Quit Your Day Job: Fort Lean
Though we’ve known about beachy indie rockers Fort Lean for a little while, the group made a major splash at CMJ thanks to glowing praise from outlets like The New York Times. Before that, though, I saw somebody I followed on Twitter thank Fort Lean’s Zach Fried for his help in finding an apartment in East Williamsburg. This gesture, of course, set off a Quit Your Day Job siren. So, I reached out to Zach who then supplied some other crucial information; not only was he a licensed real estate broker — jackpot — Fort Lean’s drummer, Sam Ubl, was an elementary school teacher. Double jackpot! Hit the jump for the latest Quit Your Day Job, starring Zach and Sam.
Zach Fried, guitarist
STEREOGUM: How did you get into real estate? You’re a broker? What do you do exactly? Do you have a hood you specialize in?
ZACH: I got into real estate entirely by accident. I was living in Bushwick in the summer of 2007, between my last two years of college, along with Himanshu of DR and a few of our other friends from school. I showed up to move in and I overheard our roommate having a really weird phone conversation. He hung up and then asked if any of us needed a job, which I did. About 20 minutes later a guy named Steve showed up in a shitty Subaru station wagon, and a few of us piled in and started driving around Bushwick being trained as real estate agents. I spent that summer driving around Bushwick in my friend’s unregistered car, showing apartments for 12 hours a day, and fielding hundreds of calls and texts every day from Sam, the crazy Hasidic guy we worked for. He was probably the most persistent and irritating person I’ve ever met. But he was funny. Whenever I closed a deal he would say “slam dunk!” in his crazy 18th century Europe accent.
Since then I’ve taken approximately two steps towards becoming more legitimate (on a scale of 1-10 I’m still about a 1.5.) I’m now a licensed agent and I work for a pretty good company. I spend a few days a week showing apartments to friends and friends of friends, which is the bulk of my business. Sometimes I’ll post ads on Craigslist and go on appointments with strangers, but recently I’ve been slacking pretty hard on that front because things with the band have been going a bit crazy. The neighborhoods I specialize in are Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick.
STEREOGUM: I remember Julianne Escobedo Shepherd thanking you for helping her out on Twitter, and that you called yourself “the Zach of all trades” which is a tremendous line. Have you helped any other people involved with music find an apartment?
ZACH: Ha! That was mostly just a self-aggrandizing, opportunistic pun. But I have helped other people involved with music find apartments. Some notable customers are Ashok and Victor from Das Racist, and Brad Oberhofer from Oberhofer. I tried to help Ayad Al Adhamy from Passion Pit find a space to build a studio for about eight months, but that turned out to be difficult because lots of people really aren’t into noise. And I showed some apartments to Ben Goldwasser from MGMT at one point, but he wasn’t really feeling the inventory.
STEREOGUM: Are the hours pretty good? It seems like a job that would be pretty conducive to having a band.
ZACH: The hours are the main draw. I’m an independent contractor, which basically means I’m my own boss and I work when I want (or need) to. So I’m always available to practice, play shows, and go on tour. Up until about a month ago, I thought I had really dug myself a hole in terms of long-term job prospects. I’ve spent the past three years showing apartments to survive, and then making as much time as possible to play music in a semi-professional capacity. But now it seems like the gamble I took of having a whacked-out job that I don’t really care about might have paid off. We’re not there yet, but I’m feeling pretty positive.
STEREOGUM: Do you like the job? This might be something of a no-brainer, but if you had to go out on tour for a year or something, would you miss doing it?
ZACH: Definitely not. It’s better than a lot of jobs, and it’s been great that it’s allowed me the freedom to work on what I care about, but I can’t wait to be done with it. As you may know, no one likes real estate agents.
STEREOGUM: I’m not from New York, or a big city for that matter, so I’m kind of fascinated by the apartment lifestyle that we’re all sort of complicit in by living here. What’s the coolest place you’ve ever seen? What’s the shittiest?
ZACH: The coolest place I’ve ever seen is a full floor of a massive loft building near the Bedford L stop. The dude who lives there rented the entire floor and made a crazy custom apartment for himself. He’s a composer for film and television, and seems to be doing pretty well for himself. Lots of fancy bullshit that no one actually needs, but it’s kind of cool to see the same way that it’s cool to see a Bentley on the street. Ultimately uninteresting, but it always seems worth pointing out.
The shittiest apartment I’ve seen was an illegally converted basement studio in Greenpoint that had no windows and lots of bugs. Showing places like that is embarrassing, but ultimately some nice, normal seeming person winds up being really excited to live in squalor.
STEREOGUM: What kind of weird things go into being a broker?
ZACH: Pretty much everything about working in real estate is weird. I’d say the weirdest is that I’m dealing with people’s incredibly valuable assets, both on the landlord and tenant sides. If I mess something up, instead of getting a shitty tip I’ll just get sued.
