Massachusetts Daily Collegian

An interview with Real Estate’s bass guitarist Alex Bleeker

Bleeker discusses the Western Massachusetts music scene

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(Dylan Pech/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)

(Dylan Pech/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)

(Dylan Pech/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)

By William Plotnick, Collegian Staff

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Alex Bleeker and his band Real Estate are no strangers to small, rowdy audiences. Playing in Northampton, Massachusetts this past Friday, they were welcomed by a young crowd who came ready to dance their socks off to both new and old Real Estate tunes. The band was having a blast playing in this intimate setting, cracking jokes among themselves and with the crowd in between beautiful, pop-rock jam sessions.

Finding their roots in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Real Estate was a formative band in the indie-pop scene back in the mid-to-late 2000s, and continue to pioneer the sound to this day. Prior to their show in Northampton, I had the opportunity to catch up with lead bass guitarist Alex Bleeker, as he was driving in a van with the other band members on their way to the first show of their tour in New Hampshire. Alex and I spoke about the band’s beginnings, their most recent album “In Mind,” and his relationship with the Western Massachusetts music scene.

William Plotnick: “We actually have a pretty funny thing in common by the way.”

Alex Bleeker: “Yeah?”

WP: “So, when I was young and taking guitar lessons, I one day printed out the guitar tab to ‘Beach Comber,’ which is one of the songs that I loved off your debut album. I gave itto my guitar teacher and was hoping he could teach me how to play the chords and all that. He looks at me with a big smile and says, ‘You know, I taught every member in this band how to play guitar.’”

AB: “Your guitar teacher was Tony Scally?”

WP: “Yeah!”

AB: “That’s insane. What was his reaction like when you said that?”

WP: “He was just trying to be so humble about the fact that he taught this band that was then

blowing up and getting recognition. And here, I’m sitting in practical awe of him. Do you remember him well?”

AB: “Yes, I love Tony Scally. We actually talk about him together all the time. Amazing guitar teacher, great guitar player and overall great guy. He was kind of like a mentor to us.”

WP: “Yeah, he was always trying to impart deep wisdom in between practicing songs.”

AB: “Exactly. He told me not to do drugs. I’m in the car with Julian [Lynch] right now and he would actually teach us guitar on the same day. Saturday morning. And he’d always give me a hard time because I’d tell him, ‘Tony, I left my guitar at Julian’s house,’ and he’d always respond, ‘Why are you leaving your guitar places?!’”

WP: “We both grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, and the coolest part about living there for myself was getting to experience the live music culture in New York City. I’m wondering for yourself, if growing up in the area had a similar impact on you?”

AB: “I think it definitely did have an impact on me, because the proximity of New York affects the culture of that area in New Jersey. As teenagers, we were very directly able to take New Jersey transit into the city to go see shows and to see a lot of our favorite bands that we liked that were coming to town. We had access to a lot of different music and culture just by living so close. But obviously, Bergen County is not New York City at all, it’s much more protected and sheltered in a lot of ways. But that definitely doesn’t reflect the place negatively. We were lucky to be able to grow and explore music, have music programs in our school and have our parents buy us electric guitars for holidays and stuff like that. So, I would absolutely say that living there had an influence and impact on our music.”

WP: “I also loved taking the train in or driving to experience that vibrant music scene. One show I particularly remember is seeing Real Estate headline Terminal 5 with the band Girls about eight years ago. Funny enough, King Krule actually opened that show.”

AB: “Yeah, I remember that show, and now King Krule is probably the most popular among all three bands, right? That show was definitely super memorable. Matt Kallman who plays keyboard in Real Estate now was in Girls at the time.”

WP: “Are there any formative concert-going experiences that stood out for you during your early years as a musician?”

AB: “Totally. I remember going to Irving Plaza to see Black Dice, Lightning Bolt and Sonic Youth, and that show blew my mind apart. I must have been like 16 years old, taking the train in to see these bands. I’d never heard of Black Dice, and I’d maybe seen Lightning Bolt one time before. We mostly came to see Sonic Youth. But I’d simply never before experienced something that loud or experimental from the two opening bands. That totally changed my perception of what music or a show could be. It was just mind blowing.

