Real Friends' Dan Lambton Says His Bipolar Disorder & Substance Abuse Nearly Ended the Band. Here's How They Survived

Megan Leetz
Real Friends

Whether he was writing his own songs or connecting to lyrics from The Starting Line and Blink-182, Dan Lambton always knew music was an outlet for listeners' angst and pain. What he didn't realize was that music would perhaps end up saving his life years later.

Lambton, 27, has been the lead singer of the pop-punk group Real Friends for the last eight years, pairing high-energy, guitar-heavy music with deeply emotional lyrics on songs like "I've Given Up On You," "To: My Old Self" and "Scared To Be Alone." After the group released its second album in 2016, Lambton revealed on social media that he'd been dealing with mental health and anxiety issues. During the making of their third album, this year's Composure, Lambton was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and he says his behavior along with his struggles with substance abuse nearly derailed the group's future.

Now sober, Lambton says playing the record live on Real Friends' fall headlining tour, which kicked off Oct. 17 -- along with going to therapy together -- has been healing for the group. "It's cathartic to be able to play and re-experience it, and have it breathe a new light in a live setting," Lambton says. The tour has also allowed the band -- which includes drummer Brian Blake, bassist Kyle Fasel and guitarists Dave Knox and Eric Haines -- to see first-hand what the new songs have meant to their growing audiences. "We feel a lot more comfortable discussing these topics, because there are more people dealing with it than what we may have originally thought in the first place," he says. "It's this constant conversation now."

Below, Lambton tells Billboard about the ups and downs of recording Composure, how the band regrouped in therapy and how he's doing now.

Could you tell something wasn’t right with you while recording Composure?

There's definitely a whirlwind recorded in that record. When we were recording, I was at the peak of my mania and substance abuse. I had never been that manic before, and I wasn't necessarily sure what the fuck was going on with me.

It was all a cluster fuck. I just didn't know how to process what was going on around me, the way that I was feeling and not necessarily knowing what would curb any sort of anxiety, any mania, any depression. But I feel like the mania did contribute to a lot of my productivity in the studio -- that really drove a lot of my creative energy.

Was there a point that your bipolar disorder almost made it impossible to continue with Real Friends?

Everybody was questioning being in the band with the way that I was acting. And I was trying to figure out how I was going to stay sober, how long I should stay sober for. Originally I was only planning on doing it for a month, and now it's more of an indefinite kind of [thing].

We went to my therapist after the album was done, because [the group] didn't necessarily know how to process what was going on with me and how I was expressing myself. My therapist was able to break down how I was acting and why I was acting the way I was instead of making excuses for it.

We had a lot of sit-downs and a lot of conversations about what we expected out of each other, what we wanted to do moving forward and making the band function as an actual unit. There was definitely a lot of soul searching and a lot of learning who we were as individuals outside of the band.

Where do you think the band is at now that Composure is out and you’ve been performing these new songs?

I think we're in a really good place. I would say that it has been getting better. I think we're definitely back in the full swing of things which is really good. It's very reassuring. It's been good for us to be together again, to be able to spend time together, function as a unit and just have a common goal. Right now it's all about the album. We just want to make sure that we're able to give it our all, even if it's just for that [90] minutes that we're on stage. There's an objective, and we all want to work together to make that a reality.

How do you feel personally?

I'm not a 100 percent where I want to be. But it's nice to have something that we are proud of [with Composure]. I personally think that as much chaos as there was, I did have a good time recording the album, even though it put a lot of stress on everybody else. I have fond memories of being able to be so creative and have just such uplifting feelings all the time. But I have to take it with a grain of salt -- I had to learn from it, and I did do a lot of stupid things while that was going on. It's all a learning experience.

Is there a song on Composure that you feel most connected to?

The title track. I think it kind of encapsulates the entire album. [It's about] our everyday structures and what we have to deal with, not only on a day-to-day basis, but more in the long term as well: What we've let chip away at us, what we've let strengthen us and whatnot. “Composure” can mean mentally and physically how you carry yourself, how people see you and how you see yourself.

We've come a long way from being a local band to now being a nationally and internationally touring band. [We're] reflecting on those changes that we've seen in how we perceive ourselves and how other people perceive us -- we're coming to terms with all of that.

Where do you think you’d be if you hadn't started Real Friends years ago?

Fuck if I know! [Laughs] I'd probably have a real job, or I'd just be fucking out of my mind. I honestly can say I'm happy where I'm at. I get the opportunity to go not only around the country, but around the world. I never thought that I'd be able to go to Japan -- and we've been to Australia, Europe, England. To be able to do that playing music [is] such a fulfilling job. It's just awesome.

Do you feel like putting this album out has changed your relationship with your fans?

A lot of people are appreciative of the openness, of opening a dialogue. People are able to feel a little bit more comfortable with divulging more of what's going on with them instead of only putting it into the music.

This new record has opened us up to a more diversified audience, both musically and subject matter-wise. I'm just hoping to reach as many people as possible. If we can break a little bit outside of the pop-punk community, that would be awesome. The more the merrier.

Some people have told me they've been able to feel comfortable enough to go to therapy and seek professional help, which I think is awesome. If there is anything I can do to have my struggle [be] worthwhile, in a sense, hell yeah -- put me on full blast.

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