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Tonight Alive’s Jenna McDougall: “I Think I Was Just In Denial About Everything…”

Rob Sayce
Rob Sayce 5 March 2018 at 14.00

Jenna explains the painful but transformative experiences behind Tonight Alive's new album, 'Underworld'.

YOU CAME ACROSS AS BEING VERY POSITIVE BEFORE GOING IN TO RECORD ‘UNDERWORLD’. DID THINGS PAN OUT QUITE SO SMOOTHLY ONCE IT BEGAN?
Says Jenna: “You know it’s really funny, because I remember that conversation we had and I know how bright I was in that moment speaking to you, and how honest all of that was. But I guess when you’re in the moment and dealing with your emotions, sometimes you’re not quite sure where you stand. Looking back in retrospect that was a really fucking crazy time - we were going through a lot emotionally. Of course it was exciting, but there was a lot still to be dealt with at the time."

WHAT HAPPENED ONCE YOU ARRIVED IN THAILAND TO BEGIN RECORDING THE ALBUM?
“Once we got to Thailand we were all kind of dealing with our own emotional turmoil. You can hear it in a song like ‘Temple’, and then with announcing Whakaio [Taahi, guitar] leaving the band… you can kind of see looking back that the process was the beginning of some pretty serious changes, and the seed wasn’t just being planted but it was blooming. We were really excited to start and it was like, ‘Hell yeah! We get to go and make a brand new record, and we’ve got a brand new label and we’ve written all these songs that we’re proud of that no one else had a say in’, and that was a really exciting thing. But it was also the eye of a lot of stuff.”

WAS THAT THE BEGINNING OF A MUCH MORE EMOTIONALLY CHALLENGING PERIOD THAN YOU’D INITIALLY ANTICIPATED, THEN?
“I think I was just in denial about everything, and that [initial positivity] was the safest emotional state to be in. Looking at things was too scary, especially if you’re on tour and then you’re about to make a record - you’re onstage and you’re doing interviews, but you kind of have to be in denial a little bit because otherwise you don’t have a protective barrier. You feel too much and that’s definitely something I’ve avoided for a really long time.”



HOW DID THOSE DOUBTS AND EMOTIONS BEGIN TO REVEAL THEMSELVES?
“We always move in together when we make a record - we’re really good at living together - but at the time none of us were really talking emotionally. We weren’t breaking through this barrier to say, ‘Hey, are you okay? Why are you spending all this time alone?’ or ‘Hey, I heard that argument you had with another person, did you guys resolve it? Is everything okay, do you need to talk?’ None of us were really offering that hand to each other because we were all doing our own shit. We were in such a beautiful country, and in such a beautiful part of that country - it was super-tropical and gorgeous and we had a lovely studio. There were a lot of things about making that record that were perfect, but I wasn’t happy.”

HOW DID THAT AFFECT YOU?
“I was really struggling to get out of bed every day to go to the studio, and I felt guilty for that, so there was an onset of all these different emotions. I was like, ‘Why aren’t I happy?’ and then feeling guilty for it, and I think it’s because of all these expectations that we place on ourselves. Everyone’s looking at our lives from the outside and saying, ‘You’re living your dream and if you don’t feel that way then you’re taking it for granted’. We came to the end of the record and we all sat down and had a meeting and said, ‘We need to stoke this fire again, we need to burn for this again, we need to reactivate our passion for this project and we need to talk to each other.’”

WAS WHAK’S DECISION TO LEAVE THE BAND A DIRECT RESULT OF THAT CONVERSATION?
“It definitely wasn’t just a result of making the record - it was years in the making. Whak has been an extremely hardworking, dedicated guy. He’s the leader of Tonight Alive and internally he’s the business man. When we started going through all these management issues over the years, he stepped up and took the lead. He was a very burdened guy and he really took the weight for a lot of us. The four of us hardly had anything to carry compared to him, and I think that he was exhausted. I felt like he was dissatisfied for a really long time, and what happens in these situations is you do anything to numb yourself. I guess we all pretended that nothing was wrong for a long time - you’ve always got that hope that the band will get bigger and things will sort themselves out with success.”



WAS YOUR LAST ALBUM, ‘LIMITLESS’, AN ATTEMPT TO ACHIEVE THAT SUCCESS?
“‘Limitless’ was the record that Sony, our Australian label, really wanted. I definitely made a lot of compromises in the hope that they were right, and that maybe there was a world out there for us that we hadn’t touched yet. Being dropped and having the rejection of fans and media [on the back of it] was really, really heartbreaking. I think that took a huge toll on all of us, but for Whak I think that was the final nail in the coffin.”

WITH ALL THIS GOING ON, WAS IT HARD TO PUSH FORWARD WITH FINISHING THE RECORD?
“There were definitely moments when it was a grind. There’s a song on the record called ‘The Other’, and what I was doing vocally wasn’t really hitting the mark. Our producer was like, ‘Have you ever screamed before? Can you do it right now?’ I’m like, ‘Of course I can’t - I can’t just switch that on!’ When I was 15 I used to have these little panic attacks where I couldn’t find words or anything, so I just freaked and screamed at the top of my lungs. It was this bratty habit I had, but I still remember that feeling of adrenaline. I did it a couple of times and I just started crying - my body was begging for an emotional release.”



WAS THAT VERY CATHARTIC AS MUCH AS IT WAS DIFFICULT?
“Absolutely - the story I’ve just told is probably the pinnacle of that for me. It’s kind of upsetting to hear a voice do that, and you can feel that pain. And then you listen to a song like ‘Temple’ where it’s got that rhythmic, rapping bridge, and then it ramps up and I get to yell into the last chorus… I’ve definitely thrown my voice as well as my emotions around on this record.”

‘UNDERWORLD’ SOUNDS UNIQUE - YOU’VE FULLY DEVELOPED YOUR OWN SOUND. IS THAT SOMETHING THAT, ON A MORE POSITIVE NOTE, YOU REALLY WANTED TO SHOW WITH THIS ALBUM?
“When we were going into the studio, our manager was like, ‘Hey, you’re on an indie label now, so make an indie record’. I was like, ‘Okay… what does that mean?’ and he was like, ‘Try shit - just try everything’. That freedom was something that always attracted me [when it came to finding a new label] - you can hear little moments all over the record that are totally free. I think it gave me room to express myself more - all of us got that chance this time. It would be really cool to see what’s possible from here, now that the door is unlocked.”

HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT HEADING OUT ON THE ROAD WITH THESE SONGS? ARE YOU READY TO GET BACK OUT THERE AGAIN?
“Absolutely! The UK is actually my favourite place to tour - I adore it. I really love it and I wish we could come over more. It’s exciting because we have fresh music and that means there’s more opportunity for us to keep coming back. We’re really looking forward to making some new memories.”

This feature originally appeared in Issue 235 of Rock Sound.

Tonight Alive's new album 'Underworld' is out now.

The band tour the UK starting this week, supported by ROAM and The Gospel Youth. Those dates are:

MARCH

06 - MANCHESTER Ritz
08 - LONDON Koko
10 - GLASGOW QMU
11 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
12 - LEEDS Stylus
13 - BRISTOL Motion

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