For all the chaos and aggression in Tunic’s songs, the Winnipeg trio is haltingly perceptive and emotionally resonant. Composed singer-guitarist David Schellenberg and drummer Dan Unger, the punk band is responsible for bracingly intense full-lengths about the anxieties and insecurities of daily life, including the 2021 LPs Quitter and Exhaling. But with their third album Wrong Dream, which is out via Artoffact on April 28, they’ve written their most introspective and adventurous music yet. Across nine unpredictable songs, they grapple with integrity, grief, tumultuous relationships, and universal questions that come with trying to do the right thing. Co-produced by Seth Manchester (The Body, METZ) and stand-in bassist Drew Riekman (Blessed), it’s a document of a band pushing themselves as far away from complacency as possible to make something intentional and compelling.
Work on Wrong Dream began during a personal crossroads for Schellenberg. As someone who’s devoted himself to being in bands and fostering a DIY community since he was a teenager, he found himself with a day job and relative financial stability for the first time in his life. “I wasn’t living in a shitty apartment anymore,” he says. “I was the happiest I’ve ever been, but also, I lost myself to capitalism and was struggling with my identity of who I am: Can I still call myself an artist if I work 40 hours a week? I didn’t wear a suit but I felt like a suit.” He set out to try something totally outside his comfort zone: waking up hours before his job and writing songs by himself, away from the safety net of collaborating with his bandmates. “I woke up early and made that time to still practice my craft because I felt like I was losing myself,” he explains.
As an attempt to get out of his regular routines on guitar, Schellenberg set out to start several songs just on bass and keyboards. “The biggest breakthroughs came from me trying to break out of my shell,” he says. Lead single “Whispering” began on keys and according to Schellenberg was initially “a practice in dissonance.” The track kicks off with a menacing bassline and tackles the petty arguments that arise in relationships. Schellenberg yells in the chorus, “I can’t take it back / Even if I want to.” He says of the song, “It’s about whether your partner can accept you as the worst person that you sometimes can be.” The icy single “My Body, My Blood” also deals with interpersonal tumult. The most brooding song on the LP, it’s sparse but rhythmically dense, featuring lines like “This is long over now / I’m your prey.”
With Schellenberg’s reenergized, disciplined approach to writing, the band was so prepared to record at Seth Manchester’s Machines with Magnets studio in Rhode Island. Where their previous records were made with a more casual approach, Wrong Dream is Tunic at its most intentional. “The last one was a little more off-the-cuff and relaxed but here, we’ve never moved so quickly,” says Schellenberg. “We finished with an extra day. There was clarity there that we should just focus on the nine songs that we have and give them everything that we’ve got and treat them with the respect they deserve.” Just take the album closer “Empty Husk,” which is by far the most ambitious song the band’s ever attempted. What starts as a pummeling dirge with clanging guitarists and ambient dissonance slowly but suddenly unfolds into something grand, cathartic, and even beautiful.
Tunic find moments of release and tension throughout Wrong Dream. Single “Disease” sounds like Meat Wave by way of Spray Paint and it finds the band absolutely locked in over panic-inducing guitar chords and Schellenberg yelping, “Complaining about work / But what you really feel is stuck / It’s cancerous / It grows within you / A disease unable to shake.” Elsewhere, songs like “Protected” and “Under Glass” deal with anxieties of everyday life and death. Written after the loss of Schellenberg’s roommate, who battled alcoholism, he sings mournfully on the latter track, “Once a confidante / Now a name under glass.” On the former, Schellenberg channels his worries into a pulsingly terrifying groove where he screams, “This is how we all live now.”
Wrong Dream is a document of trying to right the course, realizing that the decisions you make can pick you up or ruin you. Its title comes from the fact that you can chase paths that aren’t right for you: ones that lead to addiction, despair, and losing yourself. Opener “Sounds Repeat,” the song that sets the barnstorming energy for the rest of the LP, also packs the heaviest emotional punch. Here, Schellenberg sings, aggrieved and indignant, “You picked it over us / You let it win you let it take you / I never thought it would happen so soon.” It’s Tunic’s most affecting and immediate record but it’s also their most adventurous. You’ll find hints of post-punk and hardcore but also immersive textures from post-rock and the rhythmic dexterity of math rock. “It explores everything that we like as people and doesn’t shy away from our musical interests,” says Schellenberg. “It’s an evolution in songwriting that really shows our versatility in a way we haven’t done yet.”
Tunic will be touring North America in 2023 and bassist Tomas Ingham is joining them as a full-time member.