“Punishing” and “the sound of a bird dying”—those are among the ways in which Tunic guitarist/ vocalist David Schellenberg sounds proud to describe the Winnipeg, Canada-based noise rock project, whose new album Quitter is available this October from Artoffact Records. 

The propulsive album often proves scorching, with every element of the volatile mixture sounding poised for maximized impact. Seriously: the physicality of this record is profoundly intense, and amid the searing onslaught that Tunic pack into Quitter, they also reflect emotional turmoil. The songs are confrontational yet startlingly poignant, and the dynamics feel sculpted to allow an accessible grasp of the album’s jolting nature.  

The range within the album is impressive, although it’s like a musical tornado, circulating around core threads of pointed tension and dizzying, unsteady atmosphere. The rhythms barreling along throughout this record suggest ragged aggression at time— but at certain moments, Tunic shift into a somewhat more flippant mood, delivered via a still “punishing” but less suffocating mix. Ultimately, the sounds of Tunic match the themes that Schellenberg and the band—which at this point also features drummer Daniel Unger—explore, which include personal struggles that Schellenberg has faced. 

The experience of Quitter could be compared to the feeling of sprinting down the beach as a torrential thunderstorm rolls in and jarring waves crash into the shore. While it’s unsettling, it’s also exhilarating. Across its runtime, Quitter seems to capture the sound of an uneasily relieving expression of existential anxiety, and the sounds are formidable enough that rather than a story told from a distance, it’s a (brief) foray into the actual experience of it.  

Tone-wise, the instruments that appear on Quitter sound like they’re getting somehow wrung out and slammed into the ground, in rapid succession—and it’s great. 

Tunic are continuing briskly ahead. Quitter is emerging the same year that Tunic released Exhaling, another Artoffact Records release that compiled past material with new songs, and the band, like others in this uncertain era, are looking towards returning to tour soon. 

Below, check out what Schellenberg has to say about quitting, Iowa, catharsis, and noise rock—not necessarily in that order. 

While it contained some previously released material alongside new songs, Exhaling came out this year, and now, Quitter is already ready to go. Do you ever stop writing?

No, to be frank. I wrote an album at the start of the pandemic—like a whole record worth of material that I scrapped. We recorded Quitter in January of 2020, and then we decided to sit on it before we put it out. And as soon as we finished Quitter, I went home, and in that first sort of few weeks of lockdown, I wrote about 12 or 13 songs. And I threw all of them out.  

So, I just—I can’t stop writing, I guess? It’s just something that I have to do. It doesn’t have to be good. But it is one of those things where I have to be creative every day. I would dedicate, like, an hour before work. I would wake up an extra hour early and just go into my basement and open Ableton and just make something every day.  

So, it sounds like Quitter has been at least mostly done for awhile. 

Yeah, it really has. To be honest, Quitter was done—totally done and mastered, album art and everything—by the end of February of 2020. 

There’s certainly a broad range of lyrical themes across Quitter. How would you describe the thematic and emotional inspirations for the record? Relatedly, would you say that there’s a level of catharsis in the record for you? 

There absolutely is an emotional catharsis for it. Sort of everything—Tunic is really just a vessel for all the anger that I have towards myself, or my situation that I’m in. There are a bunch of darker side things, of me battling lifelong depression, and anxiety, and having to deal with all that. And then a battle with alcoholism, and just other addictions, and things like that. So, it definitely brings me some sort of peace of mind to yell about things that I was really, really angry about. And so, it is therapy—it is the cheapest therapy to just be able to get that out of my system.  

I think that’s one of the biggest things I am missing about touring right now, is actually yelling about these things that I am mad about still every night, and being able to get those feelings and emotions out. Because it is still an extremely cathartic and important ritual for me to do.  

Thematically, the record is about quitting.  

“[Co-founding member] Rory [Ellis] had quit the band before we recorded the recordhe said like, I’ll do this, and then I’ll be done. And like, Rory’s my best friend in the whole world. I was the best man at his wedding last summer. Like, there’s no hard feelings there at all. It’s just one of those things where he just wanted to pursue something else, but Rory truly was my confidant throughout the whole band. And I’m a pretty nervous songwriter and a pretty anxious front-person, and Rory was always sort of that person who held my hand and really pushed me into thinking that the project was good and worth pursuing.  

And so, with his departure, that sort of shook me to the core a little bit. [Drummer] Dan [Unger] is an excellent bandmate and a great partner in the band, but Rory and I also lived together for three years, and we sort of have all this shared history, and really created the project together.  

Losing him created a great sense of loss, and combined that with all the things I mentioned before, the recent struggles of my mental illness and just my addictions and everything like that. When I told [Rory] that the song “Quitter” was about him, he said: just name it after me, and call it “Quitter.” I thought, that’s pretty perfect. 

To veer a bit into the sound of the record specifically, are there sonic flourishes, tone-wise or gear-wise, that you took with Quitter that felt fresh and new? Are there more recent things along those lines that you’ve explored and are excited to put out soon?  

That’s something that I’ve actually sort of dove a little further deeper into now, with sort of the gear-headedness of being in a band. It’s not something I really cared about before. Like, I just bought stuff that was good, and I would use it. But I never bought a distortion pedal because my amp was distorted all the time, and I was like, I don’t need to have something else to make that sound.  

