At only a young age (both career-wise and personally), locals Tonight Alive are already a preeminent band in the pop punk scene. Having just released their sophomore album ‘The Other Side, the group is enjoying a busy and productive period. Killyourstereo.com sat down with vocalist Jenna McDougall and guitarist Whakaio Taahi in Melbourne recently to discuss everything.
Tonight Alive and other groups like Amity, you tour so much internationally now that it’s almost like a novelty getting to come home.
Jenna McDougall: It is – it’s like a road trip, it’s like a holiday. It’s still work and you’re still playing your hardest and enjoying it, but there’s also something about coming home that has an almost holiday vibe. You just drive from one city to the next and it’s beautiful weather. Australia is very different from anywhere else.
Do you guys get to assimilate back into home life when you come back?
Whakaio Taahi: We’ve been doing a lot of press for the new album on our days off, so we haven’t had a day off for a long time (laughs).
JM: This time around it’s different. Other times we’ve had maybe a week off, which is pretty rare. When we do it’s awesome. For me, I walk my dog and enjoy being home. We’re pretty busy at the moment.
WT: You can just enjoy sleeping in and waking up whenever you want (laughs).
A lot of work goes into making an album at the best of times. However, today there is so much extra – the promotion, the exclusive interviews, videos etc. it can be quite intense.
WT: Because the Internet has changed everything really, it’s not like an album’s not out then it’s [suddenly] out the next day .We did a thing where Jenna did a track-by-track rundown and we streamed it like a week before [the album release]. You have to find all these different ways to get people involved and to get people to notice you because the Internet is what it is. It is definitely hard, but we’ve got such a great team worldwide that are super creative and are as passionate as we are about the band. We’ve been really lucky in that sense that we have great people that we work with and come up with ideas. We come up with a lot of the ideas as well. People think a band doesn’t have to do anything or band’s that think they don’t have to do anything and never get into it anymore. It’s not about playing and recording anymore – well, it still is – but there’s a bigger picture [too].
On social media, you guys have been brought up in the technological age. How important is it to interact with your fans?
WT: We made a conscious effort with this band to not rely exclusively on social networking like a lot of the bands I guess do these days. We’ve concentrated on touring and doing it the old fashioned way. We mainly use social media to keep in contact with those people that we’ve gone international with and keep communicating with them. We’ve definitely made that decision to do it right.
JM: It has really helped build those relationships [with fans]. Today, I did a live chat, while the album was streaming, fans had the chance to have a conversation. You need that as well. Everything is so accessible; you are so close to the reach of a band. We are close to fans, you may as well make something substantial of it and have that personal connection.
A thank you or a handshake can go a long way between a musician and fan. Did you have a moment growing up that stuck with you?
JM: I’ve met Andrew McMahon from Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. Meeting him was a full-circle kind of moment for me because I listened to them all through high school. To get to shake his hand and tell him, “I couldn’t be a song writer if it wasn’t for your music” was all that mattered. He just had the time to say thank you and I didn’t need anything more from him.
WT: He was the sweetest guy.
JM: We toured with Simple Plan and have met a lot of bands that mean a lot to us. Even Mark Hoppus from Blink-182. It’s insane.
WT: I think the other side of that too with social networking, fans feel they are entitled to it a little bit more now.
JM: There are a lot of stuff people put on you. Even stuff like, “I’ve got my suicide date set, but all I want to do is meet you or talk to you.” They put all this stuff on you and you’re like, “What if I never reply to this person?” It’s so hard to know what’s real and what’s not?
That’s an interesting point. It’s the same with sports stars, the concept of being a “role model”, it’s not something you necessarily sign up for, but people have that expectation and put you on a pedestal – you could shake 100 people’s hands and be nice for 99 of them, but with one of them someone might get you on a bad day and all of a sudden you’re painted as this bad person.
JM: That actually happened recently. Someone, a friend of friend said they bumped into someone who was wearing our shirt and they were like, “Oh, I met the singer and she was a bitch.” She was like, “Are you sure?” Apparently the girl asked for a photo when I was watching a band and I said no. I don’t remember that situation. I’m always polite to people, but if I was watching a band, I probably would’ve said, “it’s not polite of me to watch this band and take a photo with you and take away their audience”, and would’ve asked her to wait until the end of the set.
