Easy Answers: Alex Bleeker of Real Estate

Believe it or not, the Grateful Dead had a far-reaching influence that stretched way beyond their inner circle of improvisational minded bands.  Since playing their first shows 50 years ago the Dead have earned their place in the lexicon of culture as perhaps the quintessential American band. In light of their final shows, which take place 4th of July weekend in Chicago without lead guitarist Jerry Garcia of course, and to commemorate their legacy as a whole, we’ve decided to launch a special column that focuses specifically on the impact of the Dead within many different musical communities. In each installment of Easy Answers (get the reference?) we will question a different musician or band, ranging from the obvious to the not so obvious, about the importance of Grateful Dead on their own life and musical path. We could easily keep this column within the jam band community – and we will most certainly turn our focus to some of those acts – but the goal of Easy Answers is to get insight from musicians who most wouldn’t expect to be influenced by or fans of the Dead.

New Jersey band Real Estate have accomplished that rare feat of finding fans amongst hipsters and hippies. Like fellow New Jersey band Yo La Tengo, Real Estate craft chilled out, at times almost trance-inducing songs with thoughtful lyrics and exploratory instrumentals that often seem to take on a mind of their own. Listen to Real Estate and you’ll find the music to be strangely soothing and pleasing to the ears. Last year, they released Atlas, one of their finest albums yet and easily one of the best of 2014. If you’ve dwelled on the airy guitars and poppy psychedelia of the band, you might have suspected a love of the Grateful Dead, but certainly not on first listen. At least one of the members of Real Estate has gained quite the reputation as a Deadhead: bassist Alex Bleeker. With his side project the Freaks Bleeker dives deeper into psychedelic music, even covering the Dead on occasion. As Real Estate geared up for another busy year of touring Alex Bleeker took a moment to reflect on his love of the Dead.

How did you first get into the Grateful Dead?

I was in middle school and I was obsessed with classic rock. I was devouring Beatles and Pink Floyd records, but I hadn’t yet encountered the Dead. Literally, one day my mom got out of bed and was just like, “I need to hear American Beauty“. She had been into the record in the 70s and it was almost as if this unquenchable desire just randomly descended upon her from on high. We drove to Barnes and Noble and on the way home I heard “Box of Rain” for the first time. I was like, “what is THIS?!” I fell in love with the band instantly. I stole the CD from my mom the next day and the rest is history.

Are there any personal memories of the band or a concert experience you’d like to share?

What I love so much about the Grateful Dead is that the community of fans is intrinsically tied to the music itself. I can’t isolate any one experience or show – but when you truly love the Dead it’s bigger then the music itself – it’s bigger than any of the band members, either individually or collectively. They’ve created a repertoire of folk music to be enjoyed and played by everyone and anyone – and it’s so fun to be a part of that world. 

What is your favorite era of the Grateful Dead and why?
I like the early 70s – particularly 72. Though it was near the end of his time – you’ve still got some Pigpen tunes sprinkled in, and I like how Keith plays in this era. You can hear Jerry really coming into the height of his powers – he sounds happy and healthy. I also like when Jerry, Bobby and Phil are playing stock guitars – the perfect combination of the early acid test days with the bigger rock sound that they would achieve in later eras.
What Grateful Dead offshoot (The Other Ones, Furthur, The Dead, Phil and Friends, Ratdog, etc) did you feel did the strongest job of playing the material?
To me, going to a Dead-related show is like going to a party or a club meeting. My friends and I call it a meeting of the “local chapter”. I see it mainly as a way to get together with other fans and to sing and dance and celebrate our love of this now timeless repertoire. I’ve had great times at many different Dead-related shows – whether the bands contain any original members or not!
Name three songs you hope they play in Chicago….
“Crazy Fingers”, “Here comes Sunshine”. They’ll play everything else I want to hear, for sure. Can’t wait for “US Blues” on the 4th and “Wave That Flag”.
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For more on Real Estate check out their WEBSITE!

Check out the first edition of Easy Answers with Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth!

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