“It feels like a new beginning for us,” Real Estate singer-songwriter Martin Courtney tells Apple Music of the indie rock veterans' sixth album, after 15 years together as a band. “I’ve learned a lot about how to write songs and my own process through the first five records we made. This album is me taking stock of that and being like, ‘What if I tried something totally different?’” Less concerned about how Daniel would fit in with the rest of their catalog, Courtney wanted to simplify his songwriting by writing bright pop music that felt warm and welcoming. The final result is opposite to their last release, 2020’s The Main Thing, which had an intentionally dense and murky sound. “We made this messy album that was full of ideas,” Courtney adds, “but this was more about precision and stripping things away—keeping things to the point and concise.” Recorded in nine days at RCA Studio A in Nashville, famously known for hosting legendary artists such as The Beach Boys and Dolly Parton, Daniel benefits from the band trying a series of firsts, whether by enlisting a new producer outside of their usual circles (Daniel Tashian, co-writer/co-producer on Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour) or having a group of session musicians at their disposal if needed. These songs—which expand on their sound with a wide array of instruments like pedal steel guitar, organ, and piano—navigate themes of existential rumination (“Interior”), overcoming uncertain times (“Haunted World”), and the music they grew up listening to (“Water Underground”). One landmark ’90s record inspired Courtney more than most. “I'm really obsessed with the R.E.M. album Automatic for the People,” says Courtney. “I wanted to use an acoustic and sonic palette similar to that album, just use a lot of instruments that felt very organic but without it feeling country or Americana.” Read on as Courtney walks us through the album, one song at a time. “Somebody New” “It feels good as an opener. It thematically sets up this vibe, which runs throughout the record, about coming to terms with the fact that I'm a different person now than I was before, trying to figure out who that person is and being okay with that. It has this looping thing, which I kind of ripped off of my bloody valentine—they do that a lot where the timing is just a little off, but not in a way that is overt. It gives it this kind of propulsion where it feels like it never ends.” “Haunted World” “We were in Nashville recording with people that work a lot on country music, and we were like, ‘I think pedal steel would sound really good on this track.’ We had access to this amazing world-class pedal steel player, a Nashville session guy named Justin Schipper. He adds this element that you can't really put your finger on, more like sound effects using these ethereal-sounding chords, which is kind of magical.” “Water Underground” “Initially, I just came up with the phrase ‘water underground.’ I thought it sounded good for a chorus, but then I had to figure out what it meant. I wrote the whole song without really understanding what I was writing about, but I thought about it later and it came to me: ‘Oh, it's like your subconscious.’ People always refer to water as it being associated with your subconscious, so to me it's the creative flow of your brain in getting an idea and then trying to hold on to it and not forget it. You're just living your everyday life, and then you find some kind of inspiration and try to turn that into something.” “Flowers” “I wrote this song in three hours, which is funny since it usually takes me at least a couple of days. I wrote the guitar part thinking it was cool, but then I had to drive two hours to play a solo show in New Jersey and I wrote the rest of the song on the way there. I played it at the show that night, which was pretty fun. It feels very different for me for this band—it kind of sounds like Tom Petty or Sheryl Crow, like this radio-rock vibe. There's this one part where the drums are just hitting the kick drum. Our bass player Alex Bleeker would keep jokingly making this ‘Come on, boys!’ Bruce Springsteen impression during this vamp. I was like, ‘You’re making me hate this song right now. Please stop. It's too much.’” “Interior” “I wrote it and then thought it sounded like Big Star, but I couldn’t figure out which song. It took me a long time to realize it’s ‘September Gurls,’ the little guitar turnaround that starts the song. When we recorded it, it was way more straight. It had the same general shape: the build and the parts added throughout the song with the drums gradually coming in with this big guitar solo in the middle. But after recording it that way, Daniel Tashian thought it would be cool if there was a super funky drumbeat happening the whole time, with the bass just grooving with the drums.” “Freeze Brain” “If you heard the demo, it sounds nothing like what's on the record. What I recorded was like, again, a my bloody valentine song in that it’s very fast and very distorted and heavy. We were about to record it that way, and as we were setting up in the studio getting ready to record this song, Sammi [Niss] started playing this groove to test her drums and get some levels. We started playing the song along to the groove, just joking around, and thought it sounded really cool. We recorded it like that with the intention of doing it like this first and then doing the other version that we had practiced, but then we were just moving so fast. We forgot and moved on to the next song, and this is the version we ended up with.” “Say No More” “Throughout our career, our band has come up with working titles that are some other band's name. We've probably had five songs called 'The Feelies,' and this is one of them in that it's got that sort of soft intensity. I've had multiple people tell me that it feels like a standout track to them, which is great. Because honestly, this album has 11 songs, and I would've been really happy with 10. But I was like, if I was going to cut a song, it probably would've been this one. Right after we finished it, I thought it felt unfinished somehow, or that it just needs something. Which is weird, because it has a pretty well-thought-out arrangement, and there's a lot of different parts to it. But anyway, now I feel better about it. I’m glad we didn't cut it.” “Airdrop” “I got this little Mellotron keyboard, and I was just having fun with brass sounds. I wrote the little riff that opens the song on that keyboard, thinking it sounded sort of classical and Baroque. It was the trickiest one to nail down on the album, because I wasn't really happy with it, so we kept cutting and moving things around. I don't think you can tell in the final recording. I actually am really happy with it now, but I was really ready to just abandon it, since it was a nightmare to make.” “Victoria” “We all switched instruments on this one. I’m not even sure how we're going to do it live, honestly. Everyone in the band is more than welcome to contribute songs, but a lot of times I'm the only one, or I write the most. On the last record, Bleeker wrote a song, but when he wasn't happy with it, he wouldn’t end up finishing it. He didn't end up having a song on the record last time, but Julian [Lynch, guitarist] did. And then the opposite happened this time: Julian wrote a song for this one, and I was really into it, but once we were in the studio, he felt it wasn’t ready.” “Market Street” “It’s one of the early ones that I wrote for this record. It Informed a lot of what I wanted in terms of the style of songwriting. More simple verse-chorus form, but the parts are catchy. I remember Julian was attempting to record a solo, and I kept telling him that it’s got to be bigger. It has to be a stupid guitar solo, dumb but powerful. And he was like, ‘Do you want to try?’ I gave it a try and I'm happy with my solo. The only thing is I do this vibrato wiggle at the end that I kind of wish I hadn't done. It's almost too over the top. Still, I really like that song in that it has a Neil Young driving kind of vibe. It ended up being the only time I play electric guitar on the album.” “You Are Here” “It's the only song on the record that strays from this concise pop thing that we were trying to do, with this long extended outro. I play piano on this one, which I think is the first time. It’s another one I wrote on guitar where the original demo almost sounds like a garage rock song. We were messing around with it when we were rehearsing before we went to the studio, but it didn’t feel like it fit with the rest of the songs. We came up with this baggy beat where it was organ-driven, sort of like Yo Tengo’s 'Autumn Sweater'—that was one of the inspirations for the arrangement. It's built around a drum loop, which is also new for us. Sammi was playing that beat the whole time, so we thought of looping it with an almost hip-hop thing to it. It does get a little psychedelic, but it felt right to do it like that.”

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