Interview: Tonight Alive

Published in The Music (NSW) | 04.09.13 | Issue # 4



Worried Australia’s live pop punk music scene is in serious trouble, Tonight Alive vocalist Jenna McDougall says they’re heading home with a new record to try revive its passion. Daniel Cribb preps the defibrillator.

Napkins, receipts and setlists were what Tonight Alive wrote their second record on. Since releasing 2011 debut LP, What Are You So Scared Of?, they’ve been living on a steady diet of fast food and living out of suitcases. Bringing an end to the touring cycle of that debut, they received three nominations at the Kerrang! Awards in June, which gave them an opportunity to finally reflect on the past couple of years, and catch up with friends, including a brief reunion with Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, who hosted the awards night and sings on Thank You And Good Night, off the album.

“Everything runs into one another because we never stop,” vocalist Jenna McDougall, Hottest Female Kerrang! nominee, says down the line from her Singapore hotel. “The most amount of time we spent in Australia this year was when we were recording the album, and even that was sort of a broken up process where we were doing tours in between. It just makes time at home all that more special.”

It was during long flights and endless roads that the band began penning their second effort. Unlike their debut, written by sending files back and forth to one another during their teen years, McDougall and guitarist Whakaio Taahi wrote the entire album on acoustic guitars.

“We weren’t together, so there wasn’t a chemistry about the writing process the first time and I think that’s what one of the biggest differences is. For us to sit down with two acoustics and do each song in a different country on a different tour, it really gave it something special. I think it really strengthened and brought a quality to the songs that What Are You So Scared Of? didn’t have because we had quite a disjointed writing process the first time around, and I think we had too many cooks in the kitchen, whereas there was only two writers involved this time.”

Touring non-stop since recording the debut in LA, they needed some space in order to clear their heads and give the next album the attention it deserved, so they rented out a house just outside of Coffs Harbour.

“When we recorded in LA, it was the first time we’d all left the country together – we’d never toured internationally. So it was kind of this massive adventure the first time around, where we’d never lived with each other, and that was what made that so fun, but we also were really, really fresh. We had a lot to learn and it was really difficult.

The Other Side as a title and album concept is sort of a comment on reflection and perspective, really. Being in the present and being able to look at the past and understand and accept it. I think there’s a lot that went on in those two years – personally and as a band – like a lot of challenges that we faced that we didn’t know how to deal with at the time.”

One of those challenges involved their debut at the US Warped Tour. Tonight Alive are playing the festival’s Australian return, and when they played their first show five years ago, all McDougall wanted to do was play the festival. “There’s just a real culture about it and there’s no hierarchy of bands; everyone’s working towards the same goal. It’s just really special to be a part of that community, and if you can get through Warped Tour, you can get through anything. It’s a real test of a band and your patience and limits as a person. You’re surrounded by people all the time; we played 40 shows in 50 days, so it’s really challenging, but it’s so beneficial.”

There’s no denying it can be hard to make it as an alternative artist in Australia, which is why Warped Tour returning to Australia is interesting. The reason Tonight Alive spends more time overseas than at home is because they feel there’s not as strong support for pop punk as there used to be. “It’s really hard for rock music to thrive here, because it’s so hard to sell tickets and there’s only so many venues you can play.

I’m not sure where that fire has gone that there was when we first started. There was such a scene, and even if you didn’t know the bands that were playing on a Friday night, you still went; just because the venue was cool, or because there was always a crowd there. I’m not sure that so much exists around music now. I don’t know what it’s going to take to bring it back, but I hope we can be part of it.”

Daniel Cribb