18th & Addison is a rock/pop-punk band from Toms River, N.J., that was formed in 2013 by longtime friends Tom Kunzman and Kait DiBenedetto, who met while playing in local bands. Kunzman was in the punk group A Criminal Risk, while DiBenedetto was one of MTV’s first recording artists, fronting a solo project called Just Kait. They launched 18th & Addison as an acoustic duo, but soon realized that they missed the fullness and energy of playing with a group of musicians.
[Cover Photo Credit: Jarred Weskrna]
In 2015, they released their debut EP, Little Parasites. Last year, they followed it with a full-length studio album, the independently recorded Makeshift Monster, which debuted with the single “War.”
Kait DiBenedetto spoke to Guitar Girl shortly after returning from South By Southwest, where 18th & Addison performed five shows in two days at the Red Gorilla Fest.
You and Tom began playing together as a duo. Do you still write on acoustic guitars?
Most of the time we do. Recently at practices we’ve been coming up with cool riffs and taking them to the acoustic guitar, but acoustic has always been the more organic way for us to do it. Tom and I have been dating for more than six years and we’re always together, so we’re constantly thinking of ideas while we’re in the same room. We write together and it’s never forced. It’s been very easy. We write separately at times, of course, and then bring the ideas to each other. We complement each other in the right place and time for what the songs need.
Our band is our life.
Why did you opt for a duo instead of a band?
One of the reasons is that we trusted each other. We were going to bring certain things to the table because we have a connection as friends. We both played in separate bands early on. I’ve known Tom for close to ten years at this point, maybe more. We didn’t like each other very much when we first met, but you start to know somebody and it changes things and you become friends. Luckily for us, we ended up learning to like each other a little bit better! Our band is our life. We choose to make it our life. It’s not that our relationship comes second. We focus on the band, and then we shut our phones off when it’s time. We try to be smart about the timing of everything and what we do throughout the days. We are workaholics when it comes to the band, but we’re also good at separating it and keeping our stuff together as far as our relationship.
Currently you are performing with a rhythm section. Tell us about them.
We interchange members sometimes. If somebody can’t do a tour with us, we have somebody else. We have a ton of friends that have been helping us out big-time. For this last run, we had Brian Dylla and Lenny Sasso. The vibe we’ve had with them is one that we hadn’t had in a while. We have people come and go, depending on their schedules, and we’ve had the pleasure of really talented friends coming in and playing with us. We look for people who are great at what they do, but who also have the energy, connect with the songs, and like the music.
With that, you also perform acoustically.
We do. When we were in Austin, we did an acoustic set and it was a lot of fun because we played some old songs that we don’t play anymore. We played “Running,” from our first EP, which we hadn’t played in forever. It was nostalgic. We love playing with a full band because there’s so much energy, so we try to do more full-band shows now, but we have no problem stripping it all down to acoustic, because that’s where the songs all came from. That’s their rarest form, which we like to hear, too.
What are the challenges of bringing in new rhythm sections, especially when they haven’t played together before joining you?
That makes it even more fun for us! It was a little bit of a challenge this time to say, “OK guys, we’ve got two practices and then we leave for Austin.” But we were tight like we’d been playing for years. That’s the nice thing about finding people who are genuinely in love with music like we are, which is what we found in Brian and Lenny. It’s stressful for us because we have to make sure that we sound good and represent our album the correct way, but again, finding people who feel the same way, have that same drive to play music, and who want to show their talent to the world makes it a lot easier than finding someone that fills in just because they want to be in a band or say they’re in a band. But it’s stressful for them, too, because we were playing a nine-song set list on those shows and they learned them all relatively quickly. I think in a week they learned all the songs, which are not simple songs for the most part, and they killed it. They locked in really well, so it was refreshing for us. We didn’t have to worry, because we trusted them as musicians and they did a great job.
We’re constantly teaching each other different techniques on the guitar, and I learn a lot just watching him play.
How do you and Tom complement each other as guitarists?
Tom is a solid lead guitarist as well as a rhythm guitarist. I’m very much a rhythm guitar player, and I pride myself on being a tight rhythm guitar player. Tom can move around and play the octaves and leads that are driving in our songs and make our songs what they are. In this respect, he likes having that solid rhythm to be able to play those, too, which I bring to the table. So that’s a nice thing that we have going when we play live. Often, when we write, I come up with the rhythm stuff. We both do, but when I bring my rhythm stuff to him, I immediately put my faith in him to come up with a lot of the riffs. We’re constantly teaching each other different techniques on the guitar, and I learn a lot just watching him play. I’ve always loved playing rhythm guitar. When you hear a band that has a solid rhythm, it makes the entire band tighter, so it’s nice to have the two of us, comfortable at what we’re doing, and we’re there to teach each other and learn from each other as well.
