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Interview: Jenna & Whakaio From ‘Tonight Alive’

Tonight Alive Int Photo

It’s been a while since Sydney five-piece Tonight Alive have had a headlining tour in Australia. Having spent the last year preparing for the release of their new album ‘Limitless’, we caught up with lead vocalist Jenna McDougall and lead guitarist Whakaio Taahi to chat about the new album, the preview tour, and UNIFY Gathering.

So you guys are almost finished the preview tour that was announced last year, how’s it going for you guys so far?

Jenna: It’s awesome! It’s set an amazing tone for the year. It’s not that I forgot what touring or playing shows was like it’s just that the taste of it had left my mouth because it had been seven months since we’ve been on tour with All Time Low last year and then we finished the record in July and then came home.

Whakaio: It’s awesome, it makes you remember why you like being in a band because we’ve been setting up the album and been doing all this promo and videos, all that sort of stuff.

Jenna: Which has been enjoyable, but the real reason we are in a band is to perform and to connect with people, and well not to travel but that’s an exciting part of it. It feels good to be where we belong again.

Well your last headlining tour was with You Me At Six, what’s it like playing for Aussie fans again?

Jenna: It’s so refreshing cause we haven’t played Australia since Soundwave this time last year and then the time before that was September with You Me At Six, so it’s been a really long time since we’ve been in front of people that we really recognise and really had relationships with since 2009.

And you guys played main stage on Soundwave too last year which was pretty cool

Jenna: It was, it was nuts. Brisbane was actually one of my favourite shows on soundwave last year, it was huge. And it kind of feels like that everyone time we come back, that Brisbane blows us away. I feel like Brisbane has kind of been the slowest growing market for us although we’ve been coming for so long. It’s not we underestimate our fans here, it’s just that they raise the bar every time we do come back.

So this tour is a short one to showcase the new album, will Tonight Alive be having a full-length tour later?

Whakaio: Definitely, I guess we can’t say when but we are definitely looking at doing shows in Adelaide and Perth, all the capital cities. We are really looking forward to that.

Is that for the same for the rest of the world too, because they have a small amount of dates too?

Jenna: Yeah, well we are going to be on tour for about three or four months with what’s been announced so far, and we’ve specifically titled it ‘leg one’ of the world tour for Limitless. And we really wanted to make a point of the fact that it was only half of what we still have to announce. Which is really exciting and can’t wait to come back. We played an hour and twenty minutes last night, so I guess really what we will be doing is bringing older and newer songs into the set and mixing it up.

So you guys obviously kicked the tour off in Australia, would you prefer to start a world tour in Australia or end it here?

Whakaio: Definitely start, we love Australia and are obviously really proud to be Australian and do international things as an Australian band but it doesn’t really get much better than playing here for us. There’s definitely some kind of magic in the room every time. So where else would you want to start it?

You guys also played UNIFY Gathering, how was that?

Whakaio: It was awesome! It was really great to be a part of that at its inception. I think that it’s going to become a lot bigger and I just hope that they hold on what’s great about the festival, with it being about friends and everyone hanging out together and a real sense of community. It doesn’t matter if you like metal or if you like Tonight Alive, everyone is there together which is really important. We had a really great time and it was the first proper show of the year for us and I don’t think it could have gone better.

Jenna: I think it’s really special that Unify made a place for Tonight Alive on that bill because we definitely stick out like a sore thumb although we are friends with all the bands and have toured with them in the past and have come up at the same time, we are extremely different sonically. So it was really cool to get the response from the crowd that we did. Because in the past coming from the metal and hardcore scene, it was quite a competitive world and we were one of the only female fronted bands in 2008 in Sydney, and then to add onto that we were pop-punk, I kind of felt like we never fit in when we started and I think eight years later to play Unify alongside all these bands that we had connections with throughout our whole career was really special.

It was good too considering it started out as a heavy music gathering, for then this year to have a diverse line up.

Whakaio: I think it can do whatever it wants, as long as it’s on Australia’s terms and it doesn’t become a Soundwave thing were Australian bands are fighting to get on it.

Jenna: It’s kind of the opposite of soundwave too, it’s all Australian bands on the line up with a few select internationals. It’s funny how in our culture Aussie pride exists, but not in our music so I think Unify is going to change that.

‘Limitless’ comes out in March, how was writing and recording it compared to your previous two records?

