Woods and Real Estate : A Scene of Their Own
Real Estate live
Real Estate’s self-titled album, released in late 2009, was a grassroots success story that reset Zach Braff’s Garden State experience in Yo La Tengo’s slightly darker Hoboken, N.J. neighborhood. The next 18 months were filled with a series of small, decisive victories, including a tour with indie rock band Deerhunter, increased exposure on influential blogs and coveted festival spots. In a matter of months, the band became so ingrained in the Brooklyn underground that Duguay even moved into the notorious Bushwick hipster artist loft and venue, Market Hotel, fulltime.
Before the band had a manager or record deal outside Woodsist, Phish had already used their song “Snow Days” as post-show music in Worchester, Mass. one snowy night in 2010. Woodsist also put out music by Ducktails—including a single that featured Animal Collective’s Panda Bear—as well as Julian Lynch. Woods continued to churn out music at a rapid pace too, releasing Songs of Shame (2009) and _At Echo Lake _(2010) to wider acclaim.
In 2009, Earl took an adult leap and moved away from his band and girlfriend, back to his blue collar, Upstate New York hometown of Warwick. “I love Brooklyn, but there are a lot of distractions,” admits Earl. “When you get in a sort of closed environment in the woods with not really much going on downtown, it’s nice to just lock yourself in and concentrate.”
In Warwick, he works investment banker’s hours, getting up early in the morning to focus on his label and creating music at night. Taveniere also moved out on his own, though he still uses Rear House as his studio (and as part of his Gmail address). “We’ve separated the home life and the recording studio life after living in a practice space for five years,” Earl explains.
After a few years of steady growth, 2011 proved to be a breakthrough year for both bands. Benefiting from indie rock’s newfound interest in psych, Woods played a marquee spot at Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival and helped curate the second annual Woodsist festival in Big Sur, Calif. They also released the fully realized roots-rock freak-out Sun and Shade, which Earl and Taveniere primarily recorded in Warwick during separate summer and snowstorm sessions.
The year started off blurry for Real Estate, who parted ways with Duguay, though he remains a friend and plans to work with Mondanile as Predator Vision next year. After Real Estate released their most mature statement to date, the Fleetwood Mac-inspired single “Out of Tune,” Courtney also finished a batch of songs for Days.“It’s reflective and nostalgic but of an earlier period than the first record, when I was 17 or 18 years old driving around in the summers,” Courtney says. “It’s harder for me to reflect on my current life—I don’t want to get super personal.”
Even Bleeker, who has known Courtney for years, often observes his lyrics from a distance: “Martin’s not very candid about his lyrics. I didn’t even know what some of them were about until we were in the studio. He’s more shy and guarded, so the best way to get to know him is through his music. If anyone’s going to talk onstage, it’s going to be Matt and me. I asked Martin if that’s OK and he said, ‘I want you to because someone needs to.’”
The group initially used their own touring money to record Days with noted producer Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, Swans, Ha Ha Tonka), but landed on Domino Records before the album’s completion. They also added touring keyboardist Jonah Maurer and new drummer Jackson Pollis to their lineup, though Courtney and Mondanile played most of the album’s drum parts. When asked if it was hard to leave Woodsist, Mondanile says, “The Woods family will always be there—those dudes are our buddies, but it is exciting to work with Domino.”
“Matt and I get into little fights, like we’re siblings,” Courtney says a few weeks before Days’ release. “Bleeker’s always good at seeing through the bullshit and being able to keep us focused. Sometimes, I’m acting as our manager and sometimes I’m lazy and forget to respond to emails and Bleeker has to kick my ass.”
“I think everyone’s role is pretty well defined at this point, which is not to say that we’re open to having that shift,” Bleeker says of the band’s dynamic. “I have a song on Days and that wasn’t going to happen before. Real Estate is Martin’s main project, but we are not ‘Martin and the other guys’—he could get a better bassist than me but we’re a band—we bring that suburban friendship.”
Mondanile, a Seinfeld fanatic, sums up the band’s dynamic as the following: “Martin is Elaine, Bleeker is George, Jackson is Jerry’s Mom and I am Jerry Seinfeld/Kramer.”
Real Estate and Woods are now at the center of a mini-universe that not only includes other Woodsist label acts but also alter-ego bands like Ducktails and Bleeker’s Crazy Horse-inspired jam outfit The Freaks, which has included all of the members of Real Estate at various points. When Domino signed Real Estate, they agreed to take on their side projects as well.
As the Woodist label expands, Earl has also learned how to wear two hats. “Lately, it’s been tough doing both band and label—I’m at the point where I’m gonna hire someone to take care of some label stuff, especially while I’m touring. On this last tour, my girlfriend was nice enough to do the mail order for me.”
Though Woods may represent the new model of success in the digital, blogosphere-age—able to make it from basements to ballrooms without radio play, proper funding or even traditional managers—Earl still looks to a model that’s proven to work for artists like Phish where being in a band is as much about creating a community as it is putting out albums.
“In my head, I’m already thinking about next year,” Earl says skipping ahead to the Woodsist festival this coming summer. “Hopefully, we’re gonna do it a little bit bigger with camping included.” He pauses to smile. “We’re getting close to being like one of the big jam festivals.”
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