By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious
Life in Northern California suits Alex Bleeker just fine.
The leader of Alexer Bleeker and the Freaks – and, perhaps more notably, the bassist for Real Estate – has called the East Coast home for most of his life, but that didn’t stop him from uprooting and moving to Marin County recently. By the sound of it, the area has been calling his name for quite some time.
“Marin is really beautiful, and I was led here by the record that I just made,” Bleeker shares over the phone. “I made some friends out here and decided to pull the trigger and leave New York.”
That record, Country Agenda, was recorded at Panoramic House, a studio nestled along the beach. “It’s this really beautiful place overlooking the ocean,” Bleeker says of the renovated space, a relic from the 1960s built entirely from recycled architectural materials.
It’s clear that the change of scenery influenced the album’s aesthetics: Country Agenda has a flowing, summery, and calm vibe reminiscent of the great Americana albums of yesteryear.
And while Bleeker is definitely inspired by his heroes, it’s the timeless nature of folk music that lends itself to constant reinterpretation and reinvention.
“It’s the soul of that music that drew us to it,” Bleeker sharesin his soft-spoken and gentle voice. “We wanted to engage in the tradition of classic American music, I guess.”
You’ve now released three albums as Alex Bleeker and the Freaks and three albums with Real Estate. Which project gives you more personal satisfaction? Do you view this project as hewing closer to your personal musical interests?
They both scratch different personal itches for me. I can’t really say which one is I feel more personally connected to. They’re both really big parts of my life.
I mean, I’m the chief songwriter of Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, and it’s a less collaborative effort, so I feel really close to whatever goes into that, you know?
But Real Estate is my whole creative output, or it’s been a large part of it for the last few years of my life. They’re different. They satisfy different creative needs of mine. I’m really happy to have both bands in my life.
Have you noticed any differences between the audiences for each project?
Oh, the Real Estate audience is much bigger. [Laughs] I think a lot of people come to my music [with the Freaks] that way, which is awesome.
The hardest thing is when people try to set up a dichotomy between both bands – expressing a preference for one over the other. It’s cool, and I’m really involved in both of them, and I like them both, but, definitely, people come to the Freaks that way. That’s a certain reality, because Real Estate has a reach and a certain success.
Any way that people come to our music, it’s really awesome for me if they’re enjoying it.
You’ve sung vocals on a couple of Real Estate songs over the years. Can we expect more going forward or does that remain Martin’s Courtney domain?
I don’t know. We all write songs for the record, and he obviously writes most of them. Real Estate is more based around his creative vision, but everyone is welcome to bring songs to the table, and if we like them, they’ll make it onto the album.
Country Agenda is a significant departure from most of the music you’ve made with the Freaks and Real Estate. What was the inspiration?
I guess it was the music I really like to listen to and play. We were listening to a lot of records by Bobby Charles. He’s probably one of the more obvious influences on the album.
All of the members of the Freaks, myself included, are really into revivalist folk and Americana. It’s the soul of that music that drew us to it. We wanted to engage in the tradition of classic American music, I guess.
When I listen to the record, I can’t help but think about Music From the Big Pink.
Totally! [Laughs] I mean, that’s one of my favorite records of all time, and I was definitely interested in making that kind of an album. That’s right on the money, for sure.
I know you have a deep love for the Grateful Dead. Were you able to attend any of their shows this summer?
I went to all three of their shows in Chicago, and it was incredible. It’s almost indescribable. Beyond the music that was played at the shows themselves – which I thought was great – it was special to be a part of that community and seeing the live shows, and seeing them come together with a bunch of fans of the band.
Do you have a favorite Dead recording?
[Pauses] You know, one of my favorite shows is the sound check from Watkins Glen in 1973. A legendary soundcheck of theirs that turned into an actual show. I believe it was July 27, 1973. I might be wrong, but I think that’s the show.
What are your thoughts on their touring collaboration with John Mayer?
Uh, you know, more power to them. [Laughs]
They’ll have fun doing that, and I’m sure people will enjoy it and have a good time.
I’m not the biggest John Mayer fan – I’ve got nothing against him – but I’m not bending over backwards to get to those shows. I might attend one, who knows. [Laughs]
You’re passionate about theater and acting. Have you found anything in California in terms of theater productions or acting that might intrigue you?
I’ve always got an eye open for that kind of thing. It’s interesting you ask about it, because I’ve just started reading some plays with friends down here. As weird as that sounds, we try to get together and read at least one night a week, as a way to keep that flame burning. We recently read “The Birthday Party” by Harold Pinter.
It’s hard to do all of these things at once, because being in a band requires you to be on tour a lot and be away from one place for so long, which makes it really difficult to be in a play. I regret that I’ve lost a lot of the theater that I love so much, but I hope to rekindle that one day.
What was the last play you saw in a theater?
I don’t remember, but I’m going to New York next week to start rehearsals for the tour, and I bought tickets for a show at this experimental theater company that does really different and exciting takes on some classics. They’re doing a little preview of a production at their performance space in the city, and I bought a ticket. I’m really looking forward to seeing some performances while I’m back in New York.
Have you thought about composing a score for a play or supporting live acting with music?
I’d love to do something like that. I did a bit of it in New York years ago, but not to the degree I would have wanted. It was for a small theater company called Immediate Media. I did original music for one of their productions, and it was a weird and off-kilter psychedelic media experience. That was absolutely great.
Looking at your touring schedule, you’re starting on the East Coast and driving across back West. Do you ever wish you weren’t on the road this often?
I love touring. I love touring, I really do, and I’ve been doing it for a really long time.
I got used to it, coming out of New York but playing across the country all the time. Now that I live in California, and have only been out here for three months, getting my footing, being in a new place that I’m really enjoying, going on tour will make it a little bit harder to settle down; it might take me a bit longer.
You went to Ridgewood High School in New Jersey, which has produced a number of other great band in the past decade like Titus Andronicus and Vivian Girls. Is there any sense of competition? Do you feel connected to these other musicians?
Um, probably some of them. [Laughs]
I grew up with those guys, and I’ve known a bunch of them. We’re good friends with Titus Andronicus, and to a certain extent they’re part of our friend group. We see each other all of the time, around the world. We hang out, and continue on the same sort of trajectory together.
If there ever is any kind of competition among us, it’s very friendly. It’s always people pushing each other to succeed.
You strike me as a person with broad interests in the arts, generally. Do you ever think about what you’d like to be known for primarily – as an actor, a member of Real Estate, or the frontman of The Freaks? Or are all of these things fine to you?
[Laughs] I don’t know man. I don’t think about that, really. Maybe a little bit. I just want to lead a full life, and I don’t know what I want to leave behind. I just want to keep making stuff without being too precious about it. I want to have creative ideas and execute them.
I would like to keep doing this as long as I can, and I think as I can, I’ll turn it as long as I’d like. I think that’s possible, and that’s the goal.
Additional contributions by Philip Runco.