18th & Addison are two-piece pop-punk group based in Toms River, NJ. Made up of Kait DiBenedetto and Tom Kunzman (they play live with a drummer and bassist), the duo met after leading respective musical careers and combined their talents for writing punchy, emotional and energetic rock cuts during a time where the genre is undergoing a revival in the indie limelight.
Kait and Tom joined TuneCore for our first-ever TUneCore Live: Brooklyn event last August, and we got the chance to catch up with them to talk about their new album Makeshift Monster, (dropping tomorrow, July 15th), their beginnings as a group and what it takes to start and maintain your own label:
Coming from the pop and punk backgrounds, what kind of influences did you two share right out of the gate? How did you learn from each other in this regard?
Kait: Regardless of my pop background, I was still very much into punk, pop punk, and all that stuff as well, but I think the first band that initially brought the two of us together musically was Mest. We got together to record a cover of one of our favorite songs by them and realized really early on we worked well together and brought the best out in each other musically. Besides that, once Tom and I started hanging out more, he really got me more into The Clash, the Rolling Stones, The Replacements, Rancid. Just a bunch of stuff I always respected but never listened to too much and now I love it.
Tom: When I was younger I was kinda stuck in my ways. I hated pop music for a long time. At this point though, I’ve grown to love and respect the production of pop music from the 80’s and 90’s that I ignored as a kid because all I cared about was Green Day, Blink-182 and whoever they listened to (laughs). I love punk rock more than anything, but I’ve learned, from writing with Kait that it’s okay to have the high energy and “f*ck you” attitude of punk rock with a good pop melody and beautiful harmonies that really get stuck in your head.
That’s pretty much all I was doing in my old band anyway just without realizing where it was all coming from. I guess I was just a really ignorant kid or something but now, I get the biggest kick out of writing the heaviest song ever (to me) and throwing in this poppy chorus with all these harmonies and soaring guitars and synths like we do on Makeshift Monster. There’s a song on there called ‘Knives’ that will make you wanna punch somebody then pick them up to sing along immediately after. It’s exciting.
Describe the initial collaborative process between the two of you. Was there instant songwriting chemistry?
Kait: There was definitely instant chemistry, at least in my opinion. When we really started taking 18th & Addison more serious and began the songwriting process together, we wrote separately more often than we do now, but we’d still bring the ideas of those songs to each other for the other to add onto.
Then it gradually turned into to us collaborating more on songs/ideas and writing more collectively which is why I think throughout the few years we’ve been a band, the songs have progressively gotten better. We learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses as songwriters and fed off of each other to each get better in different areas.
Tom: Yeah, and we were writing A LOT. We could’ve put out a full length record right out the gate if we wanted to, but that wouldn’t have been a smart idea for a new and independent band in 2016 but the chemistry was there real early on. The writing process always changes, but over time, it’s gotten more and more collaborative which has proven to only make our music stronger which I think has made our live show even better and more fun as well.
How did you parlay your respective experiences in bands when it came to getting 18th & Addison off the ground?
Kait: For me, I think the biggest thing I took from my past experiences is to wanting to be more involved. Right now I love being an independent band putting in the work and getting the pay off in the end. In the past, a lot of what I experienced were amazing opportunities but I didn’t have to put in as much work to get to the point where I was because I had a team of people doing it for me. Learning the in’s and outs of promotion and starting over from scratch is something I really took seriously from the start of this band and something I take a lot of pride in now considering we’re seeing a lot of our hard work pay off. It’s much more rewarding.
Tom: Pretty much the same for me. I got screwed over so many times. I was literally robbed by one of my drummers several times while on tour. I was literally left on my own the day of shows to play acoustically by myself which I had never done at that point in time. The list is endless! Anyway, I toughed it out because I felt stuck since I had a contract with a heavily involved investor who I was terrified to let down. Not that he would have sued me if the band broke up or anything, but because I had so much admiration and respect for him and his family for taking such a big chance on my band. I’m not one to ask for favors. Neither is Kait.
