Like many of us, Hilary Tusick, lead singer and songwriter of Seattle band Linda From Work, has had her fair share of shitty, soul-sucking 9-to-5 office jobs. But while many of us can only continue to seethe with our unresolved job-related bitterness, Tusick’s found some catharsis.
Her years of lukewarm coffee, dull coworkers, and email cc’s have become the lifeblood of her witty garage rock band and their last two releases—2019’s Two Week Notice, and last July’s Burnout. This Saturday, November 6th, Linda From Work will be out-of-office when they play the new Cafe Racer in Capitol Hill.
Looking at Tusick’s account of her own childhood, her unlikely journey from desk to stage makes sense. Tusick, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, says the first thing she can ever remember wanting to be was a musician.
“Even as a kid, [I was] performing Disney songs for my mom and setting up stages to perform for everybody,” Tusick remembers. “I did a lot of musical theater once I was in middle school and high school, just to have an avenue to perform. I was also taking piano lessons, guitar lessons, from an early age.”
Still, despite her dream, she says she was fairly “introspective” about her music, and went on to study English at University of Texas in Austin. Even in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” she didn’t share her own work much because, as she notes, her vibe was different. “I enjoyed that area for a while, but really wasn’t as into the music scene down there. It’s a great scene but again, I was just not meeting the exact right people for me,” says Tusick. “Then I tried Chicago for a bit, but it also wasn’t panning out in the way I’d hoped.”
She did meet her husband (and drummer in Linda from Work) Sam Nowak at University of Texas, and eventually, they decided to give Seattle a shot. Tusick says it’s the best decision they ever made. “I’ve always been really big into Riot Grrrl—Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney —that whole vibe. I love a lot of grunge, too, like obviously Nirvana and Sound Garden and so I [already felt] connected to music scene here,” she explains.
Sure enough, things progressed fairly quickly once the pair arrived in Seattle in 2015. Soon after landing in town, Tusick and Nowak met and begun collaborating with bassist Mary Robins, who Tusick calls their “missing puzzle piece.” From there, the band played several shows in 2018 and released their first EP, Two Weeks Notice, in February 2019.
Still, all the while, Tusick was working a mind-numbing job as an office administrator in an architecture firm to supplement her music income—but it wasn’t going well. “I don’t feel like I fit very well in the 9-to-5 corporate world,” Tusick admits. “So the first album was all about a lot of the frustrations and anxieties and difficulties of having a job like that.”
Going into the writing of their newest album, their debut full-length, Tusick hit the breaking point while still working her office administrator job. She poured it all into 2021’s Burnout. “I was working this 9-5, I felt overworked and underappreciated and I have some pretty severe anxiety and so the combination of all of that, and you know, being an insomniac on top of it all, just led me to a lot of really stressed out moments, a lot of low moments, a lot of frustration, anger,” Tusick says. “This album is called Burnout for a reason.”
Her distress is apparent on tracks like “Teeth,” which begins with a lone and unsettling guitar line and builds from there. The song chronicles a particularly upsetting experience that happened to Tusick at the height of her stress. “I was in multiple bands, I wasn’t sleeping much. I was like, okay, once I’m less stressed it’ll go away. I’ll be fine. And I kind of ignored it which I shouldn’t have, because one night, as I was just about to fall asleep, I felt something hard, like a rock or something in my mouth, and I started to wake up and feel what it is – I had bitten my back molar in half,” says Tusick. “Luckily it didn’t hurt but it was terrifying. I immediately started screaming. It’s like all those nightmares you hear about where people are losing their teeth, but this was actually happening.”
“No” is another song that stands out on Burnout, particularly because of the force and direction of the melody and the clarity and self-possession apparent in Tusick’s lyrics. According to Tusick, that’s by design—this song is all about finding your voice and learning to set boundaries—whether with a coworker or a lover.
“I feel like that song’s directed to a lot of people in my life,” she says. “I feel like personally people don’t say ‘no’ enough. You try to be nice and you’re trying to acquiesce to people but there’s certain times where I think it’s really beneficial to put up those boundaries and be like, no, I’m not going to do that. No, I’m not taking care of you. No, I’m not doing this. So I wrote that song from that place, for people over the years that I felt like I should have been saying no to.”
Still, Burnout is anything but depressing and hopeless—it’s high-energy, relatable, clever, and up-lifting. It’s the kind of music you pipe into your ears for motivation during another monotonous day at the office, and it also offers the perfect ambiance for a beer-soaked house party. Actually, the latter circumstance is actually pretty close to how they conceived their band name.
“We were actually at a Christmas party with members of my family, talking to my cousins, and [we thought], you know, we might as well just open this up and see if anybody stumbles on something good,” says Tusick. “None of them are musicians so they just kept throwing out ideas that were really metal and not the right vibe at all. So, we were like, what is the least rock ‘n’ roll thing you can think of? And one of my cousins goes, ‘Well, okay, you just made me think of this story—so the other day, Linda from work…” I was like, ‘Stop right there, that’s the band name, we got it.'”
There is definite irony in the fact that they named their band after the “least rock ‘n’ roll thing” they could think of, because Linda From Work is one of the better rock bands performing in Seattle today. Tusick says the history of the name isn’t meant to be self-deprecating; she just wanted a name that encapsulated the mundane work environment that was inspiring her musical output.
“If you have a more traditional job and you’re working around other people, there’s almost always one coworker that you’re just like, ugh, okay, I don’t need to hear about your vacation, or I’ve already seen 16 pictures of your new dog. ‘Linda From Work’ seemed like it was something that is kind of a memorable name, and something everyone can relate to, like, oh, yeah, my Linda from work is named Gloria, or ugh, Mark,” says Tusick.
Still, Tusick says they don’t plan to write about the office forever. In fact, they’re in the process of writing a new LP as we speak, with new inspiration and direction. After all, Tusick is in a much different place now that she was in the summer of 2020, when she wrote the bulk of Burnout.
“I feel very much recovered. I actually quit that job about a year ago this month. I’ve been able to take the last year luckily to focus exclusively on music and we’re already working on our new album,” Tusick says. “I’m growing as a songwriter. I think we’re even more comfortable as a band in our sound that we kind of developed with the last album. And the material—I mean, I still have anxiety, I still get angry, I still have, all the feelings. But they are directed at different things, it’s coming from different places, so it’s really exciting to explore new topics in my songwriting.”