Real Estate vs. Jason Schwartzman - The Full Interview | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Real Estate vs. Jason Schwartzman - The Full Interview

Mutual Obsessions

Mar 17, 2015 Jason Schwartzman Bookmark and Share

Martin Courtney is the lead singer and guitarist of Brooklyn by-way-of New Jersey rock band Real Estate. The group’s third LP, Atlas, is warm, laid-back, free-flowing guitar pop at its finest, and was one of Under the Radar‘s Top Albums of 2014.

Last year, actor Jason Schwartzman appeared in two of Under the Radar‘s highest-rated films: director Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip, where he played a comically self-absorbed author opposite Elisabeth Moss, and Wes Anderson’s sweeping The Grand Budapest HotelSchwartzman is one of Anderson’s regulars, having appeared in five of the director’s features. He was also seen in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes. He also co-created and co-produced Mozart in the Jungle, which stars Gael Garcia Bernal and is now available through Amazon’s streaming service. As a musician, Schwartzman was the drummer for Phantom Planet through the band’s first decade, and still composes and records his own solo work under the name Coconut Records.

Jason Schwartzman has been a fan of Real Estate stretching all the way back to the band’s self-titled 2009 debut; Martin Courtney has been a fan of Schwartzman’s work since his breakthrough in Rushmore in 1998. (When prompted to name his favorite of the actor’s roles, the humble Schwartzman refused to let the musician answer: “Next question!”) They agreed to interview each other for our recurring Versus feature, and we listened in as the two talked music, guitars, and family.

[Note: A shorter version of this interview first appeared in Under the Radar’s January/February 2015 print issue (Issue 52/Best of 2014). This is the full transcript of the interview.]

Jason Schwartman: Last night before bed I was watching a bunch of Real Estate stuff, just sort of getting ready and getting excited. After I closed the computer and put my head on the pillow, I got to thinking about how that seemed like fun. Like, I missed that, you know what I mean? It’s nice, and it looks like you guys all seem to get along. Just playing with people, and playing with a live band is a nice feeling.

Martin Courtney: Yeah. Well, the recording part of it is definitely my favorite part. Because the creative aspect of [being in a band] is way better than any other part of it.

Jason: I got your first, first, first record the week it came out. A gentleman I know named Chris Vanderloo, he works at Other Music [in New York.] He’s one of their main men there. I feel lucky that I’ve built up a relationship with him over the years, because he’s recommended so many good records that have really had a huge impact on me. I was in there one day, and he set, “Get this.” He gave me your first record…. When I got it home, I put it on, and I instantly was so happy to have that record enter my life. It was just so beautiful, just wonderful. I loved it, and I gave it to people as presents. And that’s how it first started, I loved your music. I was so into it. I’ve been your fan for a long time. I got in touch with [Real Estate guitarist Alex Bleeker], or we got in touch with each other. I started asking him about guitars, and he started relaying me information about Stratocasters and stuff. I felt like I was bothering you guys.

Martin: No, that was really cool for us. That story about Other Music is doubly cool, not only because I didn’t realize you’ve been into us from the very beginning, which is awesome, but because my friends and I used to go to Other Music. I grew up outside of New York, in New Jersey. So we used to go there as 15-year-olds to look at records. We didn’t really know anything about music. We’d go there to learn about music and just sort of be there, because we thought it was cool. So it’s cool to know that as far back as the first record, there were people there championing us.

Jason: Not to overwhelm you with this, but I specifically remember buying it and putting it on the counter, and another guy working there saying, “This is great!” It’s exciting when a new band comes into your life and becomes something you listen to a lot. I even got your Real Estate cassette tape from Record Store Day.

Martin: Oh, yeah? You got the EP?

Jason: Yeah. And I loved both of your records since, by the way. They’re fantastic.

Martin: Thank you.

Jason: The new one is great. I heard you worked at Jeff Tweedy’s studio. Was that insane?

