Martin Courtney’s band, the New Jersey jangle-pop outfit Real Estate, broke through last year with its acclaimed third album Atlas. But when he answers an early morning call from EW to chat about his upcoming solo debut, Courtney is pretty far from the rock-star life: he’s groggy from a lack of sleep and contemplating life as an adult and new parent.
“The lyrics are both looking in the past and in the future, because I’m thinking about the way I grew up and then thinking about the way my daughter’s growing up and the world that is going to be there for her when she’s my age,” Courtney tells EW about Many Moons, which arrives Friday. “What elements of the world we’re in now will still be around?”
Real Estate has churned out nostalgia nuggets like “Younger Than Yesterday” and “Past Lives” for years, but for Many Moons, Courtney put a twist on his traditional brand of unhurried, suburban indie rock. Produced with Jarvis Taveniere of Woods, Many Moons is driven by Courtney’s crisp acoustic guitar, but also includes string flourishes and even a well-placed flute solo. “I thought the strings would add a timelessness to it or at least evoke a different vibe,” says Courtney, citing the Kinks’ 1968 classic The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society as a major influence.
But don’t expect too different of a sound from Courtney’s earlier work. “They could’ve been Real Estate songs if we had put them through that process and done it that way,” he says. “It not a Real Estate album, just because it’s not a Real Estate album.”
Read on for EW’s full conversation with Courtney, which touches on writing on the road, his love of ’70s folk rock, and writing music about inanimate objects.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What makes Many Moons different from a Real Estate album?
I wrote these songs during the time that we were touring and finishing the last Real Estate record. They’re songs that could’ve been for any project or could’ve gone in any number of directions. We were consciously trying to try different ideas and bring different instrumentation into it and just sort of see if we can take my songs and my voice and make something that doesn’t sound exactly like Real Estate.
Going off the instrumentation idea, there are these little differences stylistically on Many Moons: Strings on “Before We Begin” and a couple others, flute on the title track. How did you decide to add in those ornamentations?
That was something I’ve always wanted to do — I just finally followed through with it. Ideally we try to stay away from too many flourishes like that with Real Estate, because to me what makes that band cool is the fact that we can make lush sounding arrangements just within the five people in the band. Some of the songs [on Many Moons are] almost like genre exercises. I was trying to recreate some type of a classic sound.
Was there any music you listened to while you were making the record that rubbed off on you?
At first we were talking about the Kinks. I wanted to try and bring a little bit of their style in, a little bit lyrically, but definitely in the sort of bounciness of some of the songs. We were trying to [have] it be acoustic-based, [but] with drums and electric bass and electric guitar leads. That was definitely influenced by Village Green. I’ve always been really into ’70s folk rock. A lot of Nick Drake rubbed off on my record. I was definitely channeling that and Joni Mitchell.
A prominent theme in Real Estate’s music is suburban nostalgia and looking back. I hear it on Many Moons too, like on “Foto,” where you’re singing about not being the same as you were before. What makes it an interesting topic for you to work with?
It’s funny because with the last Real Estate record I was thinking, “Oh, I want to get away from writing about stuff like that,” just because our first two records were all about that. But it’s hard to, because that’s the way I grew up. As I get older and my life evolves I’m still writing about the same stuff but through a different lens. So now, as a dad, I feel like that definitely made its way into a lot of the lyrics on this record. I’m kind of writing about, I’m looking backwards, but as a way of sort of looking forwards. Like on “Vestiges,” the lyrics are kind of both looking in the past and in the future. It’s a very vague concept. I’m still writing about the way I grew up but in a different light.
How has getting married and having a kid and being in a popular band that changed your perspective on that type of nostalgia?
It’s hard to figure out something to write a song about. “Foto” was [one of] a couple songs [I wrote] in the beginning, trying to just write lyrics that were about very specific things that are not necessarily personal – like writing a song about looking at a photograph and detaching myself. What’s it like to look at a picture? As Many Moons evolved into more of an actual album, I started to put more of myself into the lyrics, just because I started taking it more seriously. Even the songs I was trying to be detached from have personal elements.
I’m sure you were so exhausted after Real Estate toured Atlas. How did you go about recording this? Was it just kind of in spots here and there?
It was the very definition of a side project: We just got to it whenever we could. For me it was fun because it gave me something to do while touring with Real Estate. It kept me busy in terms of like, sitting on a plane and having a bunch of songs that I needed to write lyrics for. That was the first time I was motivated enough to be on tour and accomplishing other things. I think because I had spent so much time in the past touring and it’s sort of dead time: You’re playing shows and that’s nice, but other than that you’re not really accomplishing much creatively. You’re just kind of playing the same songs over and over again. It was a nice feeling, having something else to focus on.