WT: For me and my view of our band, or any band that is in the spotlight, I feel you become a role model because you have so much influence over these kids and some of these kids are 13 or 14 and they love your band. They follow what you do. It comes with a sense of entitlement that you need to be positive and help these kids, and not have a negative outlook. We definitely realise that and try and have a positive outlook. There’s only so much you can do, but we guess in a sense we are role models because we are in the position we are in.
You’ve played Warped Tour over in the States, you’re playing the Aussie leg this year. There are so many bands on the bill. What is it like? Is it like the first day of school? There’s the cool kids and the quiet types etc.
WT: I guess it is a bit like that. The second year was a lot easier for us because we had obviously done it the first [year]. The first year was a lot of nervous energy. We didn’t want to tread on anyone’s toes. The first day I was so nervous, I checked my guitar like a million times. Once you do something you get used to it.
JM: It’s just how you go into it really. You can be the quiet one if it’s natural to you or you can go and shake people’s hands and get that awkwardness out of the way. I guess break the ice early on otherwise there’s that weird tension of, “I see you everyday but I don’t know who you are?” (laughs).
The album is a main topic of conversation currently. Tell us your thoughts on ‘The Other Side’.
JM: It’s a rock album and took two years to write. As we talked about all those struggles we face, even now, there was a lot of hurdles we had to overcome. I think those are the kind of things, without going into detail that probably would’ve broken up a lot of bands. We stuck through everything together and ended up writing this record that ultimately has achieved the sound that Tonight Alive always wanted to reach. It’s hard to describe – it’s a rock sound, but slightly influenced by punk. There are melodic punk vocals (laughs), but also with a lot of substantial and meaningful lyrics. I thin we finally found the balance. We get to showcase the musicianship we gained through experience on tour. The album defines Tonight Alive I believe. I want people to listen to it and want to listen to it for years to come. We didn’t want it to be something you’d listen to now and then forget about later.
WT: This is finally something we are all completely proud to show people. I hate talking about the band, but I’m really proud of this record.
This time around I guess you’re more assured.
WT: Definitely with this album we knew the direction we wanted, which was a massive thing. With the first album we had no idea…
JM: It was like, “these are our songs, let’s play them and record them.” It wasn’t a lazy thing, it was just an inexperience thing.
WT: That first album taught us so much and then we toured on it for two years. We learnt so much about the people we want to be and the band we want to be, and the direction we wanted to go in. With this record we went in with a clear vision.
Are you guys always in song writing mode?
WT: Yeah, I don’t understand how some bands can just switch it on and off. We are always writing and Jen’s always singing into her phone with ideas. It’s my favourite part.
What has been an interesting, almost comical event that has happened while on tour?
JM: We had this flight to the UK, which was already a long flight…
WT: Almost 24 hours.
JM: We went to New York first?
WT: No, we went to LA and had to clear customs at LAX, which anyone will tell you is the worst in the world. In LA we nearly missed our flights to New York because customs held Matt and Cam. We finally got to New York then from New York we flew to Heathrow. We were about to land then we were informed we couldn’t land, so we flew to Cardiff, landed in Cardiff and waited for three hours on the tarmac. We finally got back to Heathrow and had to wait in this massive line because everything had been so congested. Then we had to wait at the airport a few hours to get picked up by the bus. From the time we left Sydney airport to get to Heathrow turned into 40 hours.
JM: It was insane.
WT: You just had to laugh at it.
JM: Then recently it was on the way back from Warped?
WT: (laughs) Yeah.
JM: On that trip home, we got on the plane and we were about to take off. The plane goes down the runway and tries to get up but comes back down. We were like, “Oh fuck! Something’s wrong with the plane.” We had to sit on the plane for an hour while they tried to fix it. The [pilot] tried again and then we sat on the runway for another two hours while they booked accommodation for everyone and they delayed the flight until the next day. There was a lot of transit (laughs).