Tunic: From The Bottom To The Basement

The Winnipeg noise punks are torchbearers of a new wave of heavy music.

by Sean Orr

Photo by Adam Kelly

“I never really planned to put out every song I ever wrote in one year,” reflects guitarist and vocalist David Schellenberg of the Winnipeg noise-punk band Tunic. But here we are; it’s 2021 and nothing is normal. Only six months after their career encompassing discography, Exhaling, comes new album, Quitter, signalling a whole world of change for the group. Like many over the course of the pandemic, Schellenberg switched careers while founding member Rory Ellis left the band to go back to school. For a band that tours as relentlessly as Tunic, the pandemic was a catalyst for unexpected change while offering a time for introspection. Schellenberg even sold his shares in the Winnipeg bar he owned and quit drinking and smoking — hence the album title.

That being said, it would be too easy to frame the album in this one light alone. While “quitting” is a major theme, along with a deeply personal insight into catharsis and coping mechanisms, Quitter is  more about building than tearing down. Much like when the Death card in Tarot is drawn, it’s more about closing one door to open another. This of course can be terrifying in and of itself. “My identity was so tied to my depression and to my alcohol dependency that I was so afraid to change those things because I didn’t know who I actually was,” Schellenberg says. “I’m very afraid of that, I’ve seen so many artists get sober and make shitty records.”  

Suffice to say, Quitter is not a shitty record. Anything but. Given everything they’ve been through it actually feels like a  crowning achievement. “I wish Quitter was our first record. In my opinion it’s a very strong record and I would love for it to have been our first foray into the world. There was a lot of pressure to write a sophomore record, especially since we knew we weren’t going to be staying on the label that put out Complexion, and especially since we had built a little bit of something.” 

Although much of what Tunic does can be traced to the past — from proto noise rock like Unsane, Big Black, and Frodus to emoviolence like Roadside Monument and Orchid, to the more obvious recent examples of Metz and Kowloon Walled City — they find themselves as torchbearers of a new wave of heavy music. From bands like exhalants, whose first ever show was opening for Tunic in Austin, to Chat Pile and Bummer, of whom Schellenberg “clowns together with online,” he concedes that it feels nice to be a part of a larger scene. “We’re just breaking out of our shell a little bit so there seems to be some cool stuff coming down the pipe and we seem to be reaching more people that are into us.”

Of course that comes with its own set of challenges. For a band that straddles the line between abrasive, noise-laden hardcore and more earnest and sensitive art rock with an ear for writing hooks, the band is seemingly stuck between many different worlds. Schellenberg relays an anecdote about telling the attending nurse who was administering his vaccination that he played in a hardcore band for a living, only to be mocked by hardcore kids after sharing it online. You can’t win. But you can’t quit either. “I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about Tunic is that we’ve made this project that is ok for KEN Mode and metalhead fans to listen to,  and also ok for dudes that listen to City of Caterpillar and all these OG scramz bands. People say, ‘oh you’re such a scramz band.’ And I’ll be like, ‘whatever you have to tell yourself to like our band; it’s cool with me… I got bills to pay.” 

Of course, no punk musician makes music and records to put them online, but that’s the reality we’re in. For a band like Tunic who are so used to connecting via touring, the focus switches to obsessing over Bandcamp stats and algorithms. While self promotion is difficult for any indie band, Schellenberg is throwing some weight behind it and it’s not entirely unrelated to giving up the aforementioned vices. “I do feel a certain level of burnout putting out another record right after putting out Exhaling, but the band has definitely grown a level; we’ve gone from the bottom to the basement. But the label has been really cool and it’s been nice to get on some important playlists and get some nods from some people we really respect.” 

Having earned spots on Apple Music’s Breaking Hard Rock playlist and Slipknot’s Knotfest playlist on Spotify; plays on Strombo’s radio show; some glowing early features from Decibel Magazine and Gimme Tinnitus; and a profile on non-binary drummer Dan Unger in Xtra, Tunic is now itching for the world to reopen so they can get back on the road to wow new audiences with their intense live show. For a band that didn’t even have a SOCAN account a few months ago to be charting on Earshot!’s Loud chart and connecting with bands like LA’s Jerome’s Dream and Daughters, all that hard work appears to be paying off. “The thing I keep telling myself is that 15-year-old me would think 30-year-old me is the coolest fucking guy in the world,” Schellenberg says. “I’m accomplishing my teenage dreams, but at what cost?” 

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