Often times, New Jersey’s music scene is boiled down to Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, but punk-pop duo, 18th & Addison, is determined to show that New Jersey is more than just folk and hair metal.
Former members of A Criminal Risk and What’s Eating Gilbert, Tom Kunzman and Kait DiBenedetto transformed what initially began as a jam session into an electrifying project of indie-pop beats pulsating in tune to melodic riffs. While their sound is sure to satisfy the ears of musicophiles, it’s 18th & Addison’s willingness to defy labels and their determination to create a project so uniquely them that proves why this band just might be the next best thing to come out of the New Jersey circuit.
In this interview with Music Existence, 18th & Addison’s Kait DiBenedetto discusses the band’s influences, the creative process behind their debut EP, Little Parasites, bringing back the ‘90s, and what sets them apart from other acts in New Jersey.
ME: What’s the story behind the name 18th & Addison?
KAIT: I live on a street called Addison Avenue; Tom’s street number is 18, and we were just messing around and were like, “Oh, 18th & Addison!” It was also representative of the duo as well, so we just rolled with it. Originally, it was going to be “Addison,” but we didn’t want it to just seem like a person’s name either, so we ended up going with 18th & Addison and it stuck.
ME: In the past, you both were a part of other bands: Tom was in A Criminal Risk, you were the guitarist for What’s Eating Gilbert and a solo project, Just Kait. What led to you two collaborating and creating 18th & Addison?
KAIT: We were both kind of unhappy in those bands at the time, so we started to jam just to write music that always wanted to but couldn’t in our current bands. I had a song called “Running” that I had written a long time ago but couldn’t do anything with, so I asked Tom to come into the studio and track guitars on it; that was the start of what we didn’t know was 18th & Addison at the time. After that song, we started to write a little bit more, and once everything fell apart with our other bands, we decided now’s the time to take this seriously, and we’re really happy we did because we both have complete control over this band. It’s been awesome, so we’re really excited to keep doing it.
ME: How have your previous band experiences helped to shape 18th& Addison to what it is today?
KAIT: I think one big thing for us was it was really hard to rely on other people in our bands. When I was a solo project, it was a little easier because a lot of the people who played with me were hired, but even with that you never know how people are going to be. I know Tom had the same issue with his band. He went through probably three member changes within a year just trying to find people who understood music and had the same passion as he did. I never really wanted to be a solo project, so when Tom and I started playing, it was cool. We know we could rely on each other; we knew that as friends from the get-go because we were both just as passionate as each other. I also think with us always being stuck in a box with our other bands – when you’re in another band, you have to just be punk or just be pop – sometimes it’s hard to go outside the box and play different music. With this band, we decided to play whatever we wanted. I think that was the biggest lesson we learned from being a part of previous bands.
ME: You had already established a fan base from your previous bands; were you concerned about their reactions as you and Tom began promoting 18th & Addison?
KAIT: For me, not really. The fan base that I had usually was always a really cool core group of people who supported me regardless. With this band, I wasn’t really that worried about it; I was more worried that they might not like the style of the music. There really wasn’t too much of a difference, but it was different enough to where I was enjoying it more. I was excited for us to actually start building our own fan base based off people who didn’t follow our previous bands. We kind of liked the challenge of having to start from the bottom again. I think that’s what’s been fun for us. I don’t think Tom felt nervous either. I think he felt, like I said, the excitement of starting from the bottom and building up something that we both really like a lot more.
ME: So there’s a sense of freedom with being a part of 18th & Addison?
KAIT: Oh, absolutely! For me, my previous jobs were all very calculated, and I had a lot of co-writers, and everything was done for me. But with this, we have full control, it’s very independent, and like you said, we have the freedom to do what we want and what we don’t want.
ME: You’ve mentioned how with your previous projects, it was impossible to venture outside the boxes those bands were classified within. Now that you and Tom have the freedom to do the music you want to do, what musicians have inspired you, and how have those influences helped to shape the sound of 18th & Addison?
KAIT: I look up to so many different people, but one person that I think is just awesome is Gwen Stefani. I know we don’t sound like her and we don’t play the same type of music she does, but I think it’s really cool how she represented women in music and showed people that it doesn’t really matter if you’re a boy or a girl, you can do whatever you want in a band. Gwen Stefani and No Doubt were always different from other bands. They didn’t care and just did what they wanted. It worked for them. I look up to Gwen Stefani and everyone in No Doubt as influences in that aspect because it’s like what Tom and I are doing: we’re writing what we want to do and not trying to fit in any genre; we’re not trying to be in competition with any bands that are out. We write what we write, but I say Gwen Stefani is a big one for me.
ME: One thing about your sound is for anyone who grew up listening to the radio in the ‘90s, it evokes a sense of nostalgia. It has a very late ‘90s alternative sort of feel.
KAIT: Oh, that’s awesome!
ME: Was it a conscious effort to go with this particular style or did it just happen organically?
KAIT: I honestly think it’s just how Tom and I mesh together. We both came from different backgrounds. I hate labeling music because I think music is music, but if I had to label it, I would say punk is what Tom was in and my band was more pop-rock. I think both of us coming together brought different aspects to our music. You wouldn’t necessarily think a pop singer would get together with a punk singer and it would work, so when we began writing together, I think us having different influences as far as music goes, and just the fact that we came from different bands and styles really helped. I personally love old school ‘90s alternative rock. Even to this day, we’ll play shows and do a bunch of cover songs, so it’s cool that you thought that. But again we didn’t mean to; I just think it was something that just came together naturally.
