Real Estate’s Martin Courtney enters a new phase

The frontman finds clarity for his solo debut, “Many Moons.”

Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney released his solo debut album Many Moons, last Friday, a project two years in the making.

Photo courtesy of Shawn Brackbill

Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney released his solo debut album ‘Many Moons,’ last Friday, a project two years in the making.

by Chance Wellnitz

Real Estate’s Martin Courtney liked the idea of disappearing into his band. With each album, Courtney’s soft voice never competed against the intricate guitar work surrounding it, each track given an equal coating of reverb.
The band’s lyrics always skewed toward the abstract, with Courtney admitting that sometimes he wouldn’t know what a song would mean until months later. Even on paper, Real Estate’s music resembled a half-remembered dream.
On his solo album, “Many Moons,” released last Friday, Courtney’s lyrics still aren’t straightforward.
“This place is like a column of stone, many moons for it to grow. Phases they will come, and they will go,” Courtney sings on album standout, “Vestiges.”
However, Courtney now grounds his songs in real-life experiences, as shown in song titles like “Northern Highway” and “Airport Bar,” and the haze of reverb has lifted. Courtney’s voice finally has the full attention it deserves.
What made you pursue a solo project now?
Jarvis [Taveniere of the band Woods] and I started working on it almost two years ago now, before the last Real Estate record came out, just for fun. It wasn’t going to be a solo project or even an album. It just sort of snowballed, and it made sense to put it out as a solo record. … They were all kind of my songs, and I ended up playing 80 percent of the instrumentation. We didn’t really have a band name [laughs]. I never really wanted to put it out under my own name, but then it came down to the wire, and it made the most sense.
Why didn’t you want to put an album out under your own name?
It just seems grandiose or something. I don’t think of my name of being all that interesting. To stick it on a record cover, it almost seems too boring.
How did writing and recording this album compare to that process with Real Estate?
Each Real Estate record has been different, but this record was definitely a really drawn out process. … I had the most time to think about these songs before they came out because there was really no need to [release them] at any point. We just kept working on it until we felt like we were there. In that way, it seemed a little more low-key than the last Real Estate record. I guess it’s a little bit more high-stakes with Real Estate because more people are going to be interested in hearing it than a brand-new project.
You’ve established yourselves with Real Estate, whereas this is something new.
There’s a certain amount of expectation or something. We’ve kind of established a sound for ourselves, which we don’t necessarily feel any kind of pressure to stick to. We’ll see what the future holds for Real Estate, if our sound changes. With this record, it was definitely fun to try out different styles and try different ideas than I had done in the past with Real Estate.
Did you feel like you had more freedom with this project?
I feel like [with Real Estate] we can definitely do anything we want. But yeah, maybe I felt just a little bit more … I think I cared less about it. Not that I didn’t want it to be good, but I think I was thinking less about [this project] than I have with Real Estate. … It was a little more trying the first idea that popped into my head, and then whatever ideas Jarvis wanted to try.
How has fatherhood influenced your music?
Lyrically, a little bit. That’s probably the main thing, and it made me want to write more, be more prolific and put more out there. In that way, I feel like it’s gotten me to work harder.
Has the thing that draws you to music changed as you’ve grown older?
Yes and no. Outside of family and stuff, it’s my job now. It’s not just something that I do for fun, even though it is fun. I guess I’m lucky in that way. I still really enjoy it, and I still like writing songs because it’s like a puzzle for me. To figure out how to piece it together and take it from just strumming on the guitar to a finished product — it’s a fun thing for me to do. Every time I’m writing a new song, it’s still exciting. … [With] the fact that it’s my job now, that just means I do it more, which is also good. Before I was in a touring band, I would just write a song every few months out of boredom. Now I sit down as often as I can. I try to do it every day, but sometimes I get busy with other things.
It’s now more of a discipline.
Do you think you could’ve written any of the songs on “Many Moons” 10 years ago? Or is this very in-the-moment?
I would like to think that I’ve hopefully gotten better at writing songs. Lyrically, I don’t think I would’ve had a lot of the same experiences that I’ve had since. Ten years ago I was in college, so I had very different life experiences at that point. Hopefully, these songs are better than something I could’ve written when I was 20.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring college songwriter?
I really found it helpful to be recording. If you’ve got Garageband or something on your computer, record what you’re doing, and then try and layer on top of it. That always helped me hear where the song was going. Don’t be scared to put your music out there and let people hear it. That’s definitely what worked for Real Estate, putting our music on the Internet. This was in the days of MySpace, but you know, get it [up] on Bandcamp and share it with your friends. Meet people who are also writing music. 
Get inspired by your peers. That’s something that was always helpful for me and my friends, sharing music with each other.