Real Estate’s Martin Courtney Would Rather You Didn’t Describe His Band As ‘Chill’

When reached by phone earlier this week, Martin Courtney of the mellow New Jersey indie-rock band Real Estate was in the midst of checking out of a “sketchy” hotel on the outskirts of Austin. Courtney and his bandmates were in town for South By Southwest, where Real Estate played a series of shows leading up to the release of the band’s fourth album, the typically lovely In Mind. But while Courtney was happy to promote his latest record at one of the music industry’s largest annual events, he wasn’t eager to wade into the morass of SXSW.

“It’s just so crazy,” Courtney told me. “In general, I don’t do well in chaotic [situations]. You know, the downtown scene — which we’re mostly avoiding anyway, which is good.”

Courtney’s aversion to chaos is readily apparent on Real Estate’s records, which always sound as clean and orderly as the suburban communities that Courtney has often saluted in his songs. In Mind does not deviate much from previous Real Estate records — the songs are mostly mid-tempo, the guitar lines are always breezy and beautiful, and Courtney’s sings with uncommon affection about everyday domesticity. If you’re fan, In Mind reiterates Real Estate’s reputation as one of the most reliable indie bands going. There are more versatile bands, surely, but it’s not small compliment to note that Real Estate has mastered the art of making Real Estate records with In Mind.

Before we talk about the new record, I’m curious: What’s your opinion of South By Southwest?

I kind of refrain from whining about it too much, because we chose to be here. We’re lucky enough to come down here and make a little money. Whereas I think a lot of bands come here because they think something good is gonna happen, which hopefully it does. But most bands don’t get paid to play these shows, so it’s kind of a weird hustle, which is not that cool. There’s a lot of money flying around, but most of those musicians aren’t seeing any of it.

In Mind is the fourth Real Estate record. It’s really good, but it has no narrative, and it seems like artists really need a narrative in order to make the media interested. When you’re a legacy band, “good band makes a good record” isn’t very sexy. I just wrote about Spoon, who has the same problem with every album.

We were actually joking about it last night. First of all, to be compared to Spoon is awesome. And to be put in that bracket of quote/unquote “legacy band,” that’s all I want. I’ve always thought [that] if you just put out enough albums, and keep working really hard and putting out a good record every few years, eventually you’ll have some kind of weight as a band.