“I just saw tons of shows at Irving Plaza, for whatever reason at that time growing up, a lot of good live shows were happening there. I have a lot of good memories of taking the train in to go see those shows and then probably missing the last train back and being stranded and then having to call our parents, stuff like that.”

WP: “I’ve been on that boat before, I used to take my Dad’s car into the city with me and more than once I lost the keys while dancing at the show.”

AB: “You were probably like, ‘I’m going to be in so much trouble!’”

WP: “Now that you’ve moved out to the West Coast, I’m wondering what the music scene is like there in comparison to what’s going on here in the East?”

AB: “Well I don’t live in a big city, I’m kind of by the beach, so it’s a sort of different lifestyle altogether. It’s a little quieter, with a countryside sort of vibe. But there’s a really active, local and small music scene where I am. And I actually play a ton of music mostly just for fun. A lot of musicians and bands recently left the Bay Area because it was just getting so expensive, so there is actually a thriving scene of smaller musicians and rock bands and such that are moving into my local community.”

WP: “In a 2014 interview with SPIN magazine, you claimed that, ‘People are going to say it forever, but we’re not trying to make the soundtrack to your summer.’ Real Estate’s music is easily associated with warm weather and good vibes because of its feel-good quality, but with the new record, ‘In Mind,’ one gets the sense that the band was trying to encompass a different variety of moods. With the new record, were you making a conscientious attempt to avoid being pigeonholed?”

AB: “I think that’s accurate. Nobody wants to be pigeonholed in any kind of way; you want to feel versatile. My comments were a reaction to reading that over and over again, because we never deliberately set out to be the band that makes summer music. It’s cool, and we appreciate those associations, but we’d love to have more depth beyond that. Definitely, with the new album, we were consciously trying to explore new sounds and territories. That’s for sure.”

WP: “There’s an almost child-like quality to the new record, and I’m wondering if creating a more freewheeling sound was something the band was actively going for? What kind of things do you do in the studio to create an environment in which you can just let the music come to you without putting any pressures on yourselves to achieve a certain sound?”

AB: “That sound came from our producer in a lot of ways. He kept saying, ‘Play like kids! Play like kids!’ But I don’t know if we did anything in particular in the studio to enhance that, other than the fact that he would constantly be repeating that phrase to sort of remind us. It actually took me awhile after we finished recording the album to understand what he meant by that.

“When we’re making music successfully, I think it should have a completely organic quality, and I think our producer is trying to get us to go back to a time before we were in a really nice studio, where things are so structured. We’re always trying to remember that core of making music purely to make music, and not worry whether or not someone’s going to be hearing it.”

WP: “I’ve also noticed that the band took a more experimental approach on the new record. There are these nuances of psychedelic rock throughout the album. This is a sound from Real Estate that listeners definitely have not heard before, so I’m wondering what it was that brought about your willingness to take more risks in your sound? Was adding new lead guitarist Julian Lynch a factor in this at all?”

AB: “I would say that it came about from all of us collectively, but Julian definitely influenced the record’s sound. Now he’s getting all self-conscious, because he’s sitting right next to me and can hear everything I’m saying. Julian brought a lot to the recording process; he had only just joined the band when we began it. I think a lot of what you’re hearing comes from new players, or new energy and the fact that Julian’s strengths as a musician are unique and different. Hopefully we can take this even further now, because Julian has been in the band for a few years and he’s been showing us things that he’s been working on and I’m excited to see how that develops.”

WP: “What is your relationship to the Western Massachusetts music scene?”

AB: “Western Mass. is actually a place that [I’ve] spent a fair amount of time. I went to college in Bennington, Vermont and I remember I would drive over to Northampton all the time. It wasn’t because of the deeper legacy bands, such as the Pixies, but there was a thriving noise music scene that is probably still there. Bands like Fat Worm of Error were actually playing these shows with Wet Tuna that I would go see. That music scene was more what I was into then, and I’m sure it’s still pretty active.”

William Plotnick can be reached at [email protected]

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