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Real Estate Come Full Circle on Sixth Studio Album Daniel 

Band leader Martin Courtney shares his views from the frontlines of a zeitgeist.

by Maggie McPhee

Photo by Sinna Nasseri

A few years ago, Martin Courtney came to a crossroads: make another album with his band Real Estate, or trade his music career in for a cubicle. Swept into the current of late aughts indie rock, the New Jersey quintet have always ridden the former wave without looking back — until now. 

Courtney rose to fame at 22. Real Estate won the indie lottery: A group of highschool friends plucked from the basements of their parent’s suburban homes and granted an international stage, whose artistic contributions grew with each passing album. They introduced a new sound to audiences, helping define indie music at its cultural apotheosis. They occupied the frontlines of a zeitgeist. Time passed, lyrics darkened, and band members came and went, ageing into their late 30s, buying homes and starting families. 

Whereas they used to do what they did because it was “just the thing that you do,” as Courtney tells RANGE, with all these new responsibilities, making music for a living turned into a conscious decision. “It was like I could either get a normal job or make another record,” he says. “For better or for worse I decided to make another record. I chose to give this another shot.

“Like, let’s try again and let’s see what happens,” he continues. “Let’s do it proper, you know, write some great songs and work with a real producer and go to a fancy studio.” The choice germinated from a simple seed: what if Real Estate eschewed their seven-minute psychedelic jams and focused on their pop songs? 

“I naturally go in this pop direction, if I’m not trying to do anything else. I want to write what comes naturally to me. And I’ve always had fun writing pop songs, it’s always been something I can sit down and just do. And I love melodies,” says Courtney. “It felt like the most pure expression of my songwriting, at least at this point.” 

Daniel, Real Estate’s sixth studio album, recorded over nine days in Nashville with grammy-winning producer Daniel Tashian, balances the band’s earlier instrumental jubilance with its later lyrical weight. “Just because I’m having fun writing catchy melodies or something, I’m still in this headspace throughout the last few years of questioning everything, questioning the decisions I made in my life that led me to this point,” Courtney says. “It has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve got young kids. I’m trying to figure out how best to proceed.”



“A music career is a fragile thing; things don’t last forever.”

— Martin Courtney (Real Estate)


“Go and take a walk/Take stock/Past block after block/Doors unlocked/Trying not to get lost,” he opens on “Freeze Brain,” amid propulsive percussion, a bubbly bassline and an earworm guitar hook that flits between major and minor chords. “I love that contrast,” says Courtney. “I just want the lyrics to be something that could hopefully be meaningful to people and the only way I know how to do that is to try and explore whatever’s going on in my own head.”  

Courtney admits he’s been in a dark headspace the last few years. Real Estate’s recent records, including a solo album released in 2022, reflect that state of mind. In some ways, the band’s success feels too good to be true, and he can’t come to terms with the luck that’s befallen him. In other ways, that success has pigeon-holed them into a time, place, and genre, tethered to the forefront of 2010s indie, unable to wander new territories (perhaps it’s no coincidence that one of Courtney’s most worn lyrical themes is travel). These two contradicting realities have led the musician to an existential cul-de-sac, a place from which he’s poised to repossess his identity and voice. 

“Take a look around/I come from a town not too far from here/There is a sound/Never figured out how to make it clear/I hear a song inside my head/Can’t figure out what it’s trying to say,” he sings on single “Water Underground,” the first song he wrote that inspired Daniel. Since, as evidenced by the 10 songs that followed, Courtney has chipped away at that sound. 

“A music career is a fragile thing; things don’t last forever,” he tells RANGE. But Real Estate has persevered for 15 years, and Courtney hopes that, for now, Real Estate can continue to “just kind of exist,” making music that captures what’s honest to each new moment.