One of Australia’s most-loved alternative bands is back! Tonight Alive have burst back onto the scene with a new single Temple which is a top contender for Chorus of the Year in many opinions. Along with the single drop, the Sydney band announced their fourth full-length album, a bunch of tour dates all over the world, and the departure of one of their members. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster, but Tonight Alive are ready to take hold of their future with both hands – as lead singer Jenna McDougall told AMNplify’s Dani Brown.
Hi Jenna, it’s Dani from AMNplify, thank you for having me. It’s been a pretty big last few days for you guys, have you recovered from all the activity?
(Laughs) I think we’re still in the flow of it but Monday morning was pretty wild and exciting. There was a lot of work leading up to that whole launch and, you know, coming back to writing and recording the record this year, and then the weeks prior just making the video for Temple. It’s been like, just being in the rapids of a river and just racing downstream. It’s just really exciting, it feels very refreshed by all the new energy in the camp.
For sure. So, I guess for those who missed it, Tonight Alive released a new single Temple and its music video, and you announced a new album Underworld, and you put out tour dates for the UK, Europe and US, AND you announced the departure of guitarist Whakaio Taahi. I’m just wondering, how does it feel to let all the secrets out now?
It’s kind of time for us. I realised, looking back, I can see video interviews and I can think of all the conversations I’ve had with people in the industry or people that are in our fanbase, and the amount of discretion we tried to keep… We were always so systematic and polite and playing it safe, in terms of, “Let’s not piss anyone off, let’s not say the wrong thing, let’s not confront people too much”, and that definitely I think a lot of that comes from me and a lot of it comes from Whakaio too, and the type of people that we are. And I guess yeah, I know you’re kind of talking about the big announce, but in terms of secrets there’s a lot of shit that Tonight Alive has never talked about: that we’ve gone through several managers and lawsuits and you know, health issues and relationship things, and yeah there are a lot of secrets. It just feels like a song like Temple is really inspiring for us to go on this new journey of honesty and that’s kind of the story of Underworld. I think that’s very much going to be the energy of this record cycle – honesty. And transparency.
And what’s the response been like for your new single Temple so far?
It’s unreal, I was just reading through some comments on my Instagram and people are really stoked and it’s just such a nice, heart-warming feeling. That song was only written in May and that’s really unusual for us at least. I know we would put out a record and sometimes a song on it could’ve been written two years ago, so Temple’s really fresh for me. We only finished recording the album in July and we made the video a few weeks ago so it’s really exciting, a really rich time for us and yeah, people have responded in the best way possible. I know a lot of people are really excited because it’s a more rock song. It’s grungy, you know, the performance of the video is pretty thrashy so people are excited to see that in us again because I feel like we were a little more reserved in the sound of (last album) Limitless at least. It was a very polished record. So yeah, I’m very happy about that.
Oh cool. It seems like you’ve been putting more rich themes and emotions into this track. Temple is quite an empowering song from my point of view. Is empowerment a theme in the album?
Absolutely. I think self-empowerment is a theme in Tonight Alive. It’s something I always address on stage. I say if there is a personal power and self-empowerment and I think that’s something I always want people to take away from our music. I know that every facial expression, every word, conversation, body language, I know how much of an impression it can leave on a person. I think that when we have something like lyrics and music which carries a definite force behind it that you have to be responsible with what you’re emitting, and I kind of always knew that; at least especially from our first record What Are You So Scared Of?, which even that song in itself – which is the title track – that’s a song about self-empowerment and that’s probably the first time I ever wrote about it. That’s been a running theme for us since we were teenagers and I definitely feel the responsibility for our fans in that way.
Yeah for sure, I’m sure you’ve had some experiences with fans where they tell you how much your music has helped them deal with certain emotions. I mean, I know I was one of them so sorry for being a bit of a blubbering mess at Soundwave 2015 in Adelaide!
No, that’s amazing! That’s so cool.
It was great to kind of have the opportunity to have a chat about that. So thank you for that.
So, can people expect that same type of heavy emotion or is the record based around things other than emotion?
Mmm. That’s a nice question. It’s so exciting, like, talking about this for the first time. These are some of the first interviews we’re doing for the record so it’s like, it’s really, really nice going through my filing cabinet in my brain. It’s a seriously emotional record. I don’t really know if I could write a non-emotional song. I was really looking at myself a lot; I talk a lot about rejection and feeling outcasted and not accepted, and what else am I talking about? Temple is a song about my sickness. The title track in a way is called My Underworld and that’s talking about like a physical or spiritual realm that your shadow self resides in, and that’s the parts of you that you neglect and shun and abandon, and the healing in your life that you never did, or the trauma that you never addressed. That’s very much like, at least it’s been a running theme for me this year, so I know it’s leaked into the record in different songs. It’s doing that shadow work and looking at yourself and making more empowered decisions – as difficult as they might be – for your greater happiness and greater satisfaction in life. I think turning 25 was kind of a moment for me this year. We were in Thailand about to start recording and I just thought, ‘Wow, I’m in my life and this is not my teenage self extended, I’m very much an adult who is established and I know what my life purpose is’ and ‘What am I doing with all these chains and ropes that are holding me back? I put them on myself’. So it’s very much about the full bloom and I’m really excited about that because I’m experiencing that in the physical now, because the record was only just written at the start of the year so it’s all very current and present for me. And I really hope that fans feel that, this wasn’t an idea that happened two years ago (laughs).
