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Interview: Matt Mondanile of Real Estate and Ducktails

"There's that obvious joke to make: Real Estate is my day job."

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Matt Mondanile of Real Estate
FilmMagic/Contributor/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Real Estate are an indie-rock band born in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and based in Brooklyn. Formed in 2008, they issued their debut, self-titled album in 2009 on the Woodsist label. The album introduced the world-weary, nostalgic songwriting of Martin Courtney, and the jangling guitars of he and Matt Mondanile. After signing to Domino in 2010, Real Estate released their second LP, Days, to a chorus of acclaim. Mondanile also records solo as Ducktails, having released three LPs, including 2011's Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics, which featured a collaboration with Panda Bear of Animal Collective. As Ducktails' Mondanile has been hugely influential on the sound of chillwave.

Interview: 11 October 2011

When you were a kid growing up, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always loved music, but I never really had any kind of ambition about it. I guess, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist, or an illustrator, or a veterinarian, or something like that. I was playing in music from when I was a kid; I started learning drums early in elementary school, and then I picked up guitar soon after. I started playing in bands when I was in high school. I played in a lot of bands with my friends in New Jersey. Including the guys who I still play with, in Real Estate, now."

What were your teenage rockbands like?
“At first it was punk and emo, or bands influenced by particularly early-'90s-sounding things, like Dinosaur Jr or Operation Ivy. I started playing in more 'indie' bands in college, I guess, and from there I ended up playing in a lot of noise bands, a lot of weird stuff, before I ended up in Real Estate."

How and when did you end up in Real Estate?
“We got together in summer of 2008. Martin was writing the songs, and we had this idea of me playing with this clean lead-guitar sound. But that was about it. We really just wanted it to be based around songwriting, I guess."

How soon thereafter did it feel like people were getting into what you were doing, and the band started to take on a life of its own?
"It happened pretty quick for Real Estate. Not so longer after we were a band we started getting written up on the internet, and from that we got more show offers, and after that we started playing all the time. It was cool when that happened, when people started to get into what we were doing. It's so gratifying when that actually happens. Because we've all been in bands that no one cared about before, so we know it's not automatic that people will actually respond to what you're doing."

How different did it feel making a second record, in terms of having expectations —and, perhaps, pressure— due to the response to your debut?
"We wanted to make it really good, because our first record got a good review. So we spent a lot of time on it; working on all the little details for about five months, listening to it, mixing it, making sure of everything. That's why I think it sounds pretty good. I think Martin probably felt some of that pressure, but it wasn't this debilitating thing; it was actually a pretty good thing, having something to live up to."

Was there a uniting quality you heard in the songs?
"I don't know. I guess we just recorded a bunch of songs, picked the ones that sounded good together, and made it into an album. Was there a unity quality? I mean, I guess there must be, because the one thing that had to unite all the songs was that they sounded good when played together at the same time. Every single one of the songs has the same kind of sound, same kind of quality to it. But what that actually is, I have no idea. We didn't think of it beyond that."

"Green Aisles" is obviously explicitly autumnal; d’you think that quality persists throughout? Is the record something that can be defined by a season?
"A lot of people say that our songs sound really seasonal, but usually I don't get that. But when I listened to this record I did really have that feeling; like, 'wow, this really does have an autumn feel to it.' We definitely had that in mind when we were recording 'Green Aisles'; it had to have an autumnal feel, that was really important in that song. And that went hand-in-hand with the recording of it."

As listener, do you associate songs with seasons?
"Yeah, sometimes I'll hear a song and it'll remind me of a season for whatever reason; or there'll be one of those songs that the first time you heard it was at a really specific time of year, so you associate that song with that time because of your own experiences. But I would never listen to music seasonally; I would never only listen to 'summery' things in summer."

Do you get tired of Ducktails being endlessly associated with summer?
"Yes! Absolutely. It's so annoying. It's really, really boring. It's the only thing I ever hear. It's now permanently attached to it. I can understand why people get that evocation from the music, but I'd like it if they could use different words to describe those same sensations. Or, even better, actually talk about something else in the music."

I feel like that cliché has gone into overload; I totally lost count over the past six months how many times I read something referred to as a 'summer jam.'
"That's because it's so easy to write. You don't have to bother to think about what you're writing about, just plug it in."

How has Ducktails existed alongside of, and related to, Real Estate?
"Ducktails has always been something that I've done. For years. It existed well before Real Estate. It felt like my band, my thing, before I started playing more and more with Real Estate, getting more and more into that. Now, the next few months are going to be totally consumed with Real Estate, but that/s just how it is sometimes; you have to put one thing a little off to the side to concentrate on the other. That's not how I like to do it; I prefer to just be able to do both, at the same time."

Is it ever difficult to juggle the two?
"Yeah. It's really difficult. It sucks. It's fun, sure, but most of the time it's a real pain-in-the-ass. But, I just have to look at it this way: I don't have to have a real job. I've got two bands I can play in, there's always something going on all the time. Sure, it's hard to work out schedules, and doing the label, too —having a day like today, where I spent all day mailing out records before I have to go on tour— makes it tough. But at least I don't have to go to the office. There's that obvious joke to make: Real Estate is my day job. Y'know, the band, as opposed to the occupation. But I’m so glad it’s the band, because I'd hate to have to work some 9-5. That'd be lame."

Did you start [your record label] New Images to release your own music, predominantly? Or to put out records by other people you were finding inspiring?
"Initially it was mostly to put out music by me and my friends, people that I know and talk to a lot. But the hope was that it'd eventually reach a place where I was putting out records by people I didn't know at all."

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