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INTERVIEW: Talking Pop-Punk Shop With Real Friends

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 25, 2014 7:00PM

Real Friends photo via the band's Facebook page. We spoke with Kyle Fasel (far right).

It was a particularly polar vortex-y early spring night in Chicago. Bucktown bar Red Door's weekly "Pop Punk Night" (which has since moved to Five Star in West Town) was packed with slightly buzzed mid-20 and early-30 somethings singing along vehemently to a catchy track blaring through the bars speakers. It's not a Taking Back Sunday sing-a-long or an especially whiney Get Up Kids track that had everyone's focus. It was the standout single from suburban Chicago quintet Real Friends.

Real Friends' passions include everything you'd expect from a young Tinley Park pop-punk act—nostalgia, Jimmy Eat World and pizza. That doesn't mean the band's music isn't catching the attention of more and more welcoming ears though—including Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath's—as they zig zag the country on an endless touring cycle.

Maybe This Place Is The Same And We're Just Changing, Real Friends' debut full-length release, is out this week. Bassist and songwriter Kyle Fasel caught up with us during a day off from "pop-punk summer camp" (alternatively named the Vans Warped Tour) to talk about it.

CHICAGOIST: I enjoyed Real Friends' EPs but—and I mean this in the best way—Maybe This Place Is The Same is definitely a more mature sound for the band. Did you change your writing style at all for this release?

KYLE FASEL: The way that we wrote the album was the same as it's always been but we definitely had different motives. We wanted to grow in our sound and we wanted to have....I guess a more mature sound. I hate saying that because every band says it but it's the truth. We wanted to achieve a little more dynamic in our music and a little bit more variety in general. I feel like we accomplished that with this album which is really, really cool for us as songwriters.

C: Which must be even more exciting because this is your first full-length release. Was there more pressure going into this one?

KYLE FASEL: There was definitely a lot more pressure. I remember when we first started writing, we were sitting there after we wrote the first and we were thinking, "Well, is this better than the old stuff?" But then we got in a groove and just kind of based all the songs off our songs that we've written in the past. We'd ask if [a new song] was better than those and, if it wasn't, we needed to change it. "Late Nights In My Car" is one of my favorites and I would always compare the Maybe This Place Is The Same songs to it. It was a lot of pressure at first but we got happier and happier with how it sounded as time went on and once the songs sank in.

C: Tell me a little about the actual recording of the album. Did you do it here in Chicago?

KYLE FASEL: We recorded it in Indiana in Crown Point with the same engineer we've always recorded with in the past for all of our other material [Seth Henderson]. We tracked it with him and then we had Sean O'Keefe, who's out of Chicago, mix it. He did Fall Out Boy's Take This To Your Grave. He did the Spitalfield record Remember Right Now which is one of my favorite records, and he did some Plain White T's stuff. It was kind of cool to have someone mix it who had that Chicago history. During the mixing process we were also able to be there and tweak things because he was in the same city so it was really cool.

C: Speaking of bands like Fall Out Boy and Spitalfield, it seems like the pop punk scene in Chicago during the early 2000s was just non-stop. It felt like every week a new band from here would make it big. Do you think it's still a good scene for bands like Real Friends?

KYLE FASEL: I definitely don't think it's as strong as it was in this specific area. I know for us we actually started getting a lot more recognition outside of Chicago before we were recognized here. I remember even before we started touring we'd get better reactions in Philadelphia and New York than we would at home. I feel like our Chicago following came more so after some of the other cities.

I kind of get it though. I feel like Chicago, at least with our style of music, kind of had a slope for a while. There weren't too many bands doing stuff with pop punk music. I feel like when we started it kind of helped and there's another band called Knuckle Puck from our area that's doing a lot of cool stuff and there's another band from Northwest Indiana called Sudden Suspension. I don't really blame Chicago. I feel like live music all over the country just isn't what it used to be. I remember going to the Metro when I was in high school and seeing bands. Now bands that would be equivalent to them today are playing smaller rooms. I think that's just the way it is and areas struggle with different types of music at times just because there isn't much going on. Every time we play Chicago it's definitely gets better though.

