Introduction: The Home Inside My Head
“It sounds cliché to say,” begins Real Friends guitarist Dave Knox, “but that second record is always so important. We had that constantly in mind throughout this writing process.”
The Illinois pop-punk quintet are returning this summer with sophomore effort The Home Inside My Head, well aware of the high expectation following a 2014 debut that stormed their native charts. It was very much a case of sticking to their guns - after all, if it ain’t broke…
“We didn’t do too much differently,” continues Dave, calling from home not long before their return to UK shores for this year’s Slam Dunk festivities. “The way we write is usually Kyle [Fasel, bass] and I, or me and our other guitarist Eric [Haines], sat down demoing out songs. This time, I guess the main difference was we were writing on tour, which we’d never done before.
“It really felt like we had something at stake; I really wanted to top our last record and write the catchiest parts I could - things people would react to, things that could be conveyed to everyone.”
Any fears were soon eradicated by the overwhelming response to early singles Mess and Scared To Be Alone. If you’re looking for second-album syndrome, don’t expect to find it here.
“There’s always a sense of nervousness when putting out new music,” Dave shrugs. “But when we did, it all just went away; the reaction’s been so positive, right off the bat… which has given us a great sense of confidence. We think everyone’s gonna be really happy and excited about it.”
Under the influence
Anyone who was a fan of their first full-length - deep breath - Maybe This Place Is the Same And We’re Just Changing, will be sure to love its follow-up. Real Friends have always been honest enough to wear their influences on their sleeves - their pop-punk heroes haven't changed over the years, nor do they ever look likely to…
“There’s nothing new trickling in,” continues Dave. “But we listen to a lot of Jimmy Eat World and The Starting Line when we’re on tour. And I think those influences show in our music, at least a little bit.
“I actually have a hard time getting into new music - I always stick to what I grew up with and what I know. I know that’s kinda stubborn of me. Stuff like Blink-182, New Found Glory and Alkaline Trio - those bands are still influencing me, even at this age.”
Speaking of Blink-182, what were Dave's thoughts on Bored To Death?
“I very much enjoyed the song; it reminds me of Take Off Your Pants-era Blink-182 mixed with that +44 side-project. I’ve always enjoyed Mark’s songs and I love Matt Skiba, too, because I’m a huge Alkaline Trio fan. It’s such a cool fusion of people to create music. I’m so excited to hear that record.”
It would be fair to say Dave is just one of many fans excited over the prospect of a Matt Skiba-fronted era. But the guitarist is excited for ex-member Tom DeLonge’s future endeavours, too…
“I’m also happy for Tom,” says Dave. “I know their communication has been a little shady lately, but he’s able to be honest enough to say that while he loves Blink-182 and what they created, there’s more he wants from life right now. And he’s put things aside in order to accomplish that.
“I really respect that and I wish people could see that, because you see a lot of ignorant comments online. Stuff like, ‘Oh, it’s not Blink-182 without Tom!’ but they need to realise he’s a person, too, and he has goals and aspirations that he wants to experience. There are other ventures in life he wants to pursue.”
When it comes to guitars, Real Friends tend to stick to their Gibsons. And, unlike their first effort, where they simply grabbed whatever guitars and amps were lying around in Crown Point’s Always Be Genius Recording Studio, this time they got to use the instruments they’d already invested in for creating that sound trapped in their head.
For both guitarists, Les Pauls are simply unbeatable when it comes to tonal thunder.
“The main guitars were our Les Paul Customs - mine’s a Wine Red 1980 and Eric has a Tobacco Sunburst 1990 model. Growing up, I saw everyone playing Gibsons and that’s what drilled it into my head - I needed to get one. In 2004, my mom got me an SG, and I just fell in love.
“The thing about those guitars is that they feel so good in your hands - there’s a lot of wood there, they feel so chunky and so comfortable to play. They sound great and look amazing! Compared to other brands they feel more solid in your hands.
Fender sent me a Jim Adkins Telecaster because they knew how much we love Jimmy Eat World!
“Though, Fender sent me a Jim Adkins Telecaster because they knew how much we love Jimmy Eat World! We used that for a lot of the leads - the P-90s really cut through some of the thicker Les Paul sounds.
“Beyond that, a lot of the tone comes from my Marshall JCM800, and Eric uses a similar JCM2000. I think we also used a Blackstar for some of the leads, one of the older ones that were modelled on a Plexi head.”
Another change for Real Friends was experimenting more with pedals, having mainly stuck to clean and crunch tones in the past. Recording with Steve Evetts [Every Time I Die, The Wonder Years, Sepultura] in California, they had more time to think about how to colour their guitar signals, even if incredibly delicately at times…
“This time round, we used a lot of delay and reverb, some tremolo, chorus and phase,” Dave enthuses. “Nothing too crazy, but a lot more that we’ve used in the past."
"There was one 70s distortion pedal made by Fender that our producer Steve had lying around, it sounded weird - like it made that ‘woosh’ sound when you change the rate of a delay pedal. He’d named it Thor’s Hammer! It was nothing you could really play with, but such a cool effect which incorporated a couple of times, like on the track Keep Lying To Me.”
With pop-punk seeing a revival in recent years, Dave feels pleased to play his part in defending the faith. At the turn of the millennium, Blink-182, New Found Glory and Good Charlotte catapulted the genre to its greatest peaks, though as emo rock grew in popularity some five years later, it found itself being slowly usurped.
Now, with bands like Real Friends and the UK’s very own Neck Deep leading the charge, it’s looking incredibly healthy and vibrant once more.
“I remember around early-2000s pop-punk was massive,” Dave recalls. “All over the place with constant MTV coverage. Then it kinda went away, but there’s been a bit of a revival over the past five years. I feel New Found Glory have made a comeback, not that they ever went away… they’re still going strong.
“It’s been cool to see The Wonder Years being such a part of the revival, growing from such a smaller scene. And the same goes for The Story So Far. One of my favourite bands around right now is Knuckle Puck - they’re good friends of ours and I’m pleased to see them doing so well.”
Real Friends by name, Real Friends by nature.
The Home Inside My Head is out on 27 May via Fearless Records. Real Friends tour the UK in December:
Fri 09 Dec – London, Electric Ballroom
Sat 10 Dec – Birmingham, Asylum
Sun 11 Dec – Newcastle, Riverside
Tue 13 Dec – Scotland, Glasgow - St Luke's
Wed 14 Dec – Manchester, Club Academy
Thu 15 Dec – Leeds, Stylus
Fri 16 Dec – Bristol, Thekla
Sat 17 Dec – Southampton, Engine Rooms