You began playing when you were 11. What attracted you to the guitar?
I always loved music. My dad was a musician. He played drums, and he played in bands. I hurt my foot and I was in a cast. I couldn’t play sports, I couldn’t do everything that I was doing, and I asked my dad for a guitar. I started learning to play little by little. I took a lesson or two, but I wasn’t a fan of the technique. I wanted to teach myself. Once I started playing, songwriting came with that, and I felt I had to sing in order to really do anything with it. Music was always a passion, but once you learn how to play an instrument, it’s much more exciting. I was listening to a lot of Good Charlotte back then, and they have solid rhythm guitar, or just solid parts in their songs that had a lot of rhythm, and obviously Green Day, which has always been Billie Joe [Armstrong] playing a lot of guitar — up until a few years ago, when they brought in a band to play more guitar with them live — so he was always a solid rhythm player. I respect people who can play lead and rip crazy leads, but I was always more comfortable playing rhythm, and I felt like that’s where the passion came in.
You’ve had a solo project, you work with Chad Gilbert’s side project [What’s Eating Gilbert], and you have this band. What were the steps you took to get from there to here, and how do you now divide your time?
I played a lot on my own. I was playing coffeehouses, and once I got old enough to reach out to people, I started my first band. While I was doing that first band, I ended up recording some acoustic songs and putting them on MySpace. I got some attention from two producers and that led to the solo career. It helped me a lot because I made a lot of great connections, and I got to tour and experience what it’s like to be a professional musician, but I wasn’t excited about the music. It was fun at first, but when you’re co-writing and they’re telling you to do one thing and do another thing, it starts to lose its fun. I came from punk and pop-punk roots, so I wanted to play something heavier than what I was doing with the producers and MTV and stuff like that, which was more pop. Once I parted ways with them, I decided to take a break for a while. I wasn’t in a good place for a long time. Tom and I were friends at that point and his band started to dismember; it was just him writing all the songs. We were each other’s support systems, dealing with not having that constant music in our lives anymore. We decided to write for fun, play acoustic, jam a little bit, and that’s what ultimately turned into 18th & Addison. We were both ready to continue something else, and we wanted to make sure it was something that felt right and made us feel good.
Are you still involved with other projects?
I play with Chad whenever he’s not doing New Found Glory. I love that kind of music; I’ve always been a fan of ’50s-style music. That’s the only side project I have, and that’s not happening all the time because Chad is so busy, so I dedicate 95 percent of my time to 18th & Addison, and I like it that way. I don’t like having my hands in too many baskets as far as bands. But Tom and I do have things we do on the side. We do screen printing for other bands to make shirts, and we like to help record and produce albums for bands around here. We love constantly being around music, even if it’s not our own.
You’re not promised tomorrow, so we try to live in the moment and take advantage of it.
Where does the work ethic come from?
We’ve always been that way. My whole life, I never didn’t work. I like to be busy. It keeps me grounded, keeps me on my toes, keeps my head in the right place. I think it’s the same for Tom. Neither one of us likes sitting around. Even on days off, we wish we had a show. I’ve always seen my dad work so hard and be so passionate about what he loves to do, and it stuck with me, I guess. The same for Tom. He’s seen family members not live out their dreams, settle for the 9 to 5, or sacrifice this for that, and he didn’t want to be that person. He knows this is the time to go full force and make the most of the time we have here. That’s what we live by. You’re not promised tomorrow, so we try to live in the moment and take advantage of it.
Tell us about your guitars and amps.
I play Fender Cabronitas. What I like about the line is that they have punch and really cut through when I play them through my Vox. They also have the Gretsch pickups that give them a little more power than a standard Telecaster. Tom plays a Les Paul Junior, and he bought a Vox first. I was playing a Marshall JCM 2000, which sounded great but wasn’t fitting for the type of music we were starting to play. I wanted something more modest. I heard Tom’s Vox and I loved how much power it had for a little combo amp, so I got the AC15. When we recorded this album, we tracked my Vox and also put it through an Orange. It sounded incredible, so I might buy an Orange cab to make it sound more full. Sometimes the Teles have a little more twang to them, depending on the settings. I have them pretty treble-heavy right now, and the Orange added some bass that I wasn’t getting out of the Vox and the guitar itself. It really separated Tom’s sound from mine, and I liked how it sounded.
