The Main Thing

The Main Thing

Before they began writing The Main Thing, their fifth full-length, Real Estate asked themselves a great question: “What's the point of doing this?” bassist Alex Bleeker recalls for Apple Music. “What’s the point of making another Real Estate record in 2019 or 2020? What's the point of repeating ourselves?” Over the last decade, the New Jersey-bred outfit has very quietly became one of the most consistent bands of their generation, always opting to refine their sound rather than reinvent it. But they’ve also evolved as people. “Frankly, we just got tired of the, like, ‘toe tappin’ summer sounds of Real Estate, crack another beer, it's so chill’ thing,” Bleeker says. “Our lives don't feel that way anymore. We wanted it to be really clear about that this time around.” The result is a personal and often surprising set of songs rich with observations from frontman Martin Courtney’s life as a husband and father of three girls—a long ways from the languid post-collegiate melancholia of their 2009 debut. “I was really trying to consciously put more of myself into this record, to make something that felt more substantial,” Courtney says. “We're in a place now where we're really lucky to have seen whatever success we've seen and we're lucky to still be a band 10 years in. We went into this one with more of a mission to make something that felt worthy.” Here, Courtney and Bleeker break down all of the album’s 13 songs. Friday Martin Courtney: “I was pretty anti-this song being the first track. I felt like it was inviting a lot of comparisons to previous iterations of the band and what we sounded like, but I don't necessarily feel that way now. It's called ‘Friday’ because when I was writing it, I was basically trying to rip off ‘Friday I'm In Love’ by The Cure. I was like, ‘I want to write a perfect pop song right now.’ I think it went through the most radical transformation from the demo I recorded to what ended up on the record, but it had that beat to it and it was a little bit faster.” Alex Bleeker: “We were thinking about early-2000s Air or even The Beta Band, but it just gave it this different vibe than we'd ever explored before.” Paper Cup (feat. Sylvan Esso) AB: “We knew ‘Paper Cup’ was going in the direction of a disco vibe. But Martin was in the studio attempting to nail the vocal and I think he and Kevin [McMahon], our producer, were just like, ‘Man, we're doing this falsetto and it would just be better to have a real female voice on it.’ And they thought of Amelia [Meath] to sing—she’s a really old friend and she’s someone we trust. It ultimately wound up feeling a bit more like a collaboration than just like a ‘Hey, sing this part.’ I had one quick call with her and she came back with something rhythmically different, more than any of us had ever expected. It was really organic and simple and an example of many unexpected collaborations from people outside the band, which is a new thing for us on this record.” Gone MC: “It’s about being on the road, which has almost become like a classic trope for me—the idea of missing my family and the idea of trying to FaceTime somebody and it just doesn't work. It’s so insanely frustrating not being able to communicate. I just really want to make this connection that is impossible to make, and then your kids are like, ‘Oh, hi, how's it going?’ And then they'll run off and do something else. It's like, ‘That was not enough for me, at all. That interaction that we just had was really not enough.’ It’s a basic thing, but it’s real.” You MC: “It's funny: Sometimes I think that my lyrics are more subtle than they are. And I feel like ‘You’ is pretty straightforward, but my wife was actually pregnant when I was writing it. It's about this child that I haven't met yet, about the idea of memory—kids supposedly can't form memories until they have the capacity to speak. I don't know if that's true or not, but just the idea of feeling responsible for your child's first memories and all their memories and just this feeling of wanting to create a safe environment while at the same time feeling like that's almost a bit of a lie because the world doesn't really feel like a safe place to be.” November MC: “I was writing some songs for a friend's movie called Plus One. There's a scene in it that was soundtracked by [2011’s] ‘It’s Real’, and he was like, ‘Can you write a song that's like that?’ Just like for fun, I wrote this song. Going into making this record, we were like, ‘Well, this is the most Real Estate-y of the batch.’ But I also really liked it, especially the stuff that Julian [Lynch] did in the chorus with the layers of vocals. Because it was something that felt familiar to us, we made a lot of effort to push it in different directions through the production—specifically keyboard sounds and drum sounds—trying to get it to a point where it felt a little more alien.” AB: “The song was deliberately written to be musically backward-looking, which was pretty much the antithesis of what we were trying to achieve on this record. But we tried to fuck with it a little bit, which is kind of why it sounds the way that it does, much to the label’s shock and dismay and disappointment.” Falling Down MC: “It’s a weird one. It’s impressionistic, but there's some weird climate change stuff in there; there’s some weird anxiety; and there’s a verse that is literally about a place that I used to live. I liked the idea of it being like anti-poetic, just like, ‘This is a picture of what it's like to wake up before dawn, in a cold house, while everyone's still sleeping.’ It's like, you got a baby, the baby wakes up, and so I go downstairs with the baby. It’s just me and this baby in a freezing cold kitchen; it’s still dark out. I try to make coffee or something. In terms of production, I’m really psyched on the strings. I was constantly inspired by [Wilco’s] Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and what Jim O'Rourke did with the mixing on that record. It was a little bit of an attempt to do something like that, to just radically alter the arrangement in post.” Also a But AB: “That's the song that Julian wrote for the record. You wouldn't peg it as a typical Real Estate song necessarily, but it works. It’s almost got this, like, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, English psychedelia sound to it. I like it as a centrepiece of the record. Lyrically, it's pretty direct, like, ‘This is how I'm feeling in an age of great anxiety.’ The chorus is: ‘Floating atop a mushroom cloud.’ I mean, it's pretty over the top, but it's a nice juxtaposition, because Martin's writing about outside influence on this portrait of domesticity and personal navigation through a difficult time for a lot of different reasons. And then you have this other voice come in, another sound that represents what all that force is. There’s also an improvised jam section in that song, which is new for us.” The Main Thing MC: “I don't think I would've been able to write a song like that if it didn't feel a little bit tongue-in-cheek. But having said that, it comes from a real place. The lyrics of that song are like, ‘Despite the fact that I should be doing something else and this feels really irresponsible, I'm going to do it anyway, because this is what I love to do and it's what I know how to do.’ It might be the last lyric that I wrote for this record, so it comes at the end of this whole process of exploring why I make art. As a band, we found an answer in just making the record: If you really work hard enough at something that you love and you really dedicate yourself to the thing that you find nourishing and fulfilling, that in itself is a worthy thing. To me, it’s this idea of trying to set that example for my kids. I could quit music and get a real job and have hopefully that stability and not feel like I'm being irresponsible or something, but then at the same time, I would be betraying that part of myself. This is who I am.” AB: “It kind of communicates this beautiful idea that sometimes the most responsible decision is to do the thing that nourishes you spiritually. It’s incredibly earnest.” Shallow Sun MC: “It’s about inevitability—you can’t go back, which is obvious but worth dwelling on sometimes. Time starts to feel like it’s moving faster as you get older, but I look at my kids and know that the way they see the world, it moves slowly—when you're a kid, a year feels like an eternity. It’s reflecting on that, and we recorded this song on the same day as ‘The Main Thing’—it was one of the final ones. It's one where the arrangement came together rather quickly, but it’s one of my favourites. I think it just sounds cool. It reminds me of Radiohead.” Sting AB: “We did several long full-band sessions to get this album recorded, and that was in one of the last ones, and it felt like we were really just taking our time and unfolding and blossoming. Matt [Kallman] had these chords that he had sent to the band months earlier. Somebody brought a drum machine in and we were just learning it together, and that was when I was like, ‘We're really making an album here,’ because you're exploring little side interludes and stuff like that. In the studio, I was reading the 33 1/3 about [David Bowie’s] Low, which has crazy tape loop experimentation in it. And I was just like, ‘This feels like we're digging into the cheesier stuff of making a record.’ I remember it really distinctly. It was late at night. The record was made in a barn. You had this sense of the crickets going outside and us being isolated in this weird barn. This song just sounds that way to me—it’s very evocative of the actual space that we made the record in.” Silent World MC: “The silent world is the bubble that my family has created in our house with our family and our friends in the little town we live in, and just wanting to create this feeling of safety. Looking around at the outside world and just feeling like it's obviously not. It's just the idea of wanting to make your kids feel safe, but at the same time knowing that at some point they're going to be experiencing all the same anxieties that I am as an adult, and it's sad to think about that. It's scary and it's just ultimately not wanting to let go of them. Luckily my kids are still really young, but I think it's just a basic feeling of protection. I feel like I'm better off not finishing my thoughts, because if you think too much, your mind goes to dark places.” Procession MC: “I've lived in a lot of different places, and at the same time we have this weird, unearned sense of nostalgia—like being 24 and being nostalgic for when you were 19 or something. It’s almost like we're intentionally trying to create this sense of nostalgia by just constantly moving. I had to go back to this town because my great-aunt died. So it a was literal funeral procession going through this town, and when you do that, you drive through the town and you're going past places from this person's life. We drove past her old house, which is down the block from my old house when I was a little kid—we moved away when I was two, but to this day my parents still work there. So it's like being nostalgic for a time that I don't remember.” AB: “It's funny because it's almost a criticism of what [Martin’s] written about before, which I didn't get until I heard him explain it. It sounds like the most classically Real Estate-y in terms of subject matter, at least on the surface, which I liked at the end of the record because it almost feels like we've explored all this new space and it's a bit of a curtain caller or signature.” Brother MC: “It comes from a demo that I recorded on cassette in my house a couple of years ago, while we were mixing In Mind during the summer of 2016. I've just always liked it, so I brought it to the band, but I had no intention of adding lyrics to it—I liked it as an instrumental. We basically just transferred the cassette demo into the computer and built off of that so it feels really nice. It's this nice semi-lo-fi epilogue, like a nice cap on the record. It feels like a nice breath, exhalation at the very end.” AB: “I think it's nice that it’s small and somewhat lo-fi and that it brings us into Martin's house. You can actually hear an Easter egg: one of Martin's kids opening a door and saying hello at the very end of the record. I just like that.”

Disc 1

Disc 2

More By Real Estate

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada