Alex Bleeker and his bandmates in Real Estate and The Freaks are some of our favorite musicians out there touring and putting out new records. From the first time we saw Real Estate at Glasslands to their latest album, In Mind, we've never been let down. So, we were stoked when Alex expressed interest in having us design a strap for him and then sat down for an interview with us.
We talked to Alex about the process of making Real Esate's latest record, adding Julian Lynch to the band, his burgeoning love of textiles, California vs. New York, the San Francisco music scene, and what's next for his band The Freaks. Check out the strap we designed with him and Real Estate's latest record, In Mind. It's another good one.
Fuzz: What's the most annoying set of questions that you get in an interview?
Bleeker: That's a really good interview question actually. [ Laughs ] The other day someone was like, "What instrument do you play in the band?" And I was like, "Why am I doing this interview?" You know?
And he's actually a really nice guy. I won't say too much. I don't want to publicly out him, but he was like "My friends and I, like, dig Real Estate." And I was like, "Cool." I just had nothing to say. It was just kind of awkward. He was really sweet and everything, but that can be kinda the worst. There are a lot of answers that are already on the internet in a bunch of places. Like, how'd you get your band name? Just google that.
One of the dudes from Tanlines has a podcast.
Yeah, yeah! I've done that.
He's a pretty good interviewer.
Yeah he is.
But that's one of the things he always says is, "I don't ask the band name question."
Yeah because I've been answering that question for ten years now, you know. It such a boring question.
I can rate your interview questions.
Yeah, let's do that. Let's rate each one. What did you guys do differently when recording this album?
That's a good question. Well we live in different parts of the country now. So that is huge. Also there's been a bit of a personnel shake-up with Matt [Mondanile] out of the band and Julian [Lynch] in the band. That was, on the surface, a pretty large thing. We were really interested in not having Julian replicate what Matt does, because we're big fans of the music he makes. But, just have him bring his own sound and musical texture to the record. That was paramount.
We were coming together in these long three-week periods to just be creative, and be together, and write music together. We've always done some version of that, but we were always living together, so it was a bit looser. This was, "Alright, we're coming to Martin's hometown for three weeks—Beacon, NY—and we're gonna jam, make tunes, and take songs that Martin's written and play them all together and turn them into band songs. So, we did that twice before we even went into a proper studio. We were recording the sessions, but it was really low-key. That was a really cool way to do it. I think we'll continue to do things that way.
What time of year was it in Beacon?
It was March, so it was kinda cold actually. The spring thaw was upon us.
We didn't record until the following June, so almost exactly a year ago—in Los Angeles.
I had a magical camping trip in Beacon where we went up and camped on a mountain. When we came down off the mountain there was a fall festival happening and Pete Seeger was leading a sing-a-long.
Oh yeah, well that was his zone. He was all up and down the Hudson. That would have been the time to do it too—in the fall when the leaves are changing.
Cool. Well that was the main question I wanted to ask.
Can I ask you questions?
Yeah, let's turn this around.
How long have you been making straps?
We've been doing this full-time for three years.
What inspired you to start making them?
My buddy Zach, who you met at SXSW. He's not with the company anymore.
You guys do—from my perspective—pretty well, right? I see your straps all over the world.
It's keeps growing. It's pretty cool.
Among musicians, it's a household name.
When was the first time you heard about us?
It may have been at Carter Vintage in Nashville. But that was pretty early on, and I just remember admiring them and thinking that they were really nice. But now, people just know about them—in my musical community at least.
It's difficult to see that from our end.
Well, I think you guys have a good artist outreach program. You hit up cool people who are gonna be into the designs. Straps can be pretty generic, so to have something that's nice and feels like it has character is great.
Well, that's why we started doing it. We're doing more collaborations with artists like we did with you. We've got one with Ultimate Painting, Eric Slick from Dr. Dog, who just put out a solo record, and Ron Gallo.
I think it's cool that we've been trying to get the right one for like two years.
