Interview: Martin Courtney: “I felt like I was able to try different things”

Martin Courtney: “I felt like I was able to try different things"

Real Estate’s frontman found himself with some downtime. New creative outlet ‘Many Moons’ is the liberating result.

The video to ‘Northern Highway’ - the first welcoming introduction to Martin Courtney of Real Estate’s debut solo album - arrives as a slowly interchanging set of images. With the frontman as narrator, the pictures detail a particular array of habitual haunts, suburban pathways, rusting bridges and green, pastoral crossings. Warmly embracing to familiar locals, each slide is an adventure to the unknown, or the chance to follow a route untrodden. It’s suitable, and perhaps not coincidental, that the video fittingly embodies the unknown that Martin Courtney found himself facing when approaching ‘Many Moons’. It is the frontman’s first outing alone, after all.

If the isolating idea of writing and releasing music alone for the first time perplexed him, Martin doesn’t show it. Approaching writing much like he has done with each Real Estate record, he was totally unaware of what would become of the output. “We’d just finished recording ‘Atlas’. I basically was just done with Real Estate in terms of writing,” Martin explains. “We were going into pretty heavy touring mode and any material I had written at that point didn’t need to go towards that band, that was kind of the idea. We all have time to do our own thing,” he says, “so it makes a lot of sense right now, before we get back to making another Real Estate record.”

With the group’s touring commitments halting work on what would eventually become ‘Many Moons’, the record’s pace was set to slow-nuture. Martin recorded the album over the space of a year and a half, with long-time friend and Woods member Jarvis Taveniere. When looking back at the development of the record, he feels positive about the way that it was approached, feeling comfortable in the time he had to revisit his ideas.

“It felt natural; we were only able to work on this thing when we both had down time, which was very rare.” Martin starts. “Really when you put all the time together I think we spent twenty days in the studio total. It was very rare that we actually had a day or two to get in the studio until the very end, when we were like ‘ok, we have sixty percent of ten songs recorded; if we are ever going to finish this, we need to actually set some time aside and actually do it’. It was kind of where the name came from in my head; ‘Many Moons.’ It refers to a lot of things, but it also refers to the amount of time it took us to make the record.”

“‘Many Moons’ was a huge learning experience for me.”

— Martin Courtney

With the idea of a full-length record beginning to take shape, Martin felt the opportunity was there to attempt a different approach to song-writing. He ended up enjoying the freedom of working in a less pressured environment. “The stakes feel a lot lower, since it’s a brand new project.” he admits. “I felt like I was able to try different things, and write in different styles than I would with Real Estate, just because different people were involved. I do feel like I can do whatever I want in terms of Real Estate - we’re definitely able to do any kind of genre or whatever - but I think subconsciously this felt a little more free, which is good.”

The Real Estate frontman’s enjoyment is evident throughout ‘Many Moons’. Applying a more straight-forward, power -pop influenced style, Courtney credits the influence of his new band mates for the tonal differences. “If it sounds different from anything I’ve done in the past, it’s a lot to do with the people who play on the record,” he says. “Along with the fact I was working with Jarvis [Taveniere], who was definitely a part of helping out with the song-writing process. It really depends on who you are working with, in how the songs turn out.”

The changes he made for this record aren’t only heard sonically, Martin leaving nostalgic notions behind, and focusing on present themes within his life. It’s something he says was more a necessity than a choice. “Having been so busy during the time we were making this record - touring with Real Estate constantly, and then also being a new dad - it was really hard to even find time to write lyrics. You don’t really have time to be reflective, you are just writing about what’s going on at that moment in your life, ‘cause that’s all I was able to think about. It’s the here and now.”

“The name ‘Many Moons’ refers to a lot of things, but it also refers to the amount of time it took us to make the record.”

— Martin Courtney

Another novel element to Courtney’s writing forte is the addition of strings, Courtney having spent time learning how to write instrumental compositions specifically for the album. “That was a huge learning experience for me,” he agrees. “I had no idea how to go about doing that, and knew I wanted to. It was actually an interesting exercise in trying to write parts that harmonised with each other, that didn’t interfere with the song, and that were not basic. My wife’s brother goes to [New York Music School] Juilliard, and he helped me take those parts and transcribe them for different instruments. Just doing that and having had that experience was really good. In the future, just knowing that I can write music for other instruments that I’m not familiar with, is great.”

If anything is to come from the making of ‘Many Moons,’ having another creative outlet to turn to has given Courtney yet another reason to productive. “It’s good to always have a pressing need to be creative. It was nice to have something to do while on tour, and while constantly on airplanes for the past year. I think if I hadn’t done [‘Many Moons’] we would just be as close to another Real Estate record.”

‘Many Moons’ has presented Martin Courtney with an opportunity to do what he is most passionate about. In considering whether a solo effort would be something he would try again, Courtney is open minded, in no rush to make a hasty decision. “I feel like it depends on if the time feels right at a certain moment,“ he reasons. “If I have some extra material, or if I have some time to work on it, why not? I could also see this as the only time I do this.”

Martin Courtney's debut album 'Many Moons' is out on 30th October.


Photo: Shawn Brackbill


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