You know your new band is destined for greatness when your very first live show is on stage at Toronto’s fabled Massey Hall. “I remember telling people that we were playing Massey Hall,” recalls Mike O’Neill, one-third of TUNS, “and they’d say, “Oh, well everything after that is going to be downhill, eh?’ ”
Hardly. Not when you have a band comprised of Chris Murphy of Sloan, Matt Murphy (no relation) of Super Friendz and Flashing Lights, and Mike O’Neill of the Inbreds, three men who were central to what was known in the 1990s as the Halifax Pop Explosion. That Massey Hall gig in October 2015, part of an all-star benefit show organized by Hayden, marked the first time anyone knew TUNS existed. The band’s internal mutual appreciation dates back 20 years to when the Inbreds and Super Friendz—with whom Chris was playing drums during a Sloan hiatus— toured together, a friendship only now coming to musical fruition.
Now, with their first full-length, TUNS is proving that they’re not going to be that supergroup that sounds great on paper and super lame on your speakers. They’re not a bunch of old dudes past their peak who want to play half-tempo dirges about their divorce. This is not some side project where Chris dumps his Sloan leftovers. Far, far from it.
TUNS is an exciting new band of equals, of collaborators, of experienced veterans who sound as exuberant as ever. It’s power pop with intricate melodies, electrifying rock’n’roll written with a deep appreciation for songcraft. It’s like a music geek’s version of fantasy baseball, a band that could feature Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend and the Attractions’ Pete Thomas, with Alex Chilton and The Jam’s Paul Weller throwing in song ideas.
“Back Among Friends” was recorded live, with only vocals and guitar solos overdubbed. “I thought even putting an acoustic guitar on there would be too much,” says Chris. (He lost: there is acoustic guitar on one track.) “This record is incredibly upbeat—and that’s such a relief,” says Mike. Adds Matt, “When we’re making music we’re restless about it. We don’t want to be settling for anything. We’re always striving to take it somewhere different, somewhere beyond where we usually go ourselves. We can look at each other and find inspiration, and then blow it up and find something brand new outside anything any of us has ever done.” “It’s fun to play with musical heavyweights where I’m definitely in third place,” says Chris. “I can push as hard as I want against them musically because I don’t have to handle them with kid gloves.”
Unlike Sloan or Super Friendz, this is not a band where everyone shows up to rehearsal with a fully formed song. Here, fresh ideas are recorded, reassembled, reintroduced. Three melodies might be written for one song; maybe they all stay, maybe two get turned into totally different songs. “You’d never find your way out of the maze, if you tried to figure out who wrote what part,” says Matt. “We’re fans of each other’s music. Which is a cliché, but it’s amazing to hear someone you respect create something you think is magical right before your eyes. There are a lot of moments when I think, ‘It’s really exciting just to be in this room right now.’ ”
Oh, and the name? Toronto Usurps Nova Scotia? No. It’s a reference to the Technical University of Nova Scotia (1907-97, now part of Dalhousie University), where the young Murphys used to go for science fairs or to play basketball. The reason? Let’s just say the best ideas on the TUNS record are definitely in the music, not in the title on the cover. “Sounds like ‘tunes.’ Wasn’t taken. Spelling is unique on Google.”