New Jersey indie rockers Real Estate have returned with their fourth LP, In Mind – the follow up to the critically adored Atlas. In the three-years between albums, frontman Martin Courtney released his debut solo album, guitarist Matt Mondanile spearheaded a Ducktails LP and bassist Alex Bleeker released an album with his band the Freaks. Then in mid-2016 Mondanile announced his departure from Real Estate, with Julian Lynch coming in as his replacement.
It feels like a long time since Atlas’ 2014 release, however Courtney says there was no uncertainty about the band’s future.
“We played shows for Atlas for probably about a year and a half and then we stopped and I definitely took a few months away from really thinking about Real Estate. I was finishing up the solo record at that point. I think it was good to get away from it for a little bit.”
In Mind is neither a repeat of Atlas nor a rehash of the band’s earlier two albums. But despite Mondanile’s absence – which precludes his distinguishable lead guitar work – the new record is distinctly the work of Real Estate. Courtney conceives the group’s songs, and his sensibilities form the crux of the band’s stylistic identity.
“I think the songs that I write for this band are more my natural style,” he says. “When I was working on the solo record, the point of that whole record was to get out of my comfort zone and try new things and write songs in different styles that I wasn’t used to.
“So when I started writing songs for Real Estate again I was like, ‘I’m going to start writing songs again the way they come naturally to me.’ I think the fact that [In Mind] immediately sounds like Real Estate is because all of us are playing on the new record, minus Matt. And also it’s just really natural for me to write songs that sound that way.”
Real Estate albums are typically layered entities, and In Mind is no different. The arrangements comprise various interweaving melodies and rhythms supplied by the band’s two guitarists and Bleeker’s bass playing. For the most part, these elements work towards creating a pleasant exterior. But while there’s not much in the way of discord or aggression, there’s often a sense of wistfulness or melancholy naiveté dwelling beneath the surface.
The break between albums led to an increased feeling of excitement among the band members, which kick started the album making process.
“I think because we have played so many shows together we feel really comfortable playing music together and we work really well together as a band,” Courtney says. “So it was exciting to be back with those dudes working on new music.”
The album was produced by Cole M. Greif-Neill, who’s known for producing artists such as Nite Jewel, Ariel Pink and Julia Holter. This was the first time anyone from Real Estate had worked with him.
“We were tossing a lot of names around as producers. There were a lot of good ideas, but once his name came up that’s who we wanted to work with,” Courtney says. “We reached out and sent him the demos and it seemed like he really liked the demos, but he took a little convincing to actually take the project on.
“I think because he was so used to working on things that weren’t the standard five dudes rock band, he thought maybe it would be a step back or something. But we had a few calls with him and explained to him why we wanted to work with him and he eventually came around. And in the end the relationship worked really well.”
Atlas was produced by Wilco affiliate Tom Schick and its predecessor, Days, featured production from Woods’ Jarvis Taveniere. However, Courtney was reluctant to relinquish creative control on Real Estate’s first three LPs, which meant the producer’s role was largely technical. This changed when Greif-Neill came on board.
“It was more like he was being involved in every aspect of the record, which was something that I wasn’t used,” Courtney says. “I’ve spoken to other producers who told me, ‘If you work with me I’m going to be involved in every aspect,’ and that’s really turned me off in the past. I don’t want somebody getting involved in the lyrics and all that kind of stuff. But with Cole it felt a little more natural.
“It was baby steps in that direction, but it felt like he was a member of the band. He’s basically the same age as us in the band and he comes from playing in bands that we’re fans of and feel like they’re part of the same scene as us. It felt like we could trust his ideas. Especially in the mixing and editing process, his fingerprints are definitely on this record. He was definitely more involved than any producer we’ve had in the past.
“We probably would’ve been able to do a record without a producer, but I think it would’ve been a very different album. Whether or not it would be better or worse, I’m really happy with the way this record turned out.”
In Mind is out now through Domino. Real Estate are playing at Splendour In The Grass as well as shows in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide in July.