Interview: Tonight Alive
Back in October during Pierce the Veil‘s “Collide With The Sky” tour, MEB staffer Austin Gordon got to catch up with vocalist Jenna McDougall and guitarist Whakaio Taahi of pop-punk outfit Tonight Alive. Check out what they had to say about the music scene, the 4th of July, their new record, and more!
MEB: Getting started with what’s going on right now, you recently released a video for your song “Listening,” and you’re killing sold-out shows every night. What are some thoughts on everything that’s happening right now in the world of Tonight Alive?
Jenna: Everything feels really good, we got a little bit of momentum at the moment. We just got back from the UK, we headlined in the UK and Europe for the first time; our album just came out there on October 1st. We’ve been touring all year, and this is kind of the last leg of the year for us. It’s a good way to go out.
When people hear bands, especially relatively new bands, they tend to associate their music with the first thing they can compare it to. What are your thoughts on that? Is that a wrong or right state of mind for the music consumer?
Whakaio: I just think it’s human nature to try and class everything so they feel comfortable, and moving I guess. It’s the default thing. It doesn’t really matter.
Jenna: It doesn’t bother us because we can relate. The first time you hear a new band you’re like “What does this remind me of?” You just really want to nail that. It’s not necessarily a negative thing. If you know what path you’re taking and where you’re trying to get to, and what your message and sound is, as long as you’re confident in yourself it doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks about it.
Taking a bit of a step to the left, female-fronted bands get a lot of flak in this scene, especially because of the claims of “lacking diversity.” I find this to be pretty incorrect, as well as a bit of an oxymoron.
Jenna: I think if you listen to all of the female-fronted bands out there at the moment, that are doing a lot, or [are] well-known rather, honestly you can tell them apart. There are none of them that I’ve ever thought “God, that sounds exactly like that band.”
Whakaio: I just think that it doesn’t really matter to me whether or not it’s female or male, I think it’s more down to what melodies come from the vocalist. I never really think about us as a female-fronted band, I just think of us as a band. People are very opinionated, but we don’t really let that affect us at all. We just love what we do.
Jenna: For us there’s nothing preconceived about our music, so that’s not really a concern.
I really feel that a lot of the scene now is more about image than the music itself, not just in hardcore or pop-punk, but in other genres that like to revolve on the Warped Tour-style circuit. I’m fairly certain that’s universal everywhere, but did you guys come into contact with that with local bands back in Australia? Any comments on the problem as a whole?
Whakaio: I think with the internet being so big, and Twitter and Facebook helping these bands grow without them having to play shows, that’s where that’s all springing from; the whole image and taking photos and wearing make-up, that really comes from this internet boom that’s happening. I feel that people doing that is wrong, and they should be playing shows and they should be doing it the hard way.
Jenna: It’s natural though as well. Image is important with anything, with marketing. I mean, it’s something to get attached to and something to be interested by and that’s totally fine, but we’re a touring band and we get out there. We’ve been touring all year, and all last year. It’s not about what photo-shoots we do and what new style we come out with, or what trend we’re following. Which, some bands are more concerned with that than the actual music.
Where do you think the music industry is heading as a whole? Let’s say that the analogy to identify with here would be one that given a sense of direction, is it moving backward, forward, sideways?
Whakaio: I think it’s having to move in a completely different direction now because of the internet, because of downloading. Bands don’t get a million dollars anymore, they have to work really hard. It’s definitely changing, and bands are definitely having to work harder. You can’t just play a show and then sit on your bus, you have to be out there talking to kids, selling merch, getting out there. It’s definitely moving in that direction, where you’re not doing drugs all of the time, or you’re not drunk all of the time – because if you’re on drugs or drunk all of the time, you’re band is going to fail. You’d be useless.
Jenna: It’s really weird, because it goes two ways: a lot of bands at the top are the ones that really work their asses off and they really deserve to be there; then at the same time you see people on the radio or on the TV or at the top of the charts, and you’re like “How the fuck did you get there?” You don’t deserve it. You’re purely a marketing project. So much money is being poured into you.
Thank you for fucking saying that.
Whakaio: But, in saying that, labels have to make money from somewhere to put back into bands like us.
Jenna: Yeah, it goes two ways. You either worked really hard for it and you deserve it or you’re like a project and you’re a money maker. Whereas [there are] the bands that are working their asses off and don’t have money.
That’s completely right.
Now let’s get to your music. Tell me about some of the bands growing up that really inspired your musical upbringing. Any favorite records that had a cathartic effect on you all?
Whakaio: For me it was Perhaps, I Suppose.. by Rufio. It made me learn guitar, I loved it. When I heard Illusion of Safety by Thrice, that was my favorite. I grew up with The Startling Line, Sticks and Stones [New Found Glory], all of that stuff. I think the first actual album that I ever bought, I scraped together $30 and bought Enema of the State, Blink-182. That was the first one I ever bought. I still remember buying that. I had to give my money in a bag, it was all coins. I gave my mum $30 and she went and bought it for me – because “Damnit” was on the radio at that time. That was so long ago.