You’ve used the term pop-punk, and it’s often used to describe your music. What does it mean? Is it subjective?
It’s a loose term to me. Tom and I talk about this all the time. We don’t know what we are. Right now we’ve been rolling with what people say. Pop music, to me, is what you hear on the radio. I listen to everything, so I know what I think it means, but it might be something totally different to somebody else. Punk, to us, is The Clash and The Ramones, and even The Ramones are a little bit more pop. Green Day is not a punk band anymore. They’ve got a lot of rhythm and great melodies to their songs. It’s hard to put your finger on what it actually means. We just are who we are and we don’t really know!
You’ve been candid about your struggles with anxiety and depression, and how songwriting is cathartic for you. However, once a song is out there, you can’t take it back. Is there a fine line between what to say and what to keep to yourself?
I write very personally. I deal with things every day that make it hard to want to put it out there, but to me, music is therapy. Lyrics are therapy. Just like when someone writes in a journal, they might write a poem, and I write a song. It is a constant push and pull as to how much I want to give away, but I tell myself that there are people going through the same things, and I want them to have their own take on what I’m writing, so I try not to hold back too much. I used to be a little bit more subliminal because I didn’t want it to be too personal, but that’s how I feel better. Once it’s written, I usually feel OK. When you go through anxiety every single day, it’s hard not to write about it, so I have to try not to write about it all the time. There are obviously other things that I write about, but it’s where I get my inspiration and I like to put it out there. I want to be honest about it because I’m not the only one going through it.
Anxiety and depression come with stigma and isolation. What do you hope your music says, not only to people who are dealing with it, but to people who know someone who is suffering?
It’s crippling, no matter how bad it is or how far into it you are. You don’t have to go through a terrible situation to have it. I have a great family, I was raised by awesome parents, and I get along with my family. A lot of people feel alone, or they think if they don’t have as much anxiety or depression as someone else, it’s not relevant enough to talk about. You have to surround yourself with people who are a positive influence in your life, keep yourself busy, and let your thoughts out. Having somebody like Tom has been really important. Before him, I went through bad relationships and awful people that made it ten times worse. When you find that support system and make them aware of how you feel every day, they will help you. It’s not about wanting somebody to feel bad for you. It’s about them just being there. I can’t go through the day all the time without an anxiety attack. I had one on tour, and Tom was there to talk to me. People in general are gaining the confidence to talk about it, but if they don’t, then don’t try to force it out of them. Let them talk about it on their own terms.
As a musician, you have a responsibility to be honest with fans who are listening to your music, because you can help them through the day.
Do you feel a responsibility toward fans who are experiencing the same thing?
Yes, absolutely. If they can relate to my story and it makes them not feel alone, that’s all I can ask for, even if it’s one person. I write about it because it’s my way of feeling better, but if anybody comes up and says, “Your song has helped me,” that’s the ultimate goal. We want you to love our music, but we love when people can relate to our songs, whether the circumstances are good or bad. If they can put their twist on it and feel better, I feel like I’m doing something to help. As a musician, you have a responsibility to be honest with fans who are listening to your music, because you can help them through the day. You think long term what music can do for people, because a song doesn’t go away. It’s there for anybody to listen to if they’re having a bad day. What I’ve always loved about my favorite bands is the way I relate to their music. I love the way it sounds, I love the band itself, the shows, and the energy, but I go immediately to the lyrics, and if I can’t relate, I don’t listen to it. I hope people can relate to our music in that way. Of course we also want to make them happy, and if an energetic song makes them happy, instead of hearing sad words and stories, then that works too.
Kait DiBenedetto Gear List
- Black Fender Cabronita Telecaster
- White Blonde Fender Thinline Cabronita Telecaster
- Taylor 114CE Acoustic/Electric
- Black Yamaha APX500III Acoustic/Electric
- Vox AC15 Special edition
- Custom 18th & Addison pick (.73mm gauge)
- D’Addario Custom Light 10 gauge (Acoustic)
- Ernie Ball Power Slinky 11 gauge (Electric)
- Boss Chromatic Tuner
- Sennheiser e935