C: That's interesting because I've heard similar local bands trying to get more exposure say things like that about Chicago, that they actually found success outside of the city before gaining a fan-base here at home. Do you have any ideas as to why that's happening right now?

Real Friends photo via the band's Facebook page
Well, I would kind of attribute it to the fact that the East and West coasts have had more relevant punk and pop-punk bands in the last four or five years. The Midwest hasn't had too many of those bands come out lately. The 2010 new era boom of pop punk that happened with bands like The Wonder Years from Philadelphia and The Story So Far from the West Coast made a really big impact not just in their area but in the national scene. So I feel like having more relevant bands in your area makes a difference. When that was all happening we were still a pretty small band and we hadn't gotten out in the light like we would have liked to yet.

C: So, is the title of the new album a reference to an actual physical place, like Tinley Park, or more of a frame of mind?

KYLE FASEL: Well I like the fans to take it for whatever they take it as. I think that's the best way to take in music but at least for us it refers to going on tour, leaving home for a while, coming back home and things are different. Then you kind of think about it and you're like, is this place the same or am I different? It's a very uncertain thing. That's kind of a theme through the album, uncertainty. Where am I in life?

C: I notice there's a lot of nostalgia and "golden era" talk in your older music. Do you work that in purposely or does it just come out naturally?

KYLE FASEL: I feel like it comes out pretty naturally. I'm a very nostalgic person. I'm 25 years old and I have a very hard time wrapping my head around that every day. When I was 16 I never though I'd be 25. I've always played in bands. This is just what I've always done so I feel like I'm just one of those people who thinks a lot about the past. And I had a great one, growing up with music. I feel like my teenage years were just a big part of my life and it just kind of sticks with my writing. I always relate back to it because I feel like those are really important years in your life when you not necessarily find yourself but find where you're going.

C: Very true. So Warped Tour is pretty much your whole summer but do you have any plans as a band after that?

KYLE FASEL: We're doing a tour in the fall that should be a lot of fun but before that even we're just taking some time off. We haven't really had any time off for the past year. We've been home but we've always been doing something like writing or recording. So we're all very excited to come home and be normal people for a few months.

C: That's great. I'm not sure if you can reveal this yet but is the fall tour going to be a headlining run?

KYLE FASEL: We're headlining. We're announcing it after Warped Tour but I don't really care if people know. [laughs]

C: One of my biggest pet peeves in music criticism right now is that a lot outlets overlook or won't even touch bands like Real Friends who are playing shows like Warped Tour because the audience is a bit younger but I'd say that's one of the most diehard fan-bases out there. You're making music for the fans after all, not the critics.

KYLE FASEL: Yeah. Well I think the younger fans in some ways are the most most dedicated fans just because they're going through some of the biggest changes of their life in their teenage years. So I feel like there's a lot of kids who are just looking for something to grip onto. Do you know what I mean?

C: Definitely.

KYLE FASEL: So I feel like that leads to the fans being really into the music. We have kids come up to us all the time and tell us the most overwhelming things in the best way just about how our music has helped them so much.

I was just talking to one of my friends the other day about about going through your first break up or losing friendships. It just seems so much more extreme because you've never had to deal with it before so I feel like these younger fans are dealing with a lot of first time issues in life and just grip on to music so much more than the older fan-base.

C: Absolutely. And I'm not implying that it's only younger people enjoying your music. I'm in my mid-20s and I still enjoy it. There's a bar here in Chicago that does a "Pop Punk Night" every Friday night where they play old and new songs and "Late Nights In My Car" is always a favorite.

KYLE FASEL: That's awesome. I've actually heard about that and seen friends post about it on Facebook.

C: It's pretty great to watch people who are out of high school and college still screaming along to bands like Brand New.

KYLE FASEL: It think it's really cool, especially now. No offense to the city of Chicago or anything but I feel like there's a lot of people who think they're too cool for that now or that they grew out of it. I know a lot of people liked that stuff and that sucks because I still have a huge connection with all those bands I grew up with. I'll always have a place in my heart for that music.