YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Khaled Tabbara and Katianne Timko noticed a trend when they would pitch their songs to producers. They would play a couple of Tabbara’s songs, and a couple of Timko’s songs, and then another one they wrote together. And it was always the song they did as a team that drew the most interest.
That’s when they knew they had something that was greater than the sum of their parts.
Tabbara, aka Khaledzou, and Timko, aka K808, are the electronic pop duo Munnycat. The Youngstown natives moved to Los Angeles five years ago to pursue music careers. In doing so, they not only found their sound, but carved out a creative niche and turned it into a business.
On Aug. 25, Munnycat released a seven-song EP, “The Munnycat Mixtape,” that encapsulates their irresistible but hard to pin down style.
“I’ll write something really dark,” Tabbara says. “Kati will brighten it up. Then we’ll polish it together. If we showed a producer 10 songs, they’d say, ‘What was that one? I loved that one.’ Whenever we did songs together, it was so magical. It was like the universe was punching us in the face, it was so obvious.”
Tabbara, in his Youngstown days, led the popular rock band The Zou, known for its stage theatrics, storytelling and power pop riffs. Timko started as a singer-songwriter who quickly gravitated into synth-pop grooves layered beneath her effortlessly smooth vocals.
“When I heard her K808 stuff, I loved it,” Tabbara says.
When they decided to join forces and become Munnycat, they blended both of their musical histories into a totally new approach.
“We came up with Munnycat before we left for California,” Tabbara says. “It was a new thing and neither of our projects. We wanted to get back to what we were originally excited about in music. For me, when I was 10, it was like old school hip hop.”
Timko adds, “For me, it was the Spice Girls and ’90s pop.”
Munnycat ingeniously incorporates both styles into something altogether fresh.
More than most bands, Munnycat’s videos are integral pieces of their art; it’s hard to fully say you know their songs without seeing the videos.
The videos are rapid-paced and seamlessly orchestrated mélanges of animation, nostalgia, humor, video samples and nods to pop culture that can border on sensory overload but are never chaotic.
Munnycat’s latest video, for “So Fresh,” takes a deep dive into ’70s style.
“We had been nerding out on early ’70s culture,” Tabbara says, explaining the inspiration.
The quintessential Munnycat video might be “Full Bronto.”
It begins with Timko sing-rapping over a quick-stutter beat while wearing a Munnycat cheerleader outfit. Tabbara is lying on her lap smoking a hookah pipe and reading a Doctor Strange comic book. Behind them, an Arab dancer in full burqa, festooned with gold dangles, gyrates. The mayhem never lets up until the end, which has Timko standing atop a car surrounded by a hip-hop dance troupe doing a fully choreographed routine.
Like their songs, all Munnycat videos are created, shot and edited by Tabbara and Timko. Their LA apartment doubles as their studio.
“We have the cameras, the gear and we do the labor – and that’s the most expensive part,” Timko says, describing the creative process. “We’ll listen to the song and see if something visual comes to us.”
Los Angeles resident and Youngs-town native Paul Sauline has been helping with the videos lately. “We have a little bit of a bigger team now, but it’s still DIY,” Timko says
The video for “Full Bronto,” she notes, was shot entirely in and around their apartment building. “It’s all within 20 feet of this apartment,” Tabbara says. “The dance scene is in the alley behind us, and that’s [Sauline’s] Volvo that she’s standing on.”
While Tabbara and Timko consider Munnycat their baby and the showcase of their art and individuality, the duo has managed to monetize it in a way that keeps them in control.
They regularly pitch their songs to producers of film, video, commercials, television segments and other content that needs background music. Think of the catchy indie-pop songs that have been featured in iPhone commercials that had viewers frantically Googling to learn the artist and song. Overnight success is a distinct possibility.
Segments of Munnycat songs have been purchased and placed in quite a few high-profile places.
The act’s music was featured in a montage on Apple TV’s “Dickinson,” starring Hailee Steinfeld. The new single “So Fresh” was used in an NBC montage about U.S. Olympic athletes Mykayla Skinner and Jade Carey that aired during the network’s Olympics coverage. The song is also being piped in to H&M stores worldwide.
The single “Howya Like Me Now” is currently featured in a national campaign for Crest Whitening Emulsions and has over 40 million listens on TikTok.
Munnycat songs have also been featured in commercial content for Xbox, the video games FIFA 19 and 20, Wendy’s, Target, Heineken, Cadillac, Google, Facebook, GrubHub, Adidas, New Balance, Coca Cola’s AHA beverages, Fenty Beauty, Athleta, AirBnB, Badgal Cosmetics, Lululemon, Danimals, JC Penney, the NFL, Ebay, T Mobile, Snapchat and Schwinn Bicycles.
For Tabbara and Timko, the band comes first; it’s the engine and the art form. The songs, once recorded, are then offered to producers and music directors at conferences or other meetings who select what they want based on how it fits their content.
“We’re trying to thread the needle of making art that we are proud of and that warrants a fan base,” Timko says.
At this point – true to the real-life couple’s collaborative spirit – Tabbara finishes the thought.
“And we’re using the mediums that are still available to musicians,” he says. Concerts had been banned for much of the year because of the pandemic and revenue from radio, streaming and album sales is no longer significant for most musicians.
“By getting songs released on a commercial or a TV show, we can reach more people in one minute than I could reach in 15 years of traveling and playing in clubs,” he says.
Timko puts a finer light on their business model.
“The music industry is in a weird spot now,” she says. “Artists can’t make money from streams, record label deals are hard to get and restrictive, and if you do get one, there will be creative thinkers all over your baby.
“For us, to get our songs put in TV shows and commercials, that’s one of the biggest ways to make money, a great pandemic-proof way to make a living as an artist. It means that we are our own label and have creative control over everything we put out.”