Was that how you heard Blink originally?
Whakaio: Yeah, I think I was in year 3 or year 4 or something. It was at all of the school discos and stuff, and all of my friends loved it because it said the “f word” in it. So, that’s what I remember from that.
Jenna: When I was 11 years old, Sk8er Boi came out by Avril Lavigne. That was the first time I had ever heard anything like that. It was the first time I had ever seen a girl that was kind of a tomboy, and she didn’t care, [with] the whole “whatever” attitude. Yeah, that came in just before I became a teenager so I really connected with it. I loved the album Let Go by Avril, and Missy Higgins’ album Sound of White also came out around 2005. I think they were two female artists that got me into music. That’s when I started playing guitar, that’s when I started singing more. Then in high school it was like Good Charlotte’s self-titled, and Blink, and Simple Plan, Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, around 2006 or 2008. They were the important ones.
So what have you all been jamming as of late? I know I’ve had the new Anberlin record on pretty much non-stop.
Whakaio: The new Yellowcard album is amazing. I love it. I can’t stop playing it. It’s really, really good.
Jenna: It’s so solid. What else have we been listening to?
Jake: Gangnam Style.
Jenna: We’re not haters of that song! When it comes on, we’re like turn it up! I’ve been listening to Bon Iver too. It’s so euphoric, so relaxing.
Tell me about your favorite American past-time, now that you guys have been over here a bit and have been able to experience some of the culture.
Whakaio: Oh yeah, 4th of July was really fun. We had that on Warped Tour, we stopped off at a motel and it had a pool there, had beers, it was awesome. We had Thanksgiving as well, which was awesome, and we get to do that this time around too.
Jenna: It was really nice.
Sweet, you’ve got to love the whole “family style” sort-of thing.
Jenna: It’s good on tour, because you don’t get that interaction like a family kind of vibe. We were lucky and we stayed at one of the guys on the tour’s brother’s home, and we had this big dinner.
A lot of times, people you meet on tour end up becoming your family. Whenever you’re around them all of the time, and you get to know them.
Jenna: That’s definitely right.
You guys have another tour lined up in the UK with Black Veil Brides in a few months. You stoked?
Whakaio: We’re definitely stoked to go back to the UK and be playing to those big crowds. Kerrang has been really good to us and everything. We can’t wait to get there and play those shows, it’s going to be awesome.
Jenna: Things move fast there, we’ve had a lot of support and lot of promotion from Kerrang. It just seems to connect with the kids over there, and it seems to work. So, it’ll be the third time we’re there and I think it’s going to be really great for the band, yeah.
So here’s the big question: Is a new record going to be coming anytime soon? Have you guys already started writing?
Jenna: Yeah, definitely. We’ve been writing for like a year now.
Whakaio: We’re nearly finished. We’re hoping to record in January, December/January kind of thing.
Jenna: We want to do a summer release.
Jenna: Which, we would love for it to be sooner, but the process is just too long for that to be possible. It sucks.
It has to move, slowly.
Jenna: I think the pressing is like a three-month process.
Whakaio: We’re very excited to start that and get new stuff, because we’ve been playing these songs for a while now.
Jenna: Some of the songs we’ve been playing now were written in 2009. This second album will have been a long time coming by the time it’s out.
Here’s another quick question that I just thought of off the top of my head: The songs that you’ve been playing for the past three years or so, have they changed any live? A lot of times that happens.
Jenna: Definitely. Yeah, I sing everything a lot differently, well not a lot differently, but it’s close to the core of it. I started having singing lessons last year, and everything just became easier, nothing felt forced or too hot, or too high. I listen to What Are You Scared Of? and I’m like “Damn, I wish I had singing lessons before we recorded that.” I can tell it wasn’t easy for me to sing it, and it’s changed.
Whakaio: I feel you like push yourself so hard to do an album, and that’s like the limit of where you’re at, at that time. Then after you play those songs all of the time, it becomes easy.
It becomes comfortable, then that’s the whole process of writing a new record – to challenge yourself again.
Jenna & Whakaio: Yeah, yeah.
Jenna: Even on our first EP we ever put out, there’s a song on it called “Wasting Away,” which was our first single. It used to be so hard for me to sing and it was way too high, and I didn’t want to play it live because it would’ve been embarrassing. Now it comes so easily. It’s just kind of like that. I like that process. That was just an example. (laughs)
Closing this out, any last words you guys want to shout out to your fans?
Jenna: We love ya, thanks for supporting us! We’ll be back early next year, we’re looking forward to it.
Make sure to catch Tonight Alive on their upcoming tour with Black Veil Brides and Chiodos in the UK, February 2013!