Indie rock bands come in an infinite array of shapes and sizes. One thing that can make a band stand apart is pure emotion—and local trio Teen Divorce has that in spades. Mixing the soaring dynamics of Slowdive with the buzzsaw attack of Converge and the melodic licks of every great indie rock band from the ’80s and ’90s, Ben Saunders, David Kennedy and Shane Smith have already made a name for themselves in Northeast Florida (a name that is purportedly from a ’70s porno). With one EP (Almost Heaven) out this year, another one already in the works, and an ambitious eye on the future, you’re going to hear a lot more about Teen Divorce in the near future.
Folio Weekly spoke with Saunders about his Christian roots, obsessive-compulsive disorder and why he loves playing for college crowds.
Folio Weekly: Give us a little background on how Teen Divorce came together.
Ben Saunders: Teen Divorce basically started the day I moved to University of North Florida. I began playing music in fourth grade as a way to clear my head, and I was in bands in high school. But when I went to college, I started suffering from bouts of OCD. So early on, Teen Divorce was about me writing down what was going on in my head. I jumped off the porch and started playing shows my junior year with whomever I could find to play drums and bass. But the real lineup came together last year after I met drummer David Kennedy at a show at Jack Rabbits. Then, bassist Shane Smith and I hit it off while we were both DJ’ing on Spinnaker Radio at UNF.
You released the Almost Heaven EP in February and already have another in the works, right? How is the new one different?
To be real, I’m just coming out of a season of depression. And that’s had an impact on the newer songs. I want to be honest with myself in my music. We’ve written four new songs so far, and they’re some of the first where I listen and actually hear myself in it. We used to like using pedals and including interesting fills in our songs, but after touring, paying attention to the bands we were playing with, and listening to classic records by Carole King and Nirvana, we realized that the best music contains only the bare essentials. So that’s our goal for the new record—we want the songs we write trimmed down to almost no fat. Every part that’s there has to deserve to be there, and if it doesn’t, we cut it. That’s exciting new territory for Teen Divorce—freeing, but also challenging. It’s forcing us to ask ourselves, ‘Are we really feeling that reference to a 19th-century poet?’ I don’t want to hide behind a shield of collegiate literacy or verbose intellectualism anymore.
So your musical interests are changing as we speak.
To quote Dave Grohl semi-ironically, “I’m not the most creative musician—everyone that listens to me knows I like loud guitars.” I like loud guitars. I’ve always been an indie kid. What has changed for me is that I grew up in a family where both of my parents are Reverends, so I wasn’t allowed to listen to much mainstream music. I’m still reconciling the fact that I was shown the world through the very limited scope of what modern-day Christianity allows. So when I got to college and didn’t have anyone checking my Internet history anymore, I got really deep into rap, trap and drill music. That’s influenced how I write melodies a lot. Teen Divorce actually almost opened for Ludacris at UNF once.
Wow. That would have been insane. Do you all want to get that big?
I want to run the world. I have a dream where I’m playing guitar in front of millions of people, including the kids who bullied me in high school, and then I smash them to pieces like in an ’80s heavy metal video. Just kidding. But music—writing it, playing it, listening to it—is the only thing that makes me really feel like myself. Like, ‘This is what I was meant to do.’ OCD is an illness of doubt and uncertainty, and there have been mornings where I wake up and say, “Am I Ben Saunders? I don’t actually know.” That led me to be honest with myself and strip everything down to its core values. I graduated from UNF with a degree in public relations last December, but right now, I don’t want to have a job, a nice house, a dog and a wife who cooks dinner every night. I’m happy living in a big house near Arlington with four roommates. We hang out all the time. My car barely has a bumper. I work at Nordstrom’s. If Teen Divorce can succeed to the point where I can make a living touring six to nine months a year and writing music that touches other people, giving them hope and solace, that’d be perfect. We’re going to do a more organized push for this next EP—hopefully get on some bigger fests around Florida.
Seems like Teen Divorce is destined for even bigger things.
Really, we just want to play colleges, which are starved for good music. College is a time of discovery and freedom, and I’d love to have the opportunity to play for other ugly white kids with glasses who are trying to grow a beard and figuring out whether they like Slowdive.