So, with Quitter, we made that record with Jace Lasek, who made [2019’s] Complexion, the last record that we put out. Jace is an indie-rock producer, but his favorite bands are Drive Like Jehu and Fugazi. So, he understood where we were coming from, but he still has a tendency to mix on the softer side, I guess, if you will. And so, what actually we did, to be frank, is we would just play Jane Doe by Converge and listen to where all those instruments sat, and then we would just try and mimic the mix of Jane Doe for Quitter 

And that was sort of the first time that we’ve ever done that sort of strategically, instead of just being like, “I like the way this sounds; let’s try and find that tone.” Like, we pulled up the EQ and watched it play Jane Doe on Jace’s mixing computer, and watched where all the instruments sat in the EQ, and Jace was like, “OK, let’s go put the bass hits here, the snare hits here, and let’s go put all those things in similar places.  

“I just didn’t think that the first record was intense enough, and we sort of missed some. The bass wasn’t hanging in and sort of taking up that low frequency enough without it getting too muddy. And so, we were able to carve that out by sort of using Jane Doe as a roadmap sonically. 

So, would you say that you intentionally wanted to make Quitter explosive, energetic, and the like? 

Yes, absolutely. Always. I always explain—I use the word ‘punishing’ for Tunic all the time. I want Tunic to be punishing on the listener. That’s why the records are short. That’s why our sets are short. It’s not something to be enjoyed at length. It’s supposed to be fast, and short, and powerful. Not so much in the stuff we’re writing now, but definitely in this early phase of these first two records that we made, that was very much an intention. 

Someone once described Tunic as the sound of a bird dying, in a negative way. And I was like, no that’s awesome. We were in, like, Iowa or something, and I heard this woman when I was having a cigarette outside, back when I smoked, that was like, “Yeah, the band sounded like a bird dying.” And I was like, that rocks. That’s a great way to describe my band. I loved it.  

How do you relate to the concept of noise rock in general? In some ways, it can seem so specific, while in some respects, it can seem so general. So, is that something that you take inspiration from, whether in terms of specific bands or stylistic things or stuff like that? 

I would say definitely more at the beginning of everything, like with the EPs and the first record especially, there were definitely some real heavy, noise-rock vibes. And I think that Quitter is very much a noise rock album as well, but it’s a very, very broad term, and a lot of people are—sort of like anything whenever you get into sort of a niche genre, let’s use, like, black metal for example. There’s some real strong purists among some of those people.  

Tunic’s never been called not a noise rock band. People are aware that Tunic is a noise rock band. But also, at the same time, people have described us as like a skramz band. And I’m like yeah, cool, whatever you have to call yourselves to be into our band, that’s fine with me.  

KEN Mode’s from here, and we’ve played a bunch of shows with them, and we’re good buddies. We’re definitely more on the punkier side, and they’re more on the metal side, but it all just doesn’t really matter. That’s kind of the cool thing about Tunic, is that it sort of appeals to these more metal-leaning people and more punk- and noise rock-leaning people.  

I think that noise rock is usually ex-hardcore kids that value songwriting. I think Fugazi is a perfect [symbol]—like, looking at Ian MacKaye being in Minor Threat and then being like, “You know what’s cool? It’s cool to write a hook. It’s cool to have dynamics.” Not to say that I think Fugazi is a noise rock band, but I just think, like—In Utero is a pretty good example of some second-wave noise rock.  

It’s a very funny subgenre to be part of. It’s funny to see people argue about it, but it’s like, who cares? Good music is good music, and that’s all that matters. As long as the music is authentic—that’s what’s going to resonate with people. 

As for your reach, how has your experience been connecting with Artoffact Records?  

It’s great. It’s amazing. Jacek and Jeremy, the two guys that run the label, are incredible to work with. They’re very smart and very business-oriented. They really believed in the project, and it’s really nice to have someone who believes in the project help push it forward and open some doors for you.  

We’ve worked with some more hobby-based labels and some other people that have kind of been pretty fuckin’ terrible to be honest, and have, like, not paid their employees, and told us that they’re out of records to give us, but then I’ll see them up on their Bandcamp, and stuff like that. Some real sort of scummy stuff. And so, dealing with Artoffact has been amazing—to work with professionals who care about the records and really give everything they have to each release. It’s awesome.  

How do you tend to approach the live experience? For instance, do you intentionally write songs with an aim of having the tracks go over well live? 

We’ve been doing this thing that a lot of musicians do as you get older, and you’ve been doing something for a long time, is you kind of just let the song go where it wants to go on itself in listening to the song. And that’s something that I’ve been exploring a little bit more. Instead of just forcing, hamfisting a song into being something that I want it to be, I kind of just let it do its own thing. But I always do envision everything for live. I do think, since Tunic is such a live-centric band, that I do always focus on the live show and sort of write with the live show in mind always. 

Going forward—are there particular musical areas that you’d like to explore next, or is it more of a wait-and-see kind of thing? 

I’m kind of ready to grow as a songwriter and as a band. I would like to make some more, broader [music]. I look at a band like Daughters, for example, who were a grindcore band, and then was a noise rock band, and then they made the last record. And so, I’m just looking to grow and explore some more textures, and I think that Complexion and Quitter are a real beautiful pairing together, and you can see the growth within the band that way, and I look forward to further developing the sound with tones and expanding the palette that we are painting with currently.  

I just turned 30, and so it’s just one of those things where I’m just like—I don’t really care anymore. That sort of self-consciousness about trying to write a cool punk song or whatever like that—I don’t really care. Tunic is going to be whatever it’s going to be. I don’t need it to fit into a box really. Tunic’s been around for a long time, and I’m not the same person I was when I started this band. And my tastes have changed and evolved. So, I’d evolve the project to reflect that. 

Watch the video for “Apprenhension” here:

For more from Tunic, find them on Instagram, Bandcamp, and Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Tunic and Adam Kelly

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