Tunic Commit to the Art of Quitting
Whether substances, genres or even the band itself, the Winnipeg punks aren't afraid to leave things behind
Published Oct 13, 2021For a record so engulfed in noise, the journey to Tunic's Quitter was one of quietude.
"The seeds of it all started when I sort of quit drinking, which I did in July of 2019. I went to go see Carly Rae Jepsen with a handful of people, and I got really drunk," Tunic frontman David Schellenberg tells Exclaim! from his home in Winnipeg.
"And on the Saturday after, we were at this amazing gay bar. And I looked at my friend Brendan, and I was like, 'When you get drunk do you question every decision you've ever made in your whole life?'" he continues, laughing. "And he was like, 'No!' and I went, 'Oh, maybe I shouldn't do this anymore.'"
It's a sobering realization, pun intended and unavoidable, that the shifting half-reality of drunkenness no longer reveals anything but the cost of the drinks and the weight of the hangover. But the decision to put down the bottle was also, in Schellenberg's case, the start of his new life as a quitter.
"After about a couple of months of being sober and still smoking, I had like a real bad anxiety attack — a panic attack — and sort of went into a little depression hole, if you will," he says. "And I sort of realized that maybe just quitting drinking wasn't the only thing that I needed to do to help my mental state and to make myself feel better. So then I also started taking sertraline, which is an SSRI. And then after that, I quit smoking.
"It was sort of like a real wild four or five months of me trying to be a grown up and turning 28 and being like, 'All I wanna do is play music and all I do is spend money on these vices and fall into what I'll refer to as a 'D-hole,' a depression hole, and not getting anything done," he says. "And so I was like, 'What do I have to do to make sure that I can pursue my art to the fullest?'"
Quitter, due for release on October 15 via Artoffact Records, is the rotten fruit of that labour — a lock-jawed, tendon-snapping vortex of noise that chases ideas of resignation, failure and release into the more furious, breakneck corners of punk. It's a document of a life in overhaul, but it's also that of a band in flux.
"On top of that, [bassist Rory Ellis] was also leaving. So there was this massive fear of what was going to happen to the band," he says. "Rory and I are best friends — I was the best man at his wedding and we hang out on the regular, and he really helped me sculpt the Tunic sound." Ellis was there for the entirety of Quitter's creation — in lockstep with Dan Unger's drums, his menacing, dexterous bass-playing makes up the record's dense rhythm section, the molten bed over which Schellenberg shreds his voice.
Ellis officially left after the record's completion, and while the departure was completely amicable and expected, Schellenberg describes a period of dread — in Ellis's absence, there was a crack in the band's mortar-blasted foundation.
"There was this real big fear of not being able to pursue the band to its fullest. Without Rory being such a big part of it, there was this fear of 'what'll happen next?'" Schellenberg says.
He and Unger are currently in that mutable "next" place, and Schellenberg's anxiety about the future of the band seems to have subsided, with new faces and new ideas filtering through the band's thicket of sound.
"We're operating as a duo. Right now we have a new bass player who's just sort of gearing up and practicing with us and stuff, but then we're also writing with Drew [Riekman] from Blessed," Schellenberg says. "He's sort of co-producing and co-writing the new record with me right now."
Tunic records are filled with short songs, played quickly, pushed to the limit at every possible moment — Quitter blasts through 11 tracks in approximately 20 minutes — and Schellenberg's approach to the band's output follows a similar logic; in other words, don't expect to wait too long for the next record, but also don't expect to know how it's gonna sound.
"I wanna make 40–60 minute Tunic records, but I think it sort of took these first two records for me to find the self confidence in my songwriting, and to see if anybody would really like the project before I can pursue the more 'out there' stuff," he says.
"Look at the Beatles! They made these nice records that everyone loved and then they were like, 'fuck that,' and made the White Album and Sgt. Pepper's. And so I kind of see Quitter and [2019's Complexion] as being these sort of two stepping stones. You know and like us for this, and now it's time to push it a little bit more. I'm not totally sure what that is, but it's going somewhere."
Hearing Schellenberg talk about it, that 'somewhere' could be anywhere ⎯ it's a cliché at this point to marvel at the punk band who loves Taylor Swift or the folk singer who listens to rap, but for a band with such an unrelenting, signature sound, it's still a surprise to hear the molecules that make up Tunic's pitch-black DNA.
"It's stuff like Björk and Ought and Devo and Portishead — stuff where I'm like, 'I like these ideas and these parts and the sort of mood they create.' And so I try and recreate those things within Tunic," Schellenberg says. "We don't really subscribe to the hardcore diatribe of, like, very much Mean Girls-esque 'You can't sit with us' energy that's in some of punk and hardcore. For us, we're three giant dorks who like all types of different music, who, for some reason, just make punk music.
"Originally, Tunic was supposed to be an indie rock band. And then when we started playing with Sam [Neal], our original drummer, he came from the hardcore and black metal world. So the way that he played drums really influenced the way that I wrote songs," he continues. "We found punk pretty late, and I'm happy that I found it later. I'm happy I did the indie rock thing first."
And about the somehow-sometimes-still ongoing conversation about punk purity? Schellenberg says he doesn't care: "For a while I kept saying this dumb thing where I was like, 'I'm punk now, I'm punk now' — that was maybe like three or four years ago — but I'm like, I'm 30 years old! I don't fucking care, I bought Lululemon pants the other day.
"For the first time, maybe in my whole life, I'm just comfortable doing my art. And people seem to like it. So that's cool."