Chicago’s Real Friends burst onto the alternative music scene in 2010 with a collection of pop-punk anthems that addressed personal shortcomings and the heartache of youth in a way that felt immediately accessible. Lead by frontman Dan Lambton; the band found a home in the hearts and minds of young people around the globe by building songs around the moments in life that change everything. They sing about the desire to leave home, and how it’s always met by an almost immediate need to return. They sing to the fact that trying your best is never guaranteed to be enough, and how the friends you have now might not be there in a year. They sing about the way life changes, and how nothing you or anyone else can do will stop change from continuing to happen as long as we walk this Earth. They sing, for lack of a better description, about the reality of doing your best to be a decent person in a world where decency is increasingly hard to find.
Composure, out July 13, furthers this effort in a manner that goes deeper than any previous Real Friends release. That is due, at least in part, to the way Lambton’s life has changed over the past year. The renowned musician found himself feeling increasingly manic in the weeks leading of the recording of the record in January of this year, and once on the other side of production his problems only grew worse. “ I couldn’t chill one fucking second,” he explains.
At the behest of his therapist, Lambton entered and later graduated from an outpatient program in Tinley Park, the same area where the band first got its start. “Nobody forced me into it,” he says. “It was a suggestion my therapist made because she wanted to make sure that I could be ready to travel and whatnot. The outpatient program taught me a lot about things like mindfulness, assertiveness, respecting other people’s boundaries which I felt like I didn’t do a lot of the time, and just general growing up shit and maturing stuff that I never really had a grasp on.”
Feeling excited about the upcoming record and more knowledgeable about his mental health, Lambton agreed to discuss his whirlwind year, the lessons learned, and what fans can expect from the next chapter of Real Friends’ career.
How are you today?
I’m alright. Can’t complain. I got my coffee and my cigarette, just chilling.
It seems like this is the calm before the storm for you guys, eh?
Yeah! I’m still dealing with some anxiety and whatnot just because I feel like I don’t have much to do. Just been trying to concentrate on myself and whatnot because we canceled some overseas stuff that we should be doing right now, so I feel a little antsy and restless just wanting to get back out there.
Yeah, but from what I understand, these were all kind of necessary cancellations. Things you had to do to get ready for what’s coming.
Yeah, definitely. But in a way, it still feels like I should be doing something.
The band has been quiet recently. How long has it been since you were on the road?
We haven’t toured since like November, and then we recorded in January. So, it’s been a minute since we’ve been active doing anything.
…And what has been happening since January?
Ooh, I was manic as all hell. I had panic attacks. I went to an intensive outpatient group therapy program, per the recommendation of my therapist and then I graduated that about a month ago, and I’ve just been every two weeks or so seeing my therapist and my psychiatrist just trying to tweak things and hopefully get in a better headspace and whatnot.
Were you already done with the album when all of this came to pass?
Yeah. We had already completed the album. We finished that in early February, and I was just off the walls just everywhere, go go go at all times. I couldn’t chill one fucking second; I was so manic.
So did you know when you were in the studio that this was coming or did it creep up on you when you guys were finished? I’m kind of curious. I’ve done a few of these stories, and it always seems like there’s a day or maybe it’s just a moment when someone is like “okay, I need to get control of this.”
I think there was a time in December where there was just a lot of changes in my life like I had broken up with a long-term girlfriend, I moved out of my parents’ house, I got a car, just all these new changes happening in my life that jumpstarted a lot of stuff. And then we went out to LA, super overstimulating, I feel like hell like “I’m in this, I’m in this”, and then I feel like I’m so overstimulated that I just went through the roof as soon as we got to LA. I was just manic as all hell. I don’t know if there was anything that triggered it or if it was just coincidental, but it was throughout the entire time we were recording that I was just on eleven or twelve always at all times. I couldn’t sleep too much; I was getting on average three or four hours of sleep a night, not missing it. I didn’t feel the need to eat a lot, and I was smoking a shit ton of weed, and nothing was helping to bring me down.
So, you spoke to your therapist, and they found a place for you?
Yeah, well, it’s based out of the same offices as my therapist works out of, down in Tinley Park where the rest of the band is based out of and whatnot. So I just went and made the drive down there a lot of the time, and it was about three days a week that I was going to this outpatient program to get my shit straight and together to an extent.
But it seems like you wanted this. It’s not like this was something people had to force you to get help. It seemed like you wanted it.
No, nobody forced me into it. It was a suggestion of my therapist’s because she wanted to make sure that I could be ready to travel and whatnot. The outpatient program taught me a lot about things like mindfulness, assertiveness, respecting other people’s boundaries which I felt like I didn’t do a lot of the time, and just general growing up shit and maturing stuff that I never really had a grasp on before treatment.
You released “On The Outside” a few days before this conversation, but the album won’t be announced until mid-June. What inspired the smaller promotional window you’ve given yourself with this album?
I think it’ll be good to cram everything into a few weeks. On the last album cycle, I felt like we had a lot of empty spaces on the calendar where nothing happened. We tried to fill it with stuff, but it didn’t always work out. That is why we’re going this route now, and we’ll be able to share something new every week until it arrives in stores.
