Words & Photos by Kayla Surico
One of my favorite aspects about being a music photographer is having the opportunity to meet amazing people every time I cover a show. Usually I don’t hang out with the bands or even exchange more than a couple of words with them, so when I learned that I was going to be spending the day with Real Friends, I could not have been more stoked! This was not my first time seeing them live – I’ve been a fan of Real Friends for a few years now, this day would be my fourth time seeing them. I knew that tagging along with the band and documenting their day was going to be something different from what I was accustomed to, and while I was ecstatic to be doing this, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly nervous.
On November 18th, I woke up feeling like it was going to be an amazing day. I spent some time at home, waiting for it to get a little closer to three o’clock load in at the venue, Backbooth. I live about thirty to forty minutes away from the venue, so I left my house with (what I thought would be) enough time to make it. Unfortunately, it was downpouring rain and there was a ton of traffic going to downtown Orlando. I always get really stressed out when I’m running late for things, and I was hoping that nothing would go wrong, so I tried to keep my composure but I honestly did not feel too great.
Eventually I made it to downtown Orlando. I was soaked and cold, but so happy to finally be there. I went inside, found Kyle and introduced myself and I spoke to him for a bit. He informed me that I would be able to ride with them to Park Ave CD’s from Backbooth and then to the venue from the record store after the acoustic event, so I got to work.
Dan (vocalist) was not at the venue (later on I found out he was in their van), Dave (guitarist), Eric (guitarist), and Brian (drummer) were setting things up as well as Kyle while he was also taking care of business related things. I walked around and took a couple of photos of the guys, and also spoke to some of them. Brian was setting up his drums and I complimented him on the new artwork that was on them. I remembered that his drumset used to say “Real Friends” along with “Property of Zack” and the new design has some interesting artwork with “Property of Zack” displayed below. Dave and Eric set up their guitar picks for the show and put their banner up on the wall, and it ended up fitting perfectly! After everything was set up, we weren’t doing much so I took a couple of photos of Dave and Eric being silly by the bar. I even got one of Kyle Raker (Norsekorea.net) with them! Following our little photo shoot, we went outside to wait to get picked up to head on over to Park Ave CD’s where the acoustic show was held.
As soon as the van arrived, we all jumped in and then started heading over to the record store. The ride over there was definitely a hilarious one. The guys were all jamming out to Katy Perry, and I even took some photos of Eric shaking his head back and forth to the music – it was priceless. They asked me about where I was from, and I told them how I’m local and don’t live too far from Disney World and we spoke about that for a bit. They started joking around about how I owed them gas money for getting a ride with them, and I told them that I literally only had eleven dollars on me, and they proceeded to tell me that I needed to hand it over. It was difficult to try to stop laughing.
We ended up getting a little lost trying to find the entrance to the back of the record store and I’m pretty sure we went in a circle attempting to find the place, but after awhile we made it! While we were driving through the back looking for parking, there was a man in the street and Brian yelled out “Hit that father!” and then immediately realized who it was and exclaimed “Oh wait, no! That’s my cousin and his two kids!” I was dying of laughter.
After exiting the van, everyone stood outside in the back and we hung out with the guys in Neck Deep before heading inside. Park Ave CD’s is hands down one of my favorite places in downtown Orlando. The people who work there are so incredibly sweet, there’s tons and tons of great records, CDs, cool shirts, accessories, miscellaneous items, and their decorations are on point! I love it. Before people started coming in for the acoustic show, the guys all walked around and looked at all of the music. Dan freaked out when he found Circa Survive’s album Blue Sky Noise. Dave and Eric found some Katy Perry records.
Kyle was all around the place doing what he usually does – taking care of business. He enjoys it though, and told me that it keeps him busy. Once the doors opened for fans to come in, people went up to the band members to take pictures with them. It was so cute, so I took a few behind the scenes photos of these moments.
Brian was spending time with and speaking to his family; they were so adorable. I told them to all get together so I could take a picture and they loved it. I couldn’t stop smiling because seeing his family there for him was amazing.
At around 5 pm, the acoustic show started and Neck Deep was up first. I squeezed my way through a bunch of people to try and get a decent spot to take some photos. Once Neck Deep finished, I made my way more up front to get a better spot for pictures. Real Friends performed amazingly, and Dan even gave a little speech in between songs. He started off by asking for a show of hands to see how many people have never been to a record store before and proceeded to say that “it’s so important that you guys are here, you guys get to see these kinds of things, and every day that passes and every year that passes we get more and more attached to our phones and the convenience of online shopping and – with that – there’s just nothing to it, there’s no experience. You just sit there on your phone or you’re on your computer in your room and you’re not going out and you’re not doing anything. And when you come here you have an experience; you have a day made out of coming and supporting a local business and getting some awesome music and having some nice records for you to come home to, look through, appreciate, play and just – it’s just so much more meaningful doing that than just a couple clicks online. If you guys feel me, support the scene! …don’t let this stuff die out.”
After their set, Neck Deep and Real Friends chatted with fans and signed posters, shirts, and one person brought a fake skull! They found it in their car and basically was like “well, this will do.” There was a huge amount of people in line for the signing and we ended up being there for awhile. I couldn’t help but feel so happy though – just being there surrounded by a bunch of people who appreciated and loved Real Friends and their music. It was cute (and funny as well) seeing how excited some people were, how nervous others became, barely forming simple sentences, and how content everyone was in general just by being able to meet these guys. I even saw a few people that I knew, and one girl who was with one of my friends said “Hey Kayla!” I greeted her back, a little confused since I didn’t know her. Then she told me how she loved my photography and I died a little on the inside. It makes my heart all warm and fuzzy whenever people do things like that, and I don’t know if they realize how much I really appreciate it but I do. I think it was Dave and Eric who noticed and laughed and were happy for me.