I’m thankful for those moments though nowadays and have no hard feelings because it really toughened me up. I took every idea that those guys ignored, or turned down for whatever dumb reason, and I put it all into 18th & Addison. Kait was feeling the same way and equally as excited to really grab the wolf by its ears and take it all on just the two of us and so far, so good! It’s liberating.
What kind of tips can you offer to an indie artist who might be stepping away from a project to pursue another in terms of marketing and engaging new/old fans?
Kait: I think consistency is the key. A lot of people want the results right away or want to ride the coattails of old projects but don’t want to put the work that’s needed to start over. Social media is one of the best outlets to continue the communication between old fans, and a great way to connect with new ones so having a good online social presence goes a long way. But again, if you’re not consistent, it doesn’t matter.
Tom: Exactly. We’re definitely stuck in the age of instant gratification which Kait and I never subscribed to. Yes, let those fans of your last band know you’re doing something brand new, but don’t count on all of them follow along. Like Kait said, that consistency in 2016 is vital. My last band was terrible at that. We were so slow moving and we really hurt ourselves that way. It honestly killed the band and its drive, but 18th & Addison is a whole different animal!
Set goals for your new project that will catapult you to a new level, and do whatever it takes to achieve those goals. It might flop, it might not but that’s how you learn. Any band or creative endeavor is like a relationship. Plan for the future so you have something to look forward to and keep you in and if the passion and love is there, it’ll all work out.
Pop-punk has had a resurgence recently – I attributed some of it to former fans (like myself) finding a new value in the style and writing later in life. What do you think?
Kait: Tom and I say this all the time but “pop-punk” never really went away. I think more recently bands of that genre are trying too hard to be too much like each other and it gets boring. A perfect example is putting on any pop-punk playlist on Spotify, it’s hard to identify any difference between some of the bands. No one has their own identity anymore and it’s nice when there’s a new band here and there that surprises you and gives you a little more faith in the genre again. But in my opinion, that’s few and far between these days.
Tom: I’ve always paid attention to it so for me, it never went away. I also agree with Kait though. Sometimes, I can’t even tell it’s a different band with some of the newer ones in the “scene”. It’s like any genre though in my opinion. It goes through the motions and sometimes it’s popular, sometimes it’s not. One wave of it is great, the next isn’t so great, but I’d rather see young kids support a new, working band who can introduce them to older bands who started it all. As for the older crowd who grew up with it then stopped caring, I’m happy to see they’re starting to come back around as well even though it’s not this massive thing.
You played one of our TuneCore Live events in Brooklyn last year and tore it up! What steps do you take to continually improve your live performances?
Tom: Thank you! We don’t really overthink the live show honestly. We just practice as much as we can and have a blast with our live band mates and try to think of things to add to the songs to get the crowds involved. Especially for people who have never seen or heard us before. We want everyone singing along and having fun. That’s why we started doing this as kids and that’s what I love to see a band do at shows. It’s just always a blast and we try to just be in the moment the whole time.
Kait: Yeah, we consistently practice even when we don’t have to just to stay fresh. We like to play out our actual set list all the way through at least three or four times just so we can work out all the kinks but in the same token, we make sure we still have fun with it. The energy of the crowd plays a HUGE role in the vibe of our live performance and it’s something we really feed off of so we make sure we get them involved as much as we can.
The first single off Makeshift Monster, “War”, deals with aging and the risk of losing your passion. Is this something you think a lot of independent artists go through?
Kait: I don’t think it’s something independent artists go through as much as I think it’s something literally EVERYONE goes through at one point or another. Sometimes you unintentionally lose sight of what’s important and you let what holds you back consume you and it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether it’s a passion you let go of, or anxiety holding you back in anyway, it’s something that we all experience and sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not the only one going through it.