I’ve spent some time with Composure. There are elements to this album that are different for Real Friends, but it makes sense regarding progression. A good example of this is the song “Get By,” which you initially released in November of last year. Was that track always destined for this album?
“Get By” was recorded during a two-week period last August before we began work on the album in full. We had a little time to begin playing with ideas, and that is the product of those sessions. In fact, a couple of songs from that session also ended up being on the album. We were unsure whether or not we wanted to have “Get By” on the record, but as you know, it did end up on there, which I’m glad that it did.
What do you think fuels this record for you? Is it all the changes in the last year of your life or something else altogether?
Honestly, we wrote a lot of the record in the studio with Mike [Green]. He helped out a lot on this record and it was something where a lot of people would think like, “oh, a producer just coming in and changing everything” or “the record label making this guy come in and change the band”, but it was honestly just an extra person in the studio helping us out. I consider Mike to be a member of the band for this record. We wrote everything how we would anyway, just with an extra person in the room. I think he helped bring out a lot of what we needed to put into this record, and he gave us a lot of guidance as far as where things should go. If we were confused as far as how to word things we had already, but a lot of this manic episode fueled a lot at least my contributions to the record. Just questioning what was going with me, why do I feel this way, what the hell is going on kind of thing. And same with a lot of the random changes that I had gone through right before we started the record and everything as well. Jumpstarted a lot of those things that I brought to the table.
Your songwriting has always been known for introspection, but on this record, there is a slight change. Rather than simply recognizing problems, you are making a focused effort to address them. It’s almost like you’re doing surgery on the themes from the other albums. A prime example being “On The Outside,” which you chose to help kickstart the album rollout.
Well for me, I think that is one of the more introspective songs on the record, along with “Smiling On The Surface.” I was questioning a lot of what was going on in my head, what was going on with me, what is good for me, what’s bad for me, and this general uncertainty, like not knowing what was going on and how I can curve certain feelings. Would medication help, would self-medicating help, like if I started drinking more, would that help? Just, general uncertainty and like not knowing what the fuck is happening in my life kind of thing.
The whole album has a sense of “things are bad, and I need to do something about it.”
Yeah, exactly. Just not knowing and not having insight into anything. At that point, I hadn’t seen my therapist because I got a new psychiatrist after the record came out and whatnot and my old psychiatrist, I kind of butted heads with a little bit. Like not saying he wasn’t good at his job, but there were like certain things that confused me as far as how he went about things and I was questioning whether or not that was good for me. I was scared of certain psychiatric treatment and if that was contributing to my well-being, and I’m trying to think of where I was going with that… but yeah, I didn’t get help for a while because I was just so scared of what certain medications would do to me, you know, and the general again “what the hell is going on?”
I feel like this is one of those records, and I’m sure this has happened to you guys with all of your albums given the kind of content of your songs, but I feel like this is one of those albums where as soon as you get on the road, every day you’re going to hear story after story from kids that are like “this means this to me” or “this song gets this.”
I would hope that each song has some plasticity where people can take their meanings from it. I know in my head what the song is about, but people should take their meanings from it. I can still have my meaning to the song without compromising the subject matter. Not that it would, but to see at least in the past, people that have come up and been like “this song pertains to this to me” or “this song means this to me,” “this song helped me deal with this” and whatnot. It’s just cool to see that.
Could you tell me a little bit about the artwork? That’s another area where this one kind of differs from the other albums. Where did the design come from?
Well, we had this general idea come from one of the lyrics in the song “Stand Steady.” “Bird in a hurricane.” It’s from the chorus, and I think that that kind of help to show the overall theme of the record: How the composure of somebody can be affected by all these outside stressors and just this general uncertainty in not knowing what’s going with on you. So I think the bird, like you, can see the storm coming, but that alone doesn’t inform what happens next. You need to understand what is happening and all the factors that influence it so you can react.
Let’s make things a little bit more lighthearted before I let you go. I’ve got to ask because it’s coming up, how does it feel to be a part of this year’s Warped Tour? I’m sure this is going to be the question you’re going to get asked every day this summer, so I want to be the first.
Yeah, but what’s it like to be on the last Warped Tour is what everyone’s going to be asking. But I think it’s going to be awesome, I think a lot of people are going to be not bummed out, but I think it’s going to be a lot of good feelings going around. There’s a lot of friends on tour, and I think it’ll be a good one last hurrah. Like Warped Tour and everyone on the staff and Lyman have always been very good to us, and they’ve always looked out for younger bands and everything, and just everybody in general, Kevin just wants bands that he likes on tour and I believe that it’s just going to be like one really last good hurrah. I think spirits will be high, and it’ll be a bittersweet kind of thing, but I grew up going to Warped Tour. I’ve gone almost every year since 2006, and it was always just like Christmas to me. The couple of times that we’ve gotten to be on Warped Tour, whether we were on a couple of weeks or the whole thing, were always a great experience and we were always surrounded by people we considered to be family. I think it’s going to be a great time.