Interview | Tunabunny
by Lee Adcock
Not too long ago, I extolled upon the virtues of the Athens-based band Tunabunny and their third LP, Genius Fatigue. Well, those cool cats have also sat down with me for a month-long email interview – and, quite frankly, they’re as open and friendly as I’d hoped they’d be. Read on to learn more about Athens’ many collaborators, the full story behind “Wrong Kind of Attention”, and (of course) the explanation for their indelible name…
First, of course, the inevitable question that perhaps everyone asks – why Tunabunny?
As Yoko Ono once sang, ‘Why not?’ A sign appeared alongside a highway outside of Hartwell, Georgia. It tickled us. It suggested a mixture of sweet and sour, something adorable and something disgusting, possibly frightening. It seemed perfect. It seemed memorable. At the very least, I think we can all agree it’s better than naming your band Ed Sheeran.
How did the four of you meet?
We were friends before we were a band, so we met in that random circumstantial way that people become friends. Mary Jane and Brigette met first while in middle school, at a counseling session for students whose parents were getting divorced.
On your Tumblr, you wrote that pop/rock music was a “picked-over corpse”, and that it’d be be best “if it simply ceased to exist”. Could you elaborate on that sentiment?
I think Jack White’s solo career speaks volumes about that sentiment.
How have you been received by UK audiences in the past?
Cash-on-delivery. Last year people came running up to us saying they hadn’t seen anything that good in years. A nice young lady in London said our set gave her an orgasm, but I don’t think that’s something we can promise for everyone.
Other hobbies aside from making rad music?
Minimum wage/maximum effort, painting, making videos, all-you-can-eat buffets, reading, writing books, studying international environmental and gender policy, anthropology, physical therapy, and eating donuts. AND drinking coffee. That deserved its own sentence.
I do love Genius Fatigue. Very much. I’ve only owned it since Record Store Day, but it already sounds like a classic to me. Been listening to Minima Moralia lately, too. Which is also fantastic – but Genius Fatigue seems somewhat more focused. And slightly more polished. I could be wrong, of course…but did you guys approach the two albums differently?
Thanks, we are glad you are enjoying the albums. I’m not really sure if I would totally agree that Genius Fatigue is more focused, however, there are some major differences between the two albums. First off, we recorded Genius Fatigue after touring for the first time, so it sounds more like our live sound, which is more visceral, intense and out for blood. Second of all. MM was recorded after a harrowing 2010 for Mary Jane and myself (Brigette) and so the songs are dark and chronicle this struggle, not necessarily because the songs are about our experiences directly, but because that was the subject that I think we were most interested in and attuned to at that time. Also, MJ and I wrote songs/lyrics separately for MM, and then more collaboratively for Genius Fatigue. That was mainly the result of time/work/etc. getting in the way of MJ and I having the time to collaborate directly during the creation of Minima Moralia. So when we were in the process of creating Genius Fatigue we consciously sought to be more collaborative, getting together and discussing what we wanted the song to do and each crafting lyrics for the same song. It was very Lennon/McCartney of us! MJ being Paul of course, since she is the cute one.
Describe the songwriting process for you guys. I’ve heard that Scott maps out the structure?
Not that Scott isn’t important, but whoever told you that was mistaken. The great thing about Tunabunny is that every member is a great artist and songwriter who is totally capable of running the show on his/her own. However, we all recognize the real strength of being a band—and that strength is the spontaneity, the surprises, and frustrations of collaboration. I think we enjoy and embrace the challenges that come along with that, because the result is this tangible record that surprises us all, and that we all enjoy listening to. I think if it was a one-person show, we wouldn’t be as surprised or interested.
As far as songwriting goes, we are quite opportunistic about it. By this, I mean we write songs in every way imaginable. Sometimes songs come out of practice…we all just play together until it sounds good. We might record a part and add words after the fact. MJ and I have come in with fully developed songs in the past. Sometimes the songs are shaped during the recording and mixing process. The process is very open. Everyone gives suggestions and we all keep working at it in order to create the best song possible. The only constant is that so far, all song lyrics are written by Mary Jane and myself (Brigette).
Very curious about ‘Airplanes in Echelon…it’s a bit of an outlier. Very somber. But also extremely mesmerizing. How did that track come about?
That one was really spontaneous. We had borrowed my dad’s 12-string acoustic guitar for something, and Scott was lying around before we went over to record at Jesse’s and just started strumming those chords. I made some noises over it with my delay pedal and we thought it sounded cool. So when we got to Jesse’s we just set up a microphone and recorded it on the spot, not knowing if anything would come of it.
Later I wrote the lyrics after listening to way too much late night Coast to Coast AM radio, reading about political science and watching certain news events unfold.
Being raised in the Georgia countryside myself, I recognized those field recordings in Wrong Kind of Attention and Pachyderm, Fallen immediately. Very nice. Why’d you include those?
Those aren’t technically field recordings. Jesse (who is the drummer and records all of our albums, as well as playing in the phenomenal Antlered Aunt Lord) lives in this treehouse apartment, and when we recorded the vocals at his house the birds and insects decided to sing along, I guess. There is never a shortage of collaborators in Athens, GA. All you have to do is leave the door open.
Speaking of Wrong Kind of Attention…was there anyone in particular you had in mind while penning that one?
Wrong kind of Attention is completely fictional. I was interested in telling a very detailed story because I hadn’t really done that in a song before. I was listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen (for the first time actually) and also reading a biography of Edie Sedgwick. The song is a warning really, and is full of empathy toward young women and men who are striving so hard to be free that they inevitably build these chains around themselves, fucking up their own lives and the lives of those around them. I guess because I am a big sister, I tend to take a very empathetic and older sibling attitude toward humanity. Not in a patronizing way, but I want to reach out to those who don’t believe in themselves and I want to transfer some strength to them. I want people to live to their full potential and without fear, and so that is what the song is about, and really what Tunabunny is about to me.
I recently heard the song “Coffin Car” by Yoko Ono, and I thought the tone and attitude of the song was very similar to “Wrong Kind of Attention”. And so that made me feel good, because I know Yoko also has this empathic drive behind her songs. There are also certain similarities in the tone with her song “Death of Samantha”. That line when Yoko sings “When I’m with people/I thank God/that I can talk hip/when I’m crying inside/When I’m with friends/I thank God/that I can light a cigarette when I’m choking inside,” it’s just devastating and causes the listener to picture and experience the hidden suffering of this woman. And not much has changed! That was in the early 1970s and you can still see people suffering from this kind of self-mutilation. So that’s what I’m interested in capturing with a song like “Wrong Kind of Attention”…these hidden realities and the pain that people try to mask. I think it deserves to be thought about and I think it’s time for people to stop having to live their lives that way.
But is the song about anyone in particular? Like the song says, I’ve seen hundreds of them.
You released “Form a Line” as a single back in April – and Vanessa Hay sung a version of the track for you! (I haven’t heard this yet, by the by, but I’m intrigued. I LOVE Pylon.) How did that happen?
We asked her, and she said yes! She is truly one of the loveliest people on earth…and a total punk rock goddess. We love her.