When we caught up with Jenna McDougall of Tonight Alive, she and her bandmates had just returned to Australia from Warped Tour a week before. In anticipation of their new record, The Other Side, which comes out September 10, we talked to the frontwoman about the album, what the band learned from Pierce The Veil and why they aren’t a pop-punk band.
Interview: Brittany Moseley
How was Warped Tour? I know the last time I spoke with you, you were in the midst of packing for it.
It was unreal. I kept saying I’m more excited this time than I was the first, but it was kind of a different experience. The band is in a different position than we were last year, and with an album around the corner, it was just a completely different tone–the shows were bigger and better [and] we had more friends. It was a blast.
How was the fan response?
Noticeably different. Even on small dates of the tour, we still had the fans that were really passionate about the band. We did two signings every day. There was such a connection between us and the fans. With how often we’ve been touring, it’s really such a step up not just in size, but in—I don’t want to say substance, but just the strength of the foundation in the fanbase.
Your new album comes out in less than a month, so what’s the feeling now? Are you nervous or anxious for it to come out? What’s the mindset?
I still feel like it’s January. I feel like we haven’t—we’ve been super-busy… It seems like everyone’s excited about the record, and we have so many fans pre-ordering it, and for us it’s been such a long time coming. I just can’t wait for people to hear it and to experience what we have in the past few years. What Are You So Scared Of? was recorded at the end of 2010. That’s such a long time ago if you consider even the songs were written years before that. I’m really ready to, not have a clean slate, but to… I guess it feels like a fresh start when you put out a new record.
When did you go in to record this?
January was the beginning of the recording process, but we did pre-production in December at the same place. We hired out a house, and it wasn’t actually a studio at all. We just wanted it for the location because it was on an acre of bush, but it was also a five-minute drive from the beach. It was complete secluded, [and] it was super-Australian. It seemed like exactly what we needed after such a long time on the road, but the recording process started in January, which is when drums were done. We broke up the recording process because we were touring in between. January [was] drums, the end of February [and] start of March was guitars and then May was vocals. Every two months we did the next section of the record.
Who did you work with as far as producers or engineers for this album?
The producer and engineer was Dave Petrovic. He’s an Australian producer. We’ve recorded everything we’ve ever done with Dave except for What Are You So Scared Of?? We have a really good chemistry with him, but we never had the time or budget to see how good of a record we could make together. When we showed him a couple demos a long time ago for the new record, he was like, “You have to let me do it.” He was like, “It would be the best thing we’ve ever done.” We did it together, and it really is the best thing both of us have ever done.
Was the writing and recording process longer this time around than it was for your last album?
The recording process was longer, but the writing process was probably the same. It took two years to write The Other Side, and I’m pretty sure it [took] about the same for What Are You So Scared Of?.That was written while I was in high school [and] out of high school in our first year. We started in 2008, recorded it in 2010, so I guess it was about a two-year process, but the recording process was different. It was much longer this time because of the gaps, and also the mixing process took a really long time because we were doing it via email while we were on Warped Tour.
Now that you’re out of high school and the band have grown and toured more, is that reflected in the lyrics?
Absolutely. It wouldn’t be the same record if I was still in high school. Even if it was at the same time, it’s purely affected by the touring lifestyle. The songs are influenced by the things we’ve experience, and the challenges we were facing, but also by the people we’re surrounded by. For example, on the Pierce The Veil tour, they had just put out their new record, Collide With The Sky, and we would watch them every night, and they’re such a well-rounded band. Obviously they’re good people, but their songs are amazing and their lyrics connect the fans to the band and they put on an amazing live show. We just saw how much [of the album] translated on to stage, and because of the touring with them, we could see the way different songs worked on stage. We took from them learning experiences, and put it into the record so that every song on it would be really good live. It’s quite a rock record. I think it’s going to go down really well live, which I think is the most important part.
How did you capture that live sound and energy on the record?
We wrote more than 30 or 40 songs for the record. Some of them were never finished, but some were completely done and ready to go. [When] we did pre-production, we had already figured out which we thought were the strongest tracks. We were standing around in the lodge in a little circle, it was like band practice. We played a song, and it was just so obvious which songs were weaker than others, and I think having that live pre-production rather than just demos really affected how it felt, and even with the songs that did make it on the record, [they] had a lot of transformation, just to make sure they were rich in every section.
While you guys were writing, or even now when it’s finished, did you notice any themes in the lyrics? There are a couple songs like “Hell And Back” and “Lonely Girl” that have a breakup-song feel and darker undertones.
There’s a definite theme. It’s funny that you called it that because in a way, it’s kind of a breakup album, but from a former life. It’s almost like the whole thing of it is moving from a dark time into a new place and finding light in the situation again. I think just as a band, but also as individuals, we’ve been through some really challenging times in the past few years. Being on the road through all of that really heighted how difficult it was to deal with. We obviously got through it together, but the songwriting was seriously affected, and I’m really proud of the way it came out. I’ve never had such confronting challenges. It opened me up to a different side of myself that I didn’t even know existed. I’m excited to write about that because I think fans and listeners need to know that even an artist is human, and they experience the same things. I think this record is really going to bring us closer to our fanbase again.
It’s interesting that you said some of these songs are about breakups, but they’re about looking forward. Even when they seem dark, there is a triumphant or hopeful feel to them. It doesn’t end sadly.
No, it definitely doesn’t. There are definitely some sad songs on the album, and I think there are a few heartbreakers, but there are also songs like “The Fire” that’s a super-liberating, empowering punk song. I’m so proud of that song because the lyrics are really passionate, affirmative and positive, but the music is really aggressive. It reminds me of when you go to war, and you’re just running on to the battlefield. It just reminds me of being headstrong, and I’m really proud of that. I love the combination.
There’s a really good mix of heavier rock songs, and then you look at songs like “Complexes” and “Come Home” and they’re a bit on the softer side in a sense.
We are quite, not a bipolar band, but I think this album is really good about finding our sound, but it’s also about accepting that we don’t have one particular sound. Not all our songs are going to be the same, and you can’t put them under the same umbrella. Some of them are poppy, some of them are really heavy and some of them are somewhere in the middle. We found a balance on this record, and I’m proud of that because I think it’s just being true as human beings. You can be at both ends of the scale.
If you had to explain the new album to fans, what separates The Other Side from your previous album?
I don’t think Tonight Alive lost anything that was good about our sound. We enhanced the good, and I guess we’re still aggressive, but I think it’s in a more refined way. I think the songs aren’t an attack on your ears, and, I don’t know if fans would agree with that, but I find it difficult to listen to the last record. It’s kind of harsh. This album is so emotionally charged, so it definitely hasn’t lost that energy. I think we’ve found what we’re good at. People keep calling us a pop-punk band, but realistically we’ve written two pop-punk songs: “Thank You And Goodnight” and “Sure As Hell” [both from What Are You So Scared Of?]. On the rest of them, I don’t know what we were trying to do, but we found our direction, and I think that’s going to be really obvious when you listen to the record. alt