STEREOGUM: Has anyone recognized you when you’re showing them a place? Or have you made broker contacts through the band, anything like that?
ZACH: I’ve never been recognized on the job because up until about four days ago no one had ever really heard of the band. But I do think that I’ve cemented myself as the go-to real estate agent for people in bands in Brooklyn. Renting apartments is a pain in the ass, so if people can go see places with a friend they usually will. As it turns out I’m not very good at my job, but people are still extremely eager to give me business. Thanks friends! I’ll try harder next time.
Sam Ubl, drummer
STEREOGUM: Where do you teach? What grade? Do you have a specialty subject, or how does that work?
SAM: I teach third grade at a school in Brooklyn Heights named Saint Ann’s. It’s a private school. Third grade teachers are in charge of pretty much everything besides science and math. Saint Ann’s doesn’t have a standardized curriculum, so I basically create all my lessons from scratch. It’s nice to have the latitude to teach stuff that interests me. Last year I spent three months teaching a unit about the history of comedy, which was fucking insane.
STEREOGUM: What’s the dynamic like?
SAM: It’s insanely difficult to raise kids in New York City. I teach the children of some of the most privileged people in the world, which is a far cry from my background. Some of my eight-year-old students have a better learning foundation than I went to college with. Which is fantastic if you can afford it. But virtually no one can. And for every kid who attends my school, there are five who are just as wonderful and whose parents are just as rich. Saint Ann’s does a really good job of making it work for families who need help, but demand outstrips supply to the point where you lose hope.
STEREOGUM: When did you start teaching?
SAM: I came straight out of school into this gig. To this day I have received no formal training in education. Everything I know is the product of life experience and my apprenticeship under extremely talented people at Saint Ann’s. Certain things, like teaching kids how to read, require a more scientific approach, but a lot of teaching comes down to communication–helping kids feel comfortable asking questions and expressing what they love. And education programs don’t teach that.
STEREOGUM: Do the kids know that you’re in the band? If so, have they heard your music and what do they think?
SAM: Whenever it comes up that I’m in band, the kids always get really excited. “You’re in a band?!” But by the next time I have to miss school for a show, they’ve already forgotten. “You’re in a band?!” I think their parents are more interested than the kids are. I haven’t played them Fort Lean because I don’t want it to seem like I need their approval. I want them to hear us on the radio one day when they’re applying to college and be like, “Damn.”
STEREOGUM: We don’t have to get too heavy here, but I’m not super stoked on the American education system at the moment. What’s it like being on the inside of that?
SAM: I don’t know how a nation can expect to have a decent education system when its 400 richest citizens own more than the bottom 150 million. I’ve had the good fortune to work with extremely gifted children, so I haven’t really been exposed to the ugly side of things. But it seems that for the vast majority of families out there, the fact that their kids don’t have access to good schools is only the tip of the iceberg. I’d hate to be one of those people who sits around thinking about how to “fix” education. It’s overwhelming. My biggest fear is that you’ll start to see pieces of the system getting sold off to private businesses. Education is a cultural value, not a for-profit venture.
STEREOGUM: Did like, parent teacher conferences ever conflict with a gig or something? I could see being a teacher might mean some evening-time flexibility, so you could easily pull off being in a band, but is that the case?
SAM: We typically don’t play gigs at 8:15 in the morning, which is when I hold parent conferences. But this year Parents Night actually fell on the first day of CMJ, so I went straight from answering pointed questions about homework to scrambling to find drum hardware. Most days I wake up at 7, shower, walk to school, teach with little or no break until 3, then spend most or all of the night doing band stuff. It’s draining. But my boss is super supportive. She’s more likely to be at my show than to hassle me for coming in late.
STEREOGUM: What’s more rewarding, teaching or playing music? Or which is more difficult?
SAM: Oh man. They’re labors of love, in that the money sucks and the rewards are mostly intangible. And both can be brutally punishing. But I couldn’t imagine two better ways to spend my time. Teaching a lesson is a lot like playing a set. You’re performing, and you just want there to be good energy in the room. The goal is to make yourself appealing and decipherable so that you can take people on a little journey.
STEREOGUM: Are you involved with the musical education at the school at all?
SAM: No. I sometimes take on drum students privately but I’m no good at teaching drums.
STEREOGUM: Is what you do in the band informed by teaching at all?
SAM: They’re two sides of the same coin. School is like a really raucous, brightly colored bar, but it’s the middle of the day and there’s no alcohol. People are loud and uninhibited. Occasionally someone has a bathroom accident.
Grab an MP3:
Hear the entire Fort Lean EP on their Bandcamp page. Photo: Kyle Dean Reinford.