and your girlfriend (now wife) at the time lived in Seattle? One of my favorite shows ever was Foxygen, Woods, and Steve Gunn at Neumos two summers ago. I'm sure you've played Neumos in Seattle before?
I have! Only once. We played a bunch of other venues in Seattle but I used to go to shows there a lot in college. That place is nice, and fun.
WTS: As Real Estate, is there a favorite Seattle venue where you performed?
I feel like we probably had the best show at Neumos. I know we played The Crocodile one time. That was kind of cool. We played a place, The Fun House, the first time which was kind of weird. Scary clown decor. They had a basketball hoop out back. But, Neumos was the coolest.
WTS: Who is in your band right now?
It's Jarvis, who produced the album. He plays bass in the band, he also played all the bass on the record, he played some guitar too. Aaron Neveu, who played drums on most of the album, he played 7 songs, he's playing drums tonight. It's funny because I played drums on one song, the first song, then Michael Stasiak (former Widowspeak) played drums on some of the others and he's the drummer for EZTV so it's kind of funny that we're touring with him. Then, the guitar player is this guy Doug Keith. He used to tour with Sharon Van Etten, he's an amazing guitar player who we are lucky to have with us.
WTS: Did you know Keith prior to him joining your tour?
No I didn't! It was weird, I have so many friends who play guitar, I figured it would be easy to have somebody, but it was either that they were all in other bands or busy or have jobs, things they couldn't get away from. So, I found him through mutual management but it worked out really well.
WTS: I know his solo music, Pony. “Pure Gold in the 70's.”
Oh yeah! Wow.
WTS: As for Woods (Jarvis & Aaron’s band) they’ve been one of my favorite groups for quite some time. I started listening to them when I heard "Night Creature". That was one of the first indie rock artists that I really enjoyed. Woods, Wolf Parade, and The Virgins in middle school.
That's crazy. What album is that on?
WTS: An early one. At Rear House. Good music. I wanted to set it as my first ringtone but it was too calm and quiet. I went for "Holly" by Starfucker instead. So, you did that Pavement cover of "Major Leagues" which is awesome. Are you friendly with the guys of Pavement?
No, no, I wish. Ha, I don't know... That's weird. I just like that song and always wanted to cover it.
WTS: Is there any song that you like that you want to cover in the future?
Sure, lots of songs. I've been really into this Shoes song, "Your Very Eyes". 70s band, they're cool. Maybe one day we will cover that. We're trying to learn this Feelies cover, we want to do something. I'm trying to do a song that we can do with EZTV as an encore for the last couple of shows.
WTS: Is there any artist that you've been playing right now while on the road who you really dig, or who you don't think gets enough attention?
Well, that Shoes band but they already broke up, maybe they do some reunion stuff, but they're not new. That Whitney band. Have you heard that?
WTS: Absolutely! "No Woman". From Chicago.
Max from Smith Westerns, a friend of mine. I had seen that he was working on this new project and I had no idea what it sounded like. That song is so good. He told me he was going to send me their record, he hasn't sent it yet.
WTS: Either the other day or this morning, Pitchfork wrote "Best New Track" and I was like, you guys are a little late, but one hundred percent.
That's weird too because I hadn't heard about it until yesterday... Kevin Morby, his new record is on Dead Oceans. He used to be in Woods.
WTS: Your song "Airport Bar", I'm just going to take the title and ask you if you've had any memorable experience in any particular airport bar? If so, where was it?
The weirdest one is this place, Perry's at San Francisco Airport. It's just a weird place, in my mind. It's not weird at all, but I think it's weird. It's all wood-panel, mahogany walls. Black and white tile floors. Outside, when you walk out of the airport, it's all open. There's plastic square hedges. It's a weird place. I got a Cobb salad and Tom Collins there.
WTS: About that Donald Trump promo that you released, a little bit before the show, why not Bernie Sanders? Why Donald Trump?
I just, I don't know why Donald Trump wants to come to the show tonight. It's really cool that... I don't necessarily support him, but he's got a lot of followers. No, I don't know. We kind of have a competition with EZTV for who could make the best fliers. We made an incredible one, they got some guy at this Starbucks to say "Live at Shabbos".
WTS: I don't know if you heard, but Kanye West released this video game about his mother flying into the gates of heaven. I was just curious, being a member of Real Estate, you’re all sort of an all-star cast of individuals, each in your own right great musicians. What kind of video game would you guys have in terms of the history and your roots growing up?
It would probably be in our town, where we grew up, it would be one of those old ones where you scroll, you know? You're walking down the street. We're drinking a beer, and you see the cops are coming and have to dive behind a bush. Stuff like that. And, it's the middle of the night, you've snuck out of your parent's house and you get a call from your mom on your cell phone and it's like: Game Over.
WTS: Is this your first time touring without Real Estate?
I've never been on tour without those guys.
WTS: What has the experience been like without being with Real Estate?
It's awesome. I love touring with them too, but it's kind of fun touring with different people. I know what everybody in Real Estate is going to play, it gets old. So, it's fun hearing everyone else's musical tastes. Then, for me, being able to play songs that I like, where I feel cool because maybe they haven't heard them. That's one of the main things, it's fun to DJ in the band. They're all, it's a great crew. We're all having a lot of fun.
WTS: So, after this tour is over, what's next for you? Martin Courtney? Real Estate?
Pretty soon, right after I get home, we're going to start working on some new Real Estate stuff. We're going to get together, I've been writing a lot. I would love to have an album out this year or early next year. It's gonna happen.