Martin: Yeah, it was awesome. We didn’t even really go out of our way to use that studio. It was more the producer that we wanted to work with, Tom Schick. He works with them a lot. We were just going to record in New York somewhere, but I think part of the original conversation we were having amongst ourselves as a band was that we wanted to get outside of the city and go somewhere, to get away from home and friends and stuff, because we’d never done that before. Kind of do the whole living-together-and-making-a-record in a very focused amount of time. But eventually we thought, “oh, that’s just not going to happen, let’s just find a place in New York and record with Tom,” because we always liked the way Wilco records sounded. But it just so happened that Wilco were out of town at the time we wanted to record. Their studio was open, and they gave us their blessing. It was amazing. They’ve got a lot of gear there. That’s their main thing. Of course, you can make a very clean, professional, great-sounding record there. They have everything you need in terms of microphones and all of that stuff. But what makes it really special is the amount of [gear.] Jeff TweedyI didn’t know this, but he’s a huge collector of guitars and instruments and stuff. Most of it is housed in the studioor maybe not most of it, I don’t know. It just felt like a massive amount of stuff. On the back wall there were just racks and racks and racks, with hundreds more guitars. And they were all labeled perfectly. You’d look at the rack, and it was like, whatever: “1964 Jaguar.” They each have a little piece of tape on them. Everything you read was so amazing and tantalizing. There were two drum sets. It was a really nice environment. You can tell that they had been in there for ten years making it their own. It felt very homey.

Jason: I’ve seen pictures, and of course, there’s that movie.

Martin: Are you talking about the Wilco movie? [2002’s I Am Trying To Break Your Heart] I never saw that. It’s weird that I haven’t seen it, because we actually recorded there.

Jason: It’s fascinating. I love to watch people recording music, or talking about songwriting. It’s crazy, the timing of it…they get dropped from their label on camera, and it’s so wild to see that. That record went on to mean so much to so many people, and it’s so funny because you know the ending, but watching it happen is so crazy.

Martin: Was that after they made the record, or before?

Jason: They’re making the record. You see them writing it, you see them recording it. And then they hand it in, and they get dropped. At least, that’s how I think it happened. It might have happened while they were still working on it.

Martin: Either way, they had stuff to show for it, like they were showing their label what they were working on. That has to be the worst feeling.

Jason: Yeah, it’s crazy. But yeah, I love watching people [record music]. On YouTube, there’s so much stuff with people talking about their equipment. There’s this one show called Guitar Moves, which is pretty fun. People showing off tricks that they know on guitar. There’s also this show called Rig Rundown, through Premier Guitar magazine. They’ll go and talk to guitar techs for a band while they’re on tour, so they’re usually at a venue. They’re just walking them through. Yesterday I was watching Brian May’s, from Queen, his Rig Rundown.

Martin: Like, his current rig?

Jason: Yeah, his current one. I have a collecting mentality, I suppose, and can easily see those photos of Jeff Tweedy’s guitars and just think, wow. But then it’s also amazing, because Brian May has only been using one guitar his whole life. He built it with his father. He built it because he couldn’t afford a Fender or a Gibson or a Hafner, so he built his famous guitar. He talks about building it. And then in his rig, in his guitar case, he has the main one, called “Big Red,” and there are two replicas of it that he uses as a backup, in case he breaks a string. And then I think there’s one with an f-hole in it. But he doesn’t use any of them unless something goes wrong. So there’s only one guitar on every Queen record. Maybe he used a Telecaster once, but he’s just used that one guitar his whole life. It’s amazing to think that on the one hand someone can have all of these different guitars, but I also admire someone who sticks with one. I know this is a weird, roundabout way of saying this, but you play that one guitar all the time. It’s nice to know you love that one thing so much…. That’s so great, because you didn’t sound like you were confused by the amount of [gear] that was around you in Chicago.

Martin: I just kind of love the way the Telecaster sounds. So on Atlas, and on Days, I… [Pauses] Sorry, just a second. I think I woke my daughter up.

Jason: How old?

