On ‘The Main Thing’, Real Estate discover hope in perseverance 

On their existential fifth album, The Main Thing, Real Estate relinquish control and find peace.

Sonically the album is clearer, more concise than we’ve ever heard, and by the end, the band achieve the meaning they so singularly set out to discover.

real estate, the main thing

With the release of their fifth record, The Main Thing, we spoke with Alex Bleeker of Real Estate about finding hope in the face of existential anxiety.

“This record felt really important to us, as they all do. But this one – the most important one yet,” bassist and founding member Alex Bleeker told me over the phone.

It’s been more than ten years since the band dropped their eponymous debut album, and since then they’ve released four more. With so much behind them, they wanted to make sure that if they were making another record, it was something worthwhile.

“That’s the general overarching theme to the record: what is the point of making a Real Estate album this late in our career?” Bleeker described. “What is the point of making art in general in this anxious, uncertain world with an uncertain future around us?” 

It’s humbling to hear a band so deeply question their reason for being. But then again, Real Estate have never tried to be anything other than what they are. From the beginning, they did not glamourise themselves. They romanticised their very ordinary, suburban influences, and they wore them on their sleeves.

This anxious, uncertain world is at the forefront of The Main Thing. In the lackadaisical album opener, Friday, lead singer Martin Courtney IV sings, “If there is a point to this/It’s something that I must have missed/But I’m just glad that you exist/Try to hold onto the whole illusion of control.” 

“We’re not writing about particular political issues,” Bleeker tells me. We’re just writing about what it feels like to be alive at this moment.”

Yet despite the abstract, indescribable unease which permeates the record, the music retains a sense of hope. Friday lilts with grooves reminiscent of Air. Walking basslines, half-time drums, and warm guitars offer a nice sonic evolution for the band.

Lead single Paper Cup continues this line of abstract reasoning as Courtney questions, “If I could just stand still/Is it my will/Pulling me up this hill?/Searching for something real.” Paper Cup sees the band at their finest – a pleasurable indie format oozing with catchy guitar hooks, strings, and intimate vocals. Yet still, unrest lurks between the warm progressions.

Real Estate were once a band that traced the growing pains of becoming an adult: the trials of leaving high school, of trying to find one’s place in the world. Now, ten years later, their lives are very different. How does a band who built their identity on being youthful outsiders translate that when they are no longer teenagers?

In a kind of coming of full circle, at times the record gazes through the eyes of the next generation. Courtney, now a father, finds himself dealing with the internal conflict of wanting to protect his children whilst simultaneously recognising that the world is perilous and out of any one person’s control.

“The band has always dealt with a certain nostalgic feeling for better or for worse,” Bleeker describes. “I think now it’s this forward-looking nostalgia. It’s like, what will the future hold through the eyes of these new people in our lives?”

On the dreamy fourth track, You, Courtney seems to directly address his child, hoping to prolong their own coming of age and the anxieties that will inevitably bring: “Just dream your time away/I see no better use for it/For soon you’ll be awake/Then you’ll have to get used to it/…We all must succumb to gravity.”

the real estate, the main thing

When making The Main Thing, the band decided to go back and work with childhood friend and producer, Kevin McMahon.

“It sounds funny because our number one priority on this record was to not repeat ourselves and do something we’d already done before,” Bleeker tells me. “And we achieved that by going back to work with somebody that we had already worked with before, and had known for a long time.”

Ultimately the choice paid off. “Kevin was unlike some producer who we were just meeting for the first time. He knew where we came from and he was able to push us into new territory. He knew how we were feeling, and he was feeling all those things with us.” 

It seems for Real Estate, in many ways going back to the beginning is key. After ten years, the music has grown along with the lives of the bandmates, with Bleeker and Courtney being the two longest members. When I ask Bleeker about his friendship with Courtney he tells me that they’re still great friends, everyone in the band is.

“I met Martin when we were in the third grade, so we’ve changed significantly. But at the end of the day, when we’re playing music, that seed of being in the backyard doing Weezer covers together is still there.”

So did they find the point of making another Real Estate record? The answer is yes. But it took the process of making the album to find it.

Perhaps the song that gets to the very heart of the question is the title track, The Main ThingIt seems the words have become a kind of mantra for the band.

“We talk about the lyrics collectively as a band, and what ‘the main thing’ means and all that,” Bleeker tells me. “Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that when everything feels overwhelming, it’s important to lead by example, to find something which feeds your soul, and share that with the people around you.” 

“Despite the crushing weight of all that’s on our plate/Despite the true significance of everything at stake/I will stay true/The main thing,” sings Courtney.

Perhaps, the point is only ever to keep going. To find something that’s important to you, and to have the courage to continue in the face of the unknown. That’s the main thing.


The Main Thing is out now. Grab your copy here.