Let’s turn the dial toward your other projects. Has Real Estate been in the studio as of late?
Yeah, we’re almost done with our second full-length studio record. Most of the tracking is done and next week we’re probably going to get into mixing it. We recorded it at Marcata Studio, which is in this really awesome, old converted barn up in New Paltz. It used to be the home of The Walkmen, and the studio was located way up in Harlem. And since then The Walkmen are no longer involved, but it’s the same engineer that ran their studio and a lot of the same old gear. There’s a big 22 track tape machine, so we’re still getting to do analog stuff, which is sort of like the next level up and very cool for us.
It’s much more of a hi-fi record than the first one, but it’s not like a glossy chromed-out studio. It’s definitely a professional studio with nice mics and nice gear, and a pro engineer. But it’s not L.A. super glossy, super clean kind of studio. So it’s a perfect marriage for us. It’s a pro studio but a homemade pro studio in this weird way—it’s up in a barn in the middle of the woods.
I think it’s a very comfortable place for us to be in because we definitely didn’t want to abandon that homemade feel. That being said, we wanted to see what we could do in a proper studio. So it’s definitely going to have a much cleaner studio sound, but it’s us creating the Real Estate sound in that kind of studio.
In your opinion, what is the main difference between this album and the last one?
On this record I have a song that I wrote, which I’m very excited about. I actually do the lead vocal on it. That’s probably the biggest difference in terms of me, personally. Martin is still the chief songwriter on this record. It’s not all that different from the first one. The very first batch of songs we ever learned together as Real Estate is what made up the first record. Obviously, this is the sophomore album and some of these new songs we had a good opportunity to play live before recording them.
So now that we’re recording them, even though they’re new recorded songs they feel like old songs because they’ve been in the live repertoire for six months or some of them almost a year. So that’s cool in a way, and then there’s also some brand new stuff. Like maybe fragments of songs that we got to finish in the studio, which was definitely a new approach for us. We’re hoping for a release in early fall, like September or October.
Real Estate has been together a few years now, and the live shows have really improved during that time. What role does improvisation play in your live performances?
I think, very simply, it’s more fun for us to play live shows if the songs aren’t exactly the same all the time. So as musicians and friends I think if we’re having a better time on stage then the audience is having a better time watching us. We’re definitely not a classic jamband. We don’t have too many jams, but there are certain songs that lend themselves to improvisation or even just slight differences throughout them, so we can keep it interesting for ourselves.
Then there’s a couple of songs that we just leave room, there’s no “we end it after this many times, etc.” We always just feel it out. I always feel like at our best shows someone will do something that spins us in a completely new direction that we haven’t done live and we’ll all get really excited and some great jam will come out of that.
When we started the band that was one of the major components we wanted to go after—the jammy idea where songs could morph and change and wouldn’t always be the same. Then somewhere we just started playing a ton of shows, around the time when the record came out. We were on tour and playing on a slightly larger stage and, for a little while, the jammy thing took a bit of a backseat.
That’s part of the reason we haven’t been on tour since November—when you’re playing the same 12 songs over and over they can get really mechanical. So now we have all these new live songs in our repertoire, and actually the last show we played we opened with a jam we’d never played before and then we jammed into “Suburban Beverage” out of that. A bunch of other songs ended with jams and we just made this effort to open up to improvising. I think it was my favorite show that was played in a while and we had fun. So I think you can expect some more of that.
Would you be willing to allow tapers to record your shows?
Yeah, totally. I would love to allow taping at all of our shows. We’ve had no problem with it and I’m super into it. If we were ever in a position where we had to designate special taper sections or seats, I would do that in a heartbeat. I’ve always respected that Grateful Dead live bootleg, tape trading culture, I’ve always been really into it. If that were to ever happen to us I think we’d be really psyched.
Have tapers approached you about recording in the past?
Yeah, there are a fair amount of our shows up on NYC Taper’s site. We really like him and he does a good job. People tend to ask if they can do it just out of respect, but I don’t think we’ve ever said no. It would be cool if someone would make them into actual cassette tapes. I haven’t seen a Real Estate bootleg yet, but that would be awesome.
We’ll let our readers know. What’s happening with your solo project Alex Bleeker and the Freaks?
I have a new album’s worth of material all demoed out. I think I’m going to start recording it properly once we wrap up this Real Estate album.
There’s a song on the last Freaks album called “Dead On,” which sounds exactly like a Grateful Dead jam. Was that intentional?
Yeah, the reason it’s called “Dead On” is totally a reference to the Grateful Dead. And what that is, actually, that was when we were testing the levels. That record is recorded live and then I put the vocals on top of it. So we were testing the levels of the eight-track machine that we were using and we were just jamming and then I heard it and I was just like, “this sounds great.” So we pulled out that little segment and put in on the record as a little homage to the Dead.
Do you bring more of your jam influences to your side project?
I think I’m the member of Real Estate that has the biggest jam background. So probably my side project, just by nature of the fact that I’m the lead songwriter, is going to be the most jammy, in a way. But Matt’s [Mondanile] early stuff [with Ducktails] is really improvisational which is like a flip side of the jam coin. Not like jamband jambands, but stuff like krautrock that is highly improvisational has a big influence on his music.
I’ve said in multiple other interviews that some of the first psychedelic and most experimental music I’ve ever heard were spacey jams at live Phish shows that taught me to open my ears and be patient and listen to music like that.
Is there a specific Phish show that influenced you?
I never saw them pre-hiatus. I only saw them post-hiatus and then recently. I was at the show at Nassau Coliseum in February of 2003 when they did the 30 minute “Tweezer” to open the second set—the one where they played “Destiny Unbound.” That was probably the best Phish show I’ve ever seen. Just the feeling of that show was amazing.
I first got into Phish when they were still together and then six months later they broke up, so I never got to see them until after the hiatus. I started going to shows afterwards and there’s this whole culture of being talked down to, “Oh, they used to be so much better…” But I had nothing to compare it to and I just thought it was awesome. I just loved every show I saw.
Then I saw that one, and it’s similar to what I was talking about before. If the crowd’s having a good time and we’re having a good time, then it’s going to be a better show for everyone and they just feed into each other. I really saw how that worked because they were playing super well and the crowd got really psyched. I’m sure that just made them want to play so much better. You really felt that indescribable energy of a really, really good show that everyone was unanimously agreeing upon. That was the first time it happened for me.