Martin: Six months… I’m locked in the bathroom right now. [Laughs]

Jason: That’s funny. I have a six-month-old, too, and I’m hiding in the kitchen…. So I understand. [Laughs]

Martin: Anyway, I always play the Telecaster. My Tele is just a Mexican-made, Guitar Center-bought 2011 Fender. Nothing special or anything. I really like the way it sounds, but live I play with a Vibrolux amp, and basically that with my Tele was twangy to the point it was unwieldy. That’s what led me to play the Strat, because a Strat is just a little more mellow; you can get whatever you want out of it. It’s funny, because for the longest time I didn’t think I liked Strats. Just the way they looked, and they’re kinda played out-everybody played a Strat and they kinda lost their cool factor at some point. But just in terms of the way guitars look, I thought Teles looked cool. And I had a Mustang for a while. But the Strat, as soon as I started playing it, I thought, “This is a real guitar.” It’s very versatile. I could understand why people like these guitars. So yeah, I’ve been playing that one live for three years now, through hundreds of shows and stuff. I love that guitar. But on a record, I always play the Tele. I just love the way they sound, and they’re a little easier to handle in the studio, because you can try different amps and kinda dial it in.

Jason: They can actually hurt your ears live.

Martin: Yeah. I’m actually, right now, researching ways of handling it. Like, I’m going to put a new neck pickup in my Telecaster to kind of mellow it out, see how it sounds. If I like it, I might start playing if live more.

Jason: Those reissue [guitars] are so great.

Martin: Oh, yeah. My Strat is a ‘57 reissue. It’s nice. It sounds great. It’s the nicest electric guitar I own. I don’t own a ton of guitars. Actually, that’s a lie. I own a Fender Electric 12-string from the 1960s, which is my nicest one.

Jason: You’ve got one of those?

Martin: Yeah, it’s my nicest one. Every time I bring it out on tour, I think, “Why am I touring with this thing?”

Jason: Oh, man. Those are so beautiful.

Martin: They’re amazing. I bought it because I love music from the 1960s, The Byrds and stuff. I always want Real Estate to sound like that, so I like the idea of a 12-string. But then you find that it sounds great to strum it, but 12 strings are best used only for little accents here and there.

Jason: Did you get that here in New York?

Martin: I got it in Hoboken, in New Jersey. I saw it in a store and played it. I left the store thinking, “I can’t get this.” That afternoon I got a royalty check and went back and got it. [Laughs] It was like, why not? At this point it’s funny how much my mentality has changed, because of the baby. I wonder if I’ll ever buy a new guitar again.

Jason: I understand. But I assure you, you will.

Martin: Yeah, I’m sure.

Jason: And you should!

Martin: I can always justify it, with the music.

Jason: The whole thing does change, in terms of spending. It’s definitely hard, having to think “How do I explain this…?” [Laughs] “This could be yours, in a weird way…”

Martin: “One day, maybe, if you’re into music, you’ll be stoked that I own all these things. You’ll thank me later.” [Laughs] Do you have a lot of gear around the house?

Jason: Yeah, I do.

Martin: Like, a studio? Do you record, and stuff? I know you write music.

Jason: I do. First of all, I would sayyou live in the Brooklyn area?

Martin: Yeah.

Jason: You’re so lucky, because there’s such a great guitar store there. Southside Guitars. Do you know that place?

Martin: Yeah, I love them.

Jason: They’re great. And I’ve never been, but there’s a place in Jersey, called Three Wave Music. Have you been to that place?

Martin: Oh my god, yeah. It’s so funny that you mention it. Yeah, that place is like five minutes from where Matt, Alex, and I grew up in New Jersey.

Jason: No way.

Martin: Yeah. It’s like the next town over, and we never knew it was there until a couple years ago. I forget who found it first, probably Matt. He said, “There’s this amazing mecca. It’s just huge…” It’s insane. The place is in this semi-sorta industrial area. It’s one of these places where there are five buildings in a row that all look the same, these big warehouses. It’s just a huge, open warehouse that’s stacked floor to ceiling with every synthesizer you could imagine. The walls are just racks of different synths. And the floor is just covered with Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzers, whatever. Everything. I went there and bought one thing, ever: a Roland string synth. But that place is insane.

Jason: That’s where someone should make a record. Someone should just rent out Three Wave Music for a month and just have access to all of the synths. [Laughs]

Martin: He’s got tape machines and stuff there, too. You literally would not have to leave. It’s all there.

Jason: That’s a place I have to visit at some point…. In L.A., there was this great store called Black Market Music. It’s just like a big room of everything: synthesizers, guitars. A lot of it was hidden under other stuff. It’s just a big emporium of oddities that you have to look for. I would get a lot of weird things there…. It’s weird. I have a lot of stuff I don’t want to get rid of, because I think it looks beautiful or sounds good.