Tom: Definitely. It’s something everyone goes through at all ages. I think that’s just life and I don’t know if it ever really changes. Everyone’s different. Times get tough whether we like it or not and some people run from their dreams in hopes for security because their parents raised them to think that they need to. The world we live in is tricky, but you can’t let ignorant people who have never truly followed a passion in their lives tell you how to live yours or what you need to be doing by a certain age.
That’s really where this new record is based. It’s a brutally honest album and ‘War’ is just the tip of the iceberg, but I overcame it because I love this shit and I know I can do it for the rest of my life so long as I’m not an idiot about it. Anyone can do it for any passion they have. Just need to commit yourself and enjoy the ride.
What other themes and topics do you cover on the new album?
Kait: We definitely cover a lot of ground on this album. We write a lot about self-doubt, personal demons we’ve each had to deal with in our past, and also society and all the inhumanity that surrounds us. There’s a song on there that we wrote after we went through a hard time and our relationship was tested a little bit so there’s definitely a song for every emotion.
Tom: Definitely something for everyone and every emotion but it somehow became really cohesive at the same time. Unintentionally though. I think ‘Disaster by Design’ is the only real left turn on the record in terms of lyrical content, but it still fits the album. We were just being honest as usual, and this is what came out of the both of us because that’s what was going on in our lives at that time. We do try and write it in a way that people can take it and make it their own though.
What urged you to start your own label? What kind of partners – beyond TuneCore – have you found helpful in this venture?
Tom: Like I mentioned earlier, it was just the determination to be self-sufficient and not have to rely on anybody but ourselves. We know how we want to be perceived, we know how we want to promote our music, and we know where we want to go better than anybody else. Period.
You guys have been amazing in distributing our music digitally. We’ve loved working with you since the beginning. We get to pick our release dates, host pre-orders, decide how much we sell our music for so our fans can afford it easily and of course being added to the showcase was amazing! We had so much fun.
As for other partners, we hired a very hard working and extremely supportive manager/publicist who we’ve been with since we got the ball rolling in 2015 and put out our first release. He’s the man. There’s also our good friend and beyond driven videographer/photographer, Jarred Weskrna. His work is awesome and we just recently teamed up with a booking agency (Ashley Talent International) so we’re starting to work with them this summer! Then there’s obviously Skywire Studios where we recorded the album and our engineer, Charlie Berezansky also tracked drums for every song.
Kait: I couldn’t agree more. We like to be in control of what we do, what we write, the decisions we make regarding our music, how we present ourselves and everything else in between and these days, the only way to do that is to do it yourself.
We LOVE working hard knowing we got ourselves there. It’s also a great way to be involved in music outside of our own. We love collaborating and finding new music and figuring out new ways to make music that is refreshing so starting our own label is something we felt would help us do that long term. And all the people Tom mentioned are a HUGE part of why we’ve been able to be so successful thus far.
For an independent artist who might be interested in setting up their own label, what are some pitfalls to avoid or underrated advice you could’ve used?
Kait: I would avoid listening to people who try to put their two cents in who have no idea what they’re talking about. They THINK they do but they haven’t put in half the work to know or understand. Being able to identify the people who are really supportive and the people who say they are for the sake of getting something out of it is something you learn to be really cautious of. We’ve had our fair share of people doubt us or make comments about what we do but as far as we’re concerned, it only adds fuel to the fire for us to want to keep building this more and more.
Tom: I agree. That’s a big part of it. The doubters are always people who have no f**king clue how much work and dedication goes into being your own boss. We never really felt like we’ve come across anything we couldn’t handle, to be honest. It just takes a lot of discipline which is tough for some musicians.
Just be smart and willing to learn as you grow. If you’re a member of a PRO, I suggest reading their newsletters daily and be up to date on the business side of things so you can really stay on top of the new ways to get the music heard. Also, always keep your music first. Without the music, the business doesn’t exist, so don’t forget what’s most important. Pitfalls and failures will happen but that’s what success consists of. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t run from them.