Real Friends are blowing up.
"I don't really like to use that term," says Kyle Fasel, the band's bassist and lyricist. "I mean, we've definitely grown a lot as a band."
Despite the cliché, that's what Real Friends are doing, though. The pop/punk/emo band–one of the last few stalwarts carrying the Jimmy Eat World banner–are driving through Kansas, headed west to Anaheim's Chain Reaction, where they're playing two sold-out nights. Then they'll criss-cross the country to play sold-out dates in New York, Florida and Boston before heading back to the Midwest.
But the real measure of future success is their deal with Fearless Records, an OC label known for developing talent that majors eventually fight over.
"Fearless reached out to us; they were down with us being the band that we've always been and letting us control a lot of the creative aspects," Fasel says. "They wanted Real Friends and to keep us exactly who we are, so that's why we decided to go with them."
Real Friends have so far released a bunch of EPs, and their full-length debut, Maybe This Place Is The Same and We're Just Changing, has earned accolades from critics and fans. Billboard, Fuse and Alternative Press have all placed the band on countless ones-to-watch lists.
When Real Friends formed in 2010, Fasel and his bandmates–Dan Lambton (vocals), Dave Knox (guitar), Eric Haines (guitar) and Brian Blake (drums)–were all in their early 20s. "We all knew one another from playing in other local bands," Fasel says. "We just grew up within the same music scene." Of course, back then, all they wanted to do was play music. "If people cared, then that was cool, but we didn't really have expectations when we started," he says. "It just grew and grew into what it is today."
Still, growing up in the Chicago suburb Tinley Park, under the shadow of the giant pop/punk bands of the mid-2000s–ones that really blew up, such as MySpace darlings Fall Out Boy and The Academy Is–might have something to do with their success. "It was crazy to see some of these bands from our hometown get so popular from within the same area we're from," he recalls, "so it did give us a bit of a drive and somehow make us feel like, 'Hey, maybe we could do that.'"
In the past year, it seems Real Friends' goal of reaching as many people as they can with their music is on track. It's a concerted effort by the band, as well as their label, management team and booking agent; the results are both "cool and overwhelming," Fasel says.
It's cool, Fasel says, because their fans are so committed. "That's the reason we do what we do. The kids who come to shows and support us are everything."
That's why Fasel connects directly with his fans via social media. A few years ago, he dealt with depression and insomnia after a bad breakup. As a result, many Real Friends songs include the phrases "sleepy eyes" and "bony knees." There were so many questions about this non-coincidence that Fasel posted a missive explaining himself. Was that strange?
"[On the Internet], you can deal with a lot of people who are being negative because everyone is so used to stating their opinion on every single thing," he says. "In a way, it's annoying, but that's what kids know these days. Ever since they were old enough to make an educated opinion, they were able to tell all their friends on their friend lists and Twitter.
"We retired that theme from our lyrics," Fasel adds. "But it's in a lot of material from our older songs, and I wrote that to tell people what certain aspects of the songs were about."
Dealing with fans, getting famous, touring the country, getting older–those all sound like the themes from their debut. "That's one thing interesting about getting older," Fasel says, laughing. "I don't really let it get to me like I used to. But you experience more things, and you fall into who you really are and who you're going to be the remainder of your life. That's happening to me personally, so it's a good thing."
Real Friends, with Neck Deep, Cruel Hand and Have Mercy, at Chain Reaction,1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; allages.com. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. $15-$17. All ages.