Once the signing was over, everyone started to get ready to head back over to Backbooth. Before Kyle left to the venue (he left the signing early), he informed me that I would be riding with Neck Deep in their van with Dan, Eric and Dave (Brian left to go out to eat with his family). I swear the van rides are the funnest experiences, that’s when everyone acts ridiculously silly. At one point they all started talking about what a chelsea smile is, and one of the guys in Neck Deep was saying that people take a credit card and put it between your lips, and then “BAM!” punch you right in the mouth and it cuts your face. They all also started speaking in accents, and tried getting me to talk with an English accent, which turned out to be a mess. I am a very shy and awkward person sometimes, especially when I’m put on the spot, so initially I just couldn’t stop laughing but then I tried and they said that it sounded more Indian than English and then they started talking in Indian accents, and I felt a little embarrassed but I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as well. It was way too much fun.
Some of the guys decided that they were hungry and concluded that they would go eat at Jimmy Johns. So we exited the vehicle, walked to the venue to put some things away, and then I headed out with Dave and the dudes in Neck Deep to Jimmy Johns. I took a few photos while we were there, but not too many since I wanted to give them their space while they were eating. I took this time to look through the photos I had taken and relax for a bit.
When everyone finished their food, we began to make our way back to the venue. I followed Dave into the green room where Kyle gave me an all access pass and told me that I had to remember to give it back later. I promised him that I wouldn’t forget, and Dave told me that I better not or (if my memory doesn’t fail me) that he would give me a chelsea smile. I looked at him and was like “ha, you won’t do nothing to me” and his jaw immediately dropped and his facial expression stayed that way for probably a good ten seconds and everyone in the room started laughing.
I quickly exited the room so that I could catch at least some of Have Mercy’s set, and I made it in time to hear the last song. Even though I was bummed that I missed almost their entire set, they played “Let’s Talk About Your Hair” last, which is my favorite song so I was extremely happy and started singing along and getting into it while also snapping a few photos.
When Have Mercy finished, I left side stage and walked back to the green room to check and see if any of the guys from Real Friends were doing anything interesting. Inside I found Kyle and Dan just hanging out, relaxing and on their phones. I spoke to them for a bit and asked them if they enjoyed the signing and how their days have been. Dan told me about how he loves the signings, but it just gets exhausting sometimes, which I understood after remembering how many people were there and I can only imagine how many people could have been at the other acoustic/signing events. Musicians in bands are normal people, and we all need our space and alone time. After this conversation, Tanner Jones from You Blew It! arrived and started talking to Dan so I left to give them some space and go photograph Cruel Hand.
After Cruel Hand was Neck Deep, and both bands performed very well. My favorite part of Neck Deep’s set was during their song “A Part Of Me.” Ben Barlow asked the crowd to turn on the lights on their phones, and the entire crowd lit up and it looked so beautiful. I think some of my favorite photos of the night were during this moment.
When Neck Deep’s set finished, the guys in Real Friends came on stage to get everything set up and ready. As soon as they started playing, I was already into it. They played a lot of my favorite songs, and clearly many of everyone else’s. Tons of people were stage diving and crowd surfing; it was insane. I was so glad that I was able to shoot on the side of the stage, and eventually moved to the opposite side where I had a much clearer view of everyone.
I have a lot of respect for these dudes, and I like how honest they are about serious topics. In between some songs, they would speak a little, and at one point spoke about suicide. They talked about how things get better, and how if anyone ever needs help that it is incredibly important to get it. No one is ever alone, and there will always be someone or something that will be there for you when needed. They also mentioned how people are always thanking them – but they pointed out how much they appreciate their fans because they give them a purpose. It is really comforting to know how genuine these guys are, and how much they really do care about their fans.
By the end of their set, I could not have been any happier. Their performance was spectacular, and they had a great set list:
1. I’ve Given Up On You
4. I Don’t Love You Anymore
5. Alexander Supertramp
6. Loose Ends
8. Lost Boy
9. Cover You Up
10. Skin Deep
11. Old Book
12. Anchor Down
14. Late Nights
As the band was exiting, I kneeled down on the edge of the stage and spoke to some friends who were near. I then went to go look at the merch table with my friend, and I told Real Friends’ merch guy that I was extremely tempted to buy a flag, but that I was sadly broke. Then I remembered I had my PayPal debit card on me and asked if they took cards, and he told me to not worry about it and gave me a flag. Honestly, that made my night. He also thanked me for all of the photos and for working hard on everything that I had done. Afterwards, I took a quick photo of him since he wanted a new picture of himself. I thanked him like a million times for being so nice.
I waited awhile so that I could get all the dudes in Real Friends together to take a group shot as well as a photo with them – gotta have proof that I was there! Plus, sometimes at the end of the day after seeing all of the photos that I take of others, it’s refreshing to see myself in at least one picture.
Overall, my day with Real Friends was amazing and one that I will never forget. They treated me so well, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I even spoke to Kyle about when they’ll be coming back, and who knows, maybe I’ll do some cool things with them again in the future. If so, I can’t wait.