Martin: Of course.

Jason: But at the same time it’s so tricky, though, because at the end of the day it’s like, what do you use? What do you really need? But at least everything’s so little.

Martin: Yeah. There’s always, “I might use this for something.” Do you still make music? Are you actively recording?

Jason: Yeah. I make music as much as I can. Basically, I don’t know if you experience this, but before my daughter was born…. I used to write music in an overtly loud way. Well, never loud, but I would walk around, walk my dog, and get an idea for something. I’d start to figure it out on a piano, or an acoustic guitar, and I’d use GarageBand or something. Whatever was fast, just to get the idea down. But it would be loud. You could hear me doing it. But when my first daughter was born, I had to figure out a new way of doing that so that I wouldn’t wake her up.

Martin: Yeah, so that you’re not just making a racket in the house.

Jason: Yeah! Never in my life had I ever really tried to use a MIDI keyboard or anything, just for writing. I got really into using it with GarageBand, again, because it’s so fast. But basically, if I can, my favorite way of spending time-and it feels really goodis to be making music and recording it simultaneously. I’ll just sit there and play for like an hour, two hours, three hours, improvising and just kind of making stuff up. Really, I do it just because it feels so good. I love just listening to music, thinking about music, or playing music, or playing other people’s music. If I’m having a bad night of trying to come up with something myself, I’ll put on someone else’s music and try to learn it…. I’ve been working crazy hours lately so it’s been a bit harder, but as much as possible, if there’s a free moment-and it’s mostly at night, for some reason-I’ll try to write, record, and demo a song, almost as an exercise.

Martin: Yeah, that’s the best way. For me, because this band is kind of my job and my life, my livelihood, whatever, it’s an interesting thing, writing music now. It’s just different than when it was just writing songs for the sake of it, for no reason, because you wanted to have a band and play live. Now, it’s still that-I could never write a song if I knew I was writing it for a purpose, or I needed to…but it’s a different thing, I think. I know I have to sit down and write songs. I know I want to make another record eventually, so I know I’ll have to put some time aside from the touring life to write another record. I can’t do both at the same time, not to mention the fact that I’d just rather be home. The touring has gotten old.

Jason: I understand. I played in a band a long time ago, and it’s the touring that’s hard. Well, I don’t know about hard, but you said it gets old, and I think that’s a good way of putting it.

Martin: Yeah, it’s not like it’s hard work. It just limits what you can do. It’s like a Twilight Zone where you can’t do anything else but that. And, you know, having been in a relationship the whole time I’ve been in this band, I can definitely say that it’s difficult. It takes a lot of work every day to have a life, and the life that you want outside of the band-it’s a hard thing to do.

Jason: The playing is fun, but sitting in a van sucks. Eating nasty gas station food sucks.

Martin: I read a little here and there. I’ve been working on another project outside of Real Estate, just for fun. I have all these little song ideas. Basically throughout this year of touring on Atlas, I’ve been trying to finish a bunch of songs. Whenever I find that I have a little bit of time to myself and I’m on the road, I’ll try to sit down and write some lyrics. That’s the only real productive thing I can do. It’s mostly just a lot of sitting around or talking on the phone, or Facetime-ing with [my daughter], trying to make it so she doesn’t forget who I am…. The idea, I think, in the future, is to try to travel less. Or just make it so that we could all travel together. That would be even better.

Jason: Yeah, it’s hard. Distance is not good.

Martin: Do you live in New York?

Jason: I live in Los Angeles, but I’ve been in New York since the end of

August. I’m working, but I just finished late last night at four in the morning.

Martin: Are you shooting something?

Jason: Yeah, I’m one of a few producers who created and is producing a TV show that’s about classical music in New York. Not specifically the New York Philharmonic, but an orchestra and the various pieces of that team and where they go; the people who are on the high end of it and the low end of it. It’s amazing, it’s been really fun. It’s something that I don’t know a ton about but something that I love. I read the book that the show is loosely based on [Blair Tindall’s Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music] and I was like, “I want to make this.” I wanted to figure it out as a show because I was curious about it.

Martin: Is it a documentary?

