When TUNS took the stage at Toronto’s Massey Hall for a performance last fall, many Canadian music fans were frothing at the mouth. While the first show from a new band is not typically a news-worthy item, it was the individuals that comprise the TUNS trio that warranted the attention.
Made up of Chris Murphy (Sloan), solo artist Mike O’Neill, who had also played with acclaimed indie-pop duo The Inbreds, along with Matt Murphy from the late, lamented Flashing Lights and Halifax indie stalwarts The Superfriendz, TUNS was bound to attract attention whether they were seeking it or not.
To many music fans, the group is more than just another band on the landscape. Given each member’s respective history within the annals of Canada’s independent music scene, there has been a certain reverence afforded to the group.
With that reverence comes expectations, however, and with expectations, real or imagined, comes the realization that a lot could be riding on whether TUNS’ becomes a breakout success when their self-titled debut album is released at the end of August.
It is something that TUNS bassist Mike O’Neill might be inclined to agree with if he was having this very conversation 20 years ago. While O’Neill can appreciate others wanting to see TUNS live up to its full potential, he insists success would merely serve as the icing on the cake.
“TUNS is nothing more than making music for music’s sake. All the three of us want to do is write good songs,” O’Neill declares. “Both Matt [Murphy] and I have gone through these other musical iterations where there were even modest expectations associated with them. Even the mildest expectations can sometimes suck the fun out of things though.
“This band is a different beast. In fact, Matt told me that this is the first band he has been a part of where he hasn’t felt anything in the way of expectations. I feel very much the same. It’s freeing at this point in our lives. If I was a part of this band when I was in my 30’s, I’m sure I would be absolutely obsessed with expectations and things that ultimately aren’t within my power. It definitely wouldn’t be as fun as it has been already.”
With three solo records – What Happens Now (2000), 2004’s The Owl and Wild Lines (2012) – to his credit, along with a 2013 collaboration with Devon Sproule, O’Neill acknowledges that he hasn’t been the most prolific solo artist since the Inbreds disbanded in the late 90’s.
O’Neill’s lack of musical output from 2004 through 2012 could be chalked up to the fact that he had been kept busy writing music for various television shows and movies, culminating with a Gemini Award win for his work on the Food Network program French Food At Home.
He might not have intentionally put his solo career on the back burner, but also admits that he was sometimes his creativity’s own worst enemy, something that he has happily managed to shed within the context of TUNS.
“A big reason why there were significant spans of time between my solo work is because I tend to be very self-conscious about what I’m doing. My sense of humour just basically goes out the window,” he says.
“Making music with Matt and Chris in TUNS has proven to be the opposite for me though, which has been refreshing. Everything about this band has felt spontaneous and has happened relatively quickly.”
O’Neill shares that it was TUNS drummer Chris Murphy who originally planted the seeds of the band, suggesting the two of them get together with Matt Murphy to see what they could come up with.
Although each of the group members felt relatively confident that something could work between them, they also didn’t assume things would work, despite the more than two decades of friendship between them.
“There was definitely some nerves about playing in front of each other,” O’Neill says. “We all knew we liked one another, but in the back of our heads, we also wondered whether the chemistry would be there from the outset.”
It turns out their worries were all for naught. Not long after they convened to see where things could lead them, TUNS had approximately 50 different songs at various stages of completion. The group then selected 15 of those tracks to fully flesh out before eventually whittling down the collection down to the nine that will appear on their upcoming record.
Arguably unsurprisingly, reaction to the band has been solid from the get go. Last fall, the group gave fans a taste of what to expect with the release of “Throw It All Away,” while this past spring, the band unleashed a second song, “Mind Over Matter,” to near unanimous praise. Although the trio doesn’t stray far from their power-pop roots, the group also shows the influence of acts like mod rockers The Jam.
“We are beyond lucky that anyone cares about TUNS, to be honest, but I’m also not sure that it could have worked as well as it has before this particular in our respective careers as well. When it’s all said and done though, we are excited for people to finally hear the record, because I think it’s evident that we are having a lot of fun making music together,” O’Neill says.
TUNS self-titled album is due for release on Friday August 26.
What: TUNS with By Divine Right, Dilly Dally, and Adrian Teacher & The Subs
When: Friday July 31, 10 p.m.
Where: SappyFest Mainstage, Bridge St., Sackville
Tickets, including info on festival passes is available at www.ticketpro.ca.