ME Musically, you and Tom come from different backgrounds, so are there any musicians, past or present, that as a band, you’d like to collaborate with if you could?
KAIT: Oh man! Tom really got me into The Clash. I’ve always known The Clash from being a musician and being into music, but I didn’t really start getting into them until I started hanging out with Tom. He’ll tell me things about Joe Strummer: things he said in interviews, and his mindset behind things. I think that The Clash or at least Joe Strummer would be someone we would want to collaborate with in general just because it seems as if he had the same mindset as we do when it comes to music – of just kind of doing what we want. I just think the industry has changed a lot since The Clash and Joe Strummer were who they were. Sometimes Tom and I say we were born in the wrong generation because if we were around back then, it might have made more sense for us to be around, but I definitely know we would like to collaborate with The Clash if we could. Obviously, we can’t now (laughs). As for recent artists, Tom and I always joke about it, but I like P!nk. I think she’s awesome because when she first came out, she was swayed to be R&B, then one day she woke up and decided she wanted to do a pop-rock album and was like, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to do this and if you don’t let me do this, I’m out.” I respect that a lot about her.
ME: There have been a slew of bands to come out of New Jersey that have gone on to dominate the music scene. In a place that seems like a mecca for new talent, how does 18th & Addison distinguish itself from other acts?
KAIT: The big thing with us is how we represent ourselves. We pride ourselves on being very independent, but even when we’re not playing shows, we go out and support other bands. We try to make connections with people, and if we play a venue that doesn’t really suit us as a band, we don’t play there again. We try to do things that are smarter than what we did in our last bands. That’s another thing we took from our experiences: making sure that we don’t make the same mistakes, obviously. I think for us, because we made the decision to support other bands, we made our mark on people and we’re very genuine about what we do. I’m not saying that’s what gets you out there, but I think we also just try to play as much as we possibly can. I think that’s what you have to do now. A lot of people are just like, “Oh, we’re going to try to get by on all these tours and get by on these shows with these big bands,” and I just want to be playing anywhere so that people can hear us. Another thing that Tom and I like to do is go back to the old-school way: print out flyers and stick them all around our neighborhood and town. That’s something a lot of other bands don’t do anymore because back then, you walk down the boardwalk and post flyers if you really want people to go to your show. It’s worth it because we’ll have people come to the show that are like, “Oh, I saw your flyer.” It definitely gets your name out there even if people aren’t familiar with it.
ME: Let’s talk about the band’s recently released EP. Usually, a band has a very distinct creative process – maybe one person is the main songwriter or all members contribute to a track separately. As a duo, what was the creative process like for this particular record?
KAIT: Tom and I are always together just because we’re dating, so it’s just a given that we’re always together. But there are definitely times when Tom has an idea either musically or lyrically and he’ll bring it to me. We never write a song and say, “Ok, we’re going to write this song and learn it.” It’s always, “This is what I made up to this song; I want you to write something to it.” We always write our own lyrics and we leave parts open for each other. Tom will write his own verse and I’ll write my own verse and we’ll collaborate on the chorus, so it’s very equal and we really enjoy both being very involved. Before, I was in a project where I had to co-write with people and there were always two or three co-writers; it was not something I enjoyed because I felt disconnected from the song. But with Tom, we both work really well together, so the songwriting process just comes together really well.
ME: The first single from your debut EP is “Jealousy” Of all songs on the album, why was this track chosen as the lead single?
KAIT: We chose that song as the first single because we felt it was the most hard-hitting song. It grabs your attention; it makes a statement, and I think a lot of people can relate to it. Honestly, I think everyone can relate to all of the songs on the album. “Jealousy” in particular was definitely one that we sat together and agreed represented us best as a band at first glance. We’d talked about what we want our second single to be, but like I said, “Jealousy” was the one we felt would make us stick out a little bit more and make people want to listen more.
ME: Individually, what are your favorite tracks from the EP?
KAIT: I think of all the songs, “Circles” is probably Tom’s favorite. He likes us going back and forth and it’s something we don’t really do that much. For me, “Consequences” has always been one of my favorite songs. That was a song I started writing a long time ago and I’ve always loved it, but I never really knew what to do with it, and I didn’t like it enough to put it out there with another band. Then, Tom added his parts to it and it just made it ten times better. I think the story behind it and what it’s about makes me really like it.
ME: What do you hope to achieve for the band?
KAIT: Tom and I just really want to tour. We want to play as many shows as we possibly can. I think that’s what’s going to make people really get used to hearing about our band. We’re going to keep being on social media and promoting ourselves as much as we can, and putting out flyers because shows are a big thing for us. We’re making a music video for “Jealousy” soon, so that’s what’s next for us. We’ve never made a music video before for this band so that will be a first. But just shows. Tons of shows and promoting. We still feel very new. We’re just trying to get our name out there as much as we possibly can.
18th & Addison’s debut EP, Little Parasites, is avalible now.
Follow 18th & Addison for more information on new releases and tour dates