Jason: No, it’s a full-on melodramatic series, 10 episodes. It was so much fun. We have a few points throughout the season where we have a full orchestra playing a piece of music, and I got to stand on the stage while they were rehearsing and got to walk through the orchestra. It was something I’d never done in my life, and it’s such a rare thing. Not many people get the opportunity to walk through an orchestra, and it’s pretty powerful.

Martin: I could imagine it has an overwhelming effect.

Jason: You hear every single little [part]...hearing the trumpets, the oboes, the strings. Hearing that level of composition is pretty awe-inspiring. It’s just stunning.

Martin: That sounds really cool.

Jason: Our lead actor is Gael Garcia Bernal. That guy is amazing. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. He’s the handsomest, nicest man I’ve ever known. He could be such a jerk if he wanted, the world is his oyster-but he’s just so nice that it’s crazy, just beaming with joy and positivity. It’s kind of a downer. [Laughs] I try to be an optimist, but being around him I feel like a pessimist. I feel great until I’m around him, and then I realize maybe I don’t feel so great.

Martin: It’s pretty neat that in your world and your line of work, maybe you’re a little more open to getting to work with different people. Obviously I work with the people in my band, and it’s really fun to think about who we could get to produce our next record or collaborate with. But like I was saying before, with his other project I’m doing, it comes out of a desire to create with other people outside of my band, just to see where my music goes.

Jason: I won’t ask too many questions, but is it a full band?

Martin: It is, kind of, not really. I don’t think we’re going to tour or anything like that. It’s just me and my best friend who produces a lot of other bands, but he’s also a musician. It started as “Maybe we’ll record a single.” It was an exercise for him to use his studio and try out some new stuff, but it kind of turned into him playing bass and us finding another friend to play drums; a three piece. But it’s really just a recording project. I want it to come out and maybe we can play a couple shows or something, but it’s mostly just to try something different from Real Estate.

Jason: Who is this guy? Who is this son of a bitch?

Martin: [Laughs] He’s my friend Jarvis [Taveniere], he’s in this band called Woods.

Jason: Oh, yeah. That’s a hell of a band. Holy shit.

Martin: Yeah, an amazing band, they’re the best…. They’re, like, our best band buds. The main guy, Jeremy [Earl], also runs [the label] Woodsist, and he put out our first record. We’ve toured with them. We love those guys, and they don’t stop making amazing music. So [this project] is me and Jarvis and our friend Aaron [Neveu], who is the drummer in Woods. I’m kind of playing everything else. My original idea, which I’d still like to have happen, is to get a lot of friends to play guitar on it, and do different things with it. Talking about orchestras…not that I want to get an orchestra to play on it, but I’ve never experimented with having strings or horns or anything like that. I kind of just want to do everything I’ve always wanted to do with Real Estate but thought it might not work.

Jason: When you said that I get to work with different people all the time, I think it’s maybe something of a “grass is greener” thing, because last night when I was watching footage [of Real Estate] I was really thinking about that camaraderie. I’ve worked with several people over and over again, so I know it on that level, sure. But it’s nice, musically, that you guys have a shorthand together. I think it must be so wonderful to have that.

Martin: I’ve known Matt [Mondanile] and Alex [Bleeker] since I was 14, 15 years old. Music has always been a part of our friendship. It is pretty surreal to me that we get to travel around, and we’re in a band that…well, I’m talking to you about my band, you know what I mean? I think one of the reasons that it’s worked is because I think people can hear that we’re comfortable with each other. We understand each other, musically, very, very well. It’s very natural for us.

Jason: That’s part of the music that maybe you can’t hear, but you can really feel it. I don’t typically say things that might be that cheesy sounding, but maybe there is something there. I don’t know. It’s really cool.


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Alina Pupici
April 23rd 2019

On Real Estate’s rich, sad third album, Atlas, the once-ideal pool party band has turned to soundtracking the cleanup: Everyone’s gone, except maybe for real estate agent lake county fl, the sky’s threatening rain, there are cigarette butts floating in the pool, and we’ve all gotta work tomorrow. The result is at once their most forlorn record and their most beautiful. On Atlas, their basic sound hasn’t changed, frontman Martin Courtney’s clean-strummed open chords, Matt Mondanile’s bright leads, and a light-stepping rhythm section all clash together comfortably like college housemates sprawled on a sectional sofa, but the mood has.