Jenna: It was a lot more of a conscious process. We were so much more focused on what we were doing, which was good and bad at times because we have such high standards and we are very hard on ourselves, but it also created music that required that much passion and that much intensity from us personally. I think for Whak and I, writing the record we almost just kind of burnt ourselves out emotionally doing it because we knew that we had an opportunity to do something really special with it, especially with the response to The Other Side which was really emotional and a bonding time between us and our fan base so we were really like ‘well do we do that again and hope it reaches that and a few more or do we stay true to ourselves in this motive of being really expressive and see where that takes us?’ Because when you think about it albums are two years apart for us but writing them is about four years difference. When the other side was written I must have been like nineteen for some of those songs and now writing Limitless I was twenty-two so it’s a different time of your life and we just really embraced the differences rather than trying to hold onto where we had been although it was successful for us before.

Well, What Are You So Scared Of? was about fighting your fears, The Other Side was about recovery, does Limitless continue on with a theme similar to those?

Jenna: Well Limitless, being the name of the record kind of speaks for itself in terms of being the theme, it’s the lifestyle that we want to lead, it’s the sound that we want to produce and it’s the feeling that we want to give our fans that they can do anything, anything is possible and that there are no boundaries, there are no expectations because that exactly what we had to do to become the people that we are and the band that we are. So I really think for me personally throughout the lyrics I’m talking about heightening your consciousness and your self-awareness and understanding emotional behaviour.

I’ve noticed a few fans have said that between the other side and limitless the sound has progressed and changed a little, is that something you wanted to happen or did just happen?

Whakaio: We want to get our message out to as many people as possible and I think one of the things that was really hard for us was letting go of the idea that Tonight Alive is a pop-punk, to me Tonight Alive is so much more and we didn’t want to just say our message to just x amount of people, we wanted to say it to an even bigger amount of people and I think we’ve made music now that is more accessible and everyone can listen to it. Not just a pop-punk kid, or a metal kid I think.

Jenna: Also we kind of don’t relate to the music we listened to in high school as much as we used to. We are approaching our mid-twenties and thinking about calling ourselves a pop-punk band because we were inspired by bands like Blink-182 and Sum41, but as you grow up you get on the road and you’re playing that music every night different things start to inspire you naturally. Every one of our fans would probably say they’ve listened to new music in the last few years as you get older you’re a bit more open minded so we just stopped resisting other things influencing. Especially with a song like ‘To Be Free’ I wrote that vocal intro to that song ages ago and I showed Whak and it was just so foreign to us at the time and we were kind of afraid to finish that song because what would it represent for our sound and how would our fans respond to that. But everyone song we’ve put out so far are all a little bit different to where we’ve been in the past but they were all in our writing process moments were we said its okay to explore this territory, if it feels good and it feels right let’s do it and remain genuine to ourselves. So that was the thinking process to ourselves for allowing the sound to change.

Do you guys have a favourite song off Limitless?

Jenna: I love Oxygen, which nobody has heard yet, I just love it so much. I can’t even explain why yet but I just feel like a spiritual explosion when I listen to that. It hits you in the chest and it’s about releasing your power as a human

Whakaio: That’s probably my favourite song as well, but not talking ourselves up I love every single song on that album and I still love it even though I’ve probably heard it a thousand times now. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved and the songs that have come together perfectly. I’m really excited for everyone to hear them.

So like every band your fans are important to you, and I noticed that you guys try and do as much for them as you can like signings and little acoustic shows here and there, would you guys consider doing an acoustic tour?

Jenna: I’ve definitely thought about it, but it’s not in the works at the moment. But I think maybe towards the end of the ‘Limitless’ record cycle when we’ve really established our live show as a full five piece rock band, I’d love to strip back, play our B-sides and to play the songs that never got played live from our EP. I’d love to give back to our fans in that way. To try new things.

Well you guys are now getting your first commercial radio play

Jenna: Yeah, it’s exciting and Nova in Brisbane were actually the first station to play us on day time radio so we are super grateful and like I said last night at the show, I really feel like emotionally this is the best it could get, I don’t see how I could be happier with the kind of interaction we have with our fans at a show. It’s really rewarding and it’s hard to articulate.

Now that it’s a new year, do you guys have a favourite moment from 2015 or something you are looking forward to this year?

Jenna: Last year just completely revolved around the album, when I just thought back it was all writing and then we did a tour with All Time Low in America which was awesome, and then we recorded the album. Then we were just like for about 6 months of the end of the year we were working in meetings. It was just basically setting up the record. It was great but it was a working year and I really feel like touring is fun, it’s a lot of work as well but…

Whakaio: It’s the reward that we get from it.

So maybe come back to that question at the end of 2016?

Jenna: Totally! There’s going to be too many highlights for us to choose from.