It sounds like you often look at reflection but you talk about living in the now, that kind of thing. But is there a song that you’re feeling most represents you now and one that you’re most excited to share?
Hmm. That’s a really nice question! What represents me right now? There’s a song on the record that’s just coming to mind and it’s called Burning On. There are some lyrics in the second verse that say ‘You have spent your life avoiding pain / but beauty lies within that which is not safe’. And I guess that really speaks to me. I didn’t write it for myself, it was for somebody else, but I think that I even did an oracle card this morning which was like, ‘you felt like playing it safe in a way’ and, you know, ‘don’t be afraid to take risks because those are the greatest most transformative moments for you’. Humans want to be comfortable, but we don’t change unless we’re challenged. Every time you feel pain in your body and discomfort in your life it’s because you’re growing, you’re evolving. That’s very much where I’ve been at this year, especially in the last few months following making the record. There’s been a lot of decisions made and changes have happened and you know, our songwriter and guitarist Whakaio has left the band… So for all of us it’s very much this time of, ‘Let’s take our lives into our own hands and make empowered decisions that we know are really difficult but are going to serve our deepest satisfaction in our lives’. So Burning On is very much about standing in the fire and that’s a term I learnt from a friend last year, ‘stand in the fire’. Stand in the fire with yourself, with your pain or with someone in your life that you’re experiencing difficulty with – stand in the fire with them, like don’t keep stepping out of the fire, you know trying to stay cool, burn with them a little bit and feel the pain and deal with it and know it. I’m standing in the fire right now!
Well, hopefully you can lead the way with that kind of example.
Thank you very much! I hope so too.
So I guess you’ll be showing those skills on stage and that kind of thing, and you obviously put out tour dates for pretty much all around the world and you’ve got the Back to Beginnings tour in Australia… Is Back to Beginnings going to be a version of those tours celebrating Underworld or can we expect a whole new Underworld tour in 2018?
Yeah absolutely. This is just the beginning and it’s just a re-connection with our Australian fan base which we’ve missed so deeply. We are just excited to re-introduce ourselves and introduce new music to our home country fans first. We’ll be back next year with the album being out and more music being released. Plenty more to come.
Exciting times. I think something a lot of people want to know is will Whak be at the Back to Beginnings tour or is his departure immediate?
It is immediate and he is now living in Nashville as we announced, pursuing his songwriting and producing career. He has a home there and he’s been mentored over there, and engineering songwriting sessions, and writing with country artists and all kinds of things, so his really put himself outside of his comfort zone – and I think that there is a big part of him that’s probably the happiest he’s ever been doing that.
Sounds like he’s standing in the fire, too.
I think so, absolutely. In numerology this is the Year of the One, which represents the leader, and I think that everyone has kind of had to take the role of leadership – at least the people in my life – and it’s just like everyone is going through some crazy shit and everyone’s suffering but there’s this amazing reward coming from it, and I think that so much has been in Tonight Alive’s right now.
It’s great to see you guys moving forward and getting back to how you want to be, and doing your own thing. With UNIFY coming up, it’s not the first time you’ve played it. What was the main reason you wanted to be a part of it again?
I just think it’s the coolest festival that Australia has right now. I think there’s a real amazing culture about UNIFY and UNFD. I just finally feel like we have a community again and I don’t know if that’s because we stepped out of it or if because it’s being slowly developing itself again, but especially coming from Sydney, we have seen a lot of the venues we came up in close because of laws changing and, you know, money not being available for council events and things like that. So we lost that connection with the core group of bands that were all touring together and supporting each other. I just feel like we missed that, and that was almost exclusive to the hardcore and metal scene for a long time. And it just seems like UNIFY is this big, living, breathing organism that keeps expanding and pulling more and more people into it, and it’s sort of a very inclusive and progressive community of people. I can’t speak for the management, I don’t know – but I know the label are these people that are totally passionate and grounded and real and just beautiful people that really care about our music being represented in the best way possible. I just love that we’re a part of that team now, and I know that when we played last year it was just such a good vibe and it seems like everybody that buys a ticket and comes to see the show really enjoys themself. So it’s kind of a no-brainer for us and I hope to do many more in the future.
It’s a bunch of fun, I’ve been to the last two as well so I totally get where you’re coming from. Is there a band on the line-up you’re looking forward to seeing most?
I mean, we’ve got so many friends on the line-up that we’ve been touring with and just having friendships with for years and years and years. Young Lions recently put out their record Mr Spaceman and that tour was really fantastic. I was lucky to see Melbourne and Sydney and I just hope more and more people are exposed to their music and get to enjoy it as much as I do. I think Zach’s an amazing performer and people will be lucky to see him live.
Yeah I saw them on the recent tour as well, they’re so much fun and there’s so much energy. It’s so cool.
Mmhmm, it’s channelling something higher and I think that’s a really beautiful thing you don’t see all the time.
Absolutely. Well, thank you very much for your time Jenna, I really appreciate it. All the best with everything that’s coming up.
It’s a pleasure. Thank you, hope to see you really soon!
See you on tour with The Beautiful Monument.
Yay! Thanks Dani, have a good one.
Check out Wendy Robinson’s gallery of the Sydney show HERE