Where'd you find that rug that we modeled your strap on?
It was at my friend's house. They had it laying on the couch or something, and I was like, "That's kind my vibe."
[ Laughs ] Well we were stoked about some of the designs we made that we didn't end up using.
Yeah I was stoked about them too. So if you end up making them, let me know. I like the two-color ones. I was having a really hard time choosing, actually. I like all of them.
How would you describe your vibe, if you had to articulate it?
I don't really know how I would describe my overall vibe, but I like textiles. This print was modeled after, I can't say for certain, but North African textile prints.
It was probably a mud cloth.
Yeah, are those the ones with the strips that are sewn together?
I just recently became aware of those and have seen them around a little bit, and I really like the way they feel and look. It's just really beautiful, worn-in fabric. I don't know it's like, "Now I'm 30 and I'm into textiles."
There are a few of your straps that are just so…I have this one that I really love. I think it's an Indian-made one. It's green. Kinda lime-green with pink. And it's so soft. It's unbelievably soft.
I don't remember that one. But we buy a lot of fabric, and when it's gone it's gone.
I think that's kinda cool. It's made-to-order in a way. You make what you can with the materials you have and that's it. It's cool that you're getting into prints because now you can reproduce it if you want to, right?
Yeah that's the cool thing about our silkscreen straps. We could do a new Alex Bleeker strap every year if we wanted to.
How many of these are you going to make?
We just did a small run, and we like to give some to the bands to sell at the merch table or to do whatever with.
What's going on with The Freaks?
Well, we haven't played a show in almost a year, which is kind of a bummer. I moved to California, so I kind of made it difficult logistically for the band to be together, but there will be more music for sure.
Originally The Freaks was just me and whoever, aptly named, and then it really became five people for the last record. Now I don't feel good about using the name "The Freaks" without them.
I just recently got in this headspace where it's like, "That's cool, The Freaks will be its own band." The Freaks will ride again, but I gotta go forward with Alex Bleeker and the [whatever] 'cause I got people that I play music with out in California too.
Are you in LA now?
No. I live just north of San Francisco on the coast in this cool, little town.
I bet that's beautiful.
Yeah, it's really nice.
When did you move there?
Almost two years ago.
Do you miss the east coast ever?
I'm there so much—because the band is there, and I'm back around, and it's always going to be my home—that I actually don't miss living there.
I was in Brooklyn for five years.
Yeah I lived in Brooklyn for six years. I grew up in Jersey. It's cool. It's amazing actually. I really like going back to visit. I still think of it as the best city in the world.
I'd love to go there once a month.
Yeah, that's kinda been my average. [ Laughs ] But we're sitting here at this picnic table. There's a breeze. It feels open. Nashville. It's nice.
It's about to get really hot here, swampy. What's going on with the Brooklyn music scene? Have you felt that now that you're a little bit older you're losing track of new bands?
Yeah I'm less aware of it honestly. Which, I don't if that's a good or bad thing. I still listen to a ton of music, and I'm not in Brooklyn anymore.
There's a really good scene out in SF that some friends of mine are central to that is based around this little tape label called Death Records. I'm really into what those guys are doing—all of the releases that they're putting out.
I've done a couple of cassettes with them. They've done tons of releases, but there are some real Death Records family bands like Emotional, Healing Potpourri, Froogy's Groovies. That's some new stuff that I'm all about. They're kinda keeping the DIY SF scene alive.
I thought that kinda died out.
It definitely did, and they're reigniting the torch.
That sort happened in Nashville recently.
I remember coming and doing Nashville's Dead shows and stuff like that.
Yeah that is over. And the thing that happened in Oakland is causing this crack-down on house shows here.
It's happening all across the country. It's too bad. Instead of giving artists money to have resources, they're just closing spaces.
It's a bummer. But that's good to hear that there's something happening in San Francisco.
Well, that's cool. I don't really have anything else.
That felt like a good interview.