I can’t think of many contemporary groups that are spreading the gospel of grassroots alternative music as fervently as Jacksonville’s Teen Divorce. The band’s brand of emotionally driven DIY rock is putting Northeast Florida on the map for mid-level touring artists.
The core of Teen Divorce is Benjamin Saunders (guitar and vocals) and David Kennedy (drums), with bass by Daniel Hubert Jr. and additional guitar work by Justin Belichis and Mason Jenkins. Though the band name might double as a tip-of-the-hat to Jerry Springer or Port St. Lucie, it’s mostly a reference to a cult 1970s exploitation flick, Teenage Divorce.
“I got OCD the same day that I got a MacBook,” Saunders told Folio Weekly when we asked how the band got its start. “So to handle it, I would just write really terrible demos in my dorm at UNF.”
In 2015, after experimenting with an early, inconsistent lineup, the guitarist met Kennedy, and Teen Divorce started to coalesce into something more than .wav files on a MacBook. The drummer recounted, “I didn’t think much of it at the time, but within a few months, we started practicing and really hit it off as songwriters and bandmates.”
They released their first EP, Path, that year. It sounds like an East Coast band tackling indie-surf music. Fast-forward to 2017: their EP, Almost Heaven, was self-recorded and mixed by longtime friend Drew Portalatin. According to the band, it’s “a story of loss, love and countless late nights.” Teen Divorce dropped another EP, One to One, in 2018. This one was recorded in South Carolina and features glorious house-show singalongs like “Parlor.” There’s something cathartic about shouting along to the chorus: “I know just who you are!”
Teen Divorce has noticeably polished its musical style with the release of two 2019 singles, “48” and “Wet Cement.” Today’s Teen Divorce are lyrical purveyors of shoegaze guitar tones and all the pop punk parts you actually care about: punchy bass tones and intricate drum work.
In four years, the band has criss-crossed the nation on multiple tours. They’ve run a prolific booking collective (Bughouse Live) and opened for larger touring acts like Atlanta’s Microwave and Fernandina Beach’s Flipturn. Among the band’s biggest achievements is being invited to perform at prestigious punk-rock festival, The Fest 18, in Gainesville this fall. “It’s something we’ve seen as a goal for the last three years,” said Kennedy, “and it’s a huge mark for us in our timeline.”
After years of dedication to Northeast Florida’s music scene, Teen Divorce is receiving well-deserved attention. The band is often seen on lineups for larger bills. They attribute this rise in popularity to the fact that they make music that their fans want to hear. That is, they emphasize emotion rather than flashy solos.
“The big shift for me was from playing music that I thought was smart to playing music that I actually felt,” Saunders explained. “I think that reflects a lot in my guitar work.” To which Kennedy added, “We’ve tried to see what connected the best with our audience out of what we had been playing for years.”
The band’s next steps include more single releases and continued weekend-warrior tours. They’ll also be counting down the days to The Fest.
“The plan is just to keep putting out bangers, rocking out shows, and hopefully see the country from the window of a van.”