Tonight Alive have been a rare Australian success story. Formed when they were teenagers in 2008, the band has gone on to produce three studio albums, tour extensively and play the international festival circuit with some of the world's biggest pop-punk bands. With the release of their fourth album Limitless in early March, we sat down with enigmatic lead singer Jenna McDougall to discuss the new music, what it’s like being a female in the male-dominated music world and everything in between.
“People are SO scared of change!” Jenna McDougall laughs when talking about the band’s new album.
It was October 2015 when Tonight Alive announced their new record, teamed with brand new single “Human Interaction.” After the success of third album The Other Side, the song teased a brand new sound for the upcoming LP. And one thing fans were quick to pick up on was a heavier pop influence.
“There’s comments like, ‘you’re not a pop-punk band anymore!” McDougall explains. “And it’s like, well yes, your statement is correct; you can put a negative spin on it, but for the most part you’re speaking the truth!”
McDougall isn’t surprised at the fan reaction to songs like “Human Interaction” and “Drive”, but neither is she offended or confused about it.
McDougall is thoughtful when reflecting on the process and the change the new album has ultimately brought.
"When we started (Limitless) the process changed, it was originally a lot like The Other Side. We'd get these songs and we got to the point where we were like 'are we just mimicking the past? Are we creating a sister for The Other Side?' That was the turning point."
This change hasn't come without some controversy with some fans clearly unhappy at the new musical direction. Baffled comments on latest single "Drive" show some discontent amongst older fans, who were perhaps expecting something along the same punk-pop vibes. McDougall just takes it all in her stride and there's no denying she's incredibly proud of the new record.
"The process for Limitless was a lot more thoughtful, with a lot more intention. Every day we went into the studio it felt important."
Tonight Alive have always prided themselves on their lyrical honesty. "I think truthful lyrics are the most believable, the most captivating. I love songs that are honest," McDougall says.
Leaning forward when talking about her music, you can tell creating and writing is her strongest passion. When asked about her own favourite Tonight Alive song, she hesitates.
"I'm going to have to say 'Complexes'. Writing that song, it was very different for me at that time to be so honest. It's really raw. It was really healing."
McDougall entered the band at a young age, and has grown up with them ever since. "A lot of people ask if I'm the little sister - and I probably was a long time ago. But we're all very much an equal dynamic and we all need each other."
Curious, I ask if it's hard being the only female on tour a lot of the time. Looking at the lineup of who Tonight Alive has toured with in the past few years, there's a significant lack of other female band members.
"I'm used to touring with males, but there's definitely moments on tour where it's like... no one wants to go shopping, or waste two hours at IKEA with you! But at the same time that pushes me to go out and enjoy those things on my own. I LOVE it when there are girls on tour though, it's different to the guys. But for the most part I am very comfortable in my situation and I can hold my own; it's been like that since I was 17."
It's easy to see that McDougall is someone who can hold her own in trying or difficult circumstances. One of the most refreshing things about McDougall is her self-aware and modest presence. At a 2015 Soundwave show, she made headlines for helping a fan, who had tried to jump the barricade.
"I was so surprised at the [press] reaction to it!" McDougall says, shaking her head. "That thing happens A LOT. It just happened on a very dramatic scale and what people might not know that it wasn't just one security guard involved, it was like, six. It was a really ugly experience. I'm glad about it getting attention because the more we're aware of it, and the more of those people condemned, the better."
Intentions are something McDougall does touch on frequently in our time together. On her intentions with the Soundwave incident, she explained she went into "auto-pilot."
"I didn't even think of how big the jump was... It was actually quite large and I really could have hurt myself! I just wanted that man's arm off the kids neck."
"I'm lucky I have a platform to speak on," McDougall says. "It's nice to recognise other people that are making a difference and get involved with them. I'm really grateful that the band has been able to form those connections."
We touch briefly on McDougall’s illness, that led to the band canceling shows in previous years.
"I wasn't healthy. I started getting really sick and my immune system was plummeting. I was just living a toxic life. My skin got out of control, and my eczema became a full body kind of thing. It was at the point where I couldn't turn my neck or bend my arms. We cancelled some shows in 2012 and I started learning more about vegetarianism and eating green... I hate that phrase!" She laughs. "But I started eating green foods, drinking green juices, taking supplements... I regained my confidence and health and my body became mine again."
For now the band is looking forward to a happier and healthier 2016, and with Limitless due for release in March, things have never been more exciting.
"I didn't have a back-up plan, and I never will," McDougall says. "This music is my reality and I would do anything to keep it flourishing."