HAPPY IN HER
any people will argue that you must learn to love yourself before anyone else can love you. And as the most romantic day of the year approaches, it’s a lesson that resonates strongly with Jenna Mcdougall.
While the Tonight Alive vocalist politely declines to discuss if anyone would be showing her love this Valentine’s Day – “There are just some things I like to keep private,” she says – one fact is etched across her every word, laugh and smile. “I do think I’ve had to learn to love myself, and it’s the best gift I’ve ever given myself,” she admits.
“Before, I was always trying to change myself,” Jenna reveals. “Questioning Questioning why I wasn’t as opinionated as other people, and did that mean I’m not educated enough? I constantly had this mind that was comparing itself to other people and the way they dressed. I always wanted to belong.wherever I went, I treated myself as a bit of a chameleon and I was never just proud of who I was. Even down to body image – I always wanted something else. I would work out and wish for change in certain places.”
She turned it around, though, after realising that by constantly trying to change, she still wasn’t happy, and that she’d have to try something new altogether.
That confidence-boosting ‘something new’ was at Reading & Leeds Festival in 2014. While in the past Jenna felt she had to craft an inoffensive stage outfioutfifit from ripped jeans and an old T-shirt, this time she decided to walk out on that main stage wearing the colourful, eclectic clothes she usually reserves for backstage.
“People said, ‘Why are you wearing that stupid black floppyflfl hat?’ ‘Why are you wearing those ridiculous yellow pants?’ And that made me even happier,” smiles the singer.
Er, because people thought you looked silly?
“Yeah, totally! For the first time my feelings weren’t hurt by somebody else’s opinion.”
Other things Jenna says helped were taking care of her body, through healthy eating (“removing processed foods and taking meat out of my diet, I feel, tell my body that I love it more and that I care about what it’s running on”), Epsom salt baths, glugging green juice, and taking up yoga and Muay Thai boxing.
Another big part of learning to love herself was accepting her previously debilitating eczema.
“Yesterday we did a signing and I was like, ‘You know what? My skin’s not perfect today, so I’m going to wear a halter neck top and I’m not going to get self-conscious about the fact that the skin on my shoulders and arms is red and itchy. I can’t constantly hide myself from the world.”
MWhile Jenna says she’s at the height of her selflove now, it’s been a two-year journey to get here, one reinforced when she started writing new album Limitless, which is released next month.
“Writing the record kind of solidifified all of the things I was feeling,” Jenna smiles. “It’s almost like when you’re not sure about something until you say it out loud. And the record counselled me through that.”
he making of Tonight Alive’s third album began in May 2014.With 14 songs on paper, Jenna and guitarist Whakaio Taahi holed themselves up in a cabin in Smiths Lake, a coastal lagoon in New South Wales, Australia, to record. Having demoed said 14 songs, they came home impressed with their efforts, and presented them to their label.
The label, however, were less impressed, saying the pair had failed to progress from the sound on 2013’s The Other Side.
“If The Other Side was a double-disc album, this would have been the second half,” says Jenna, who also describes those tracks as her living out her “teenage musical fantasies”, drawing inspiration from Senses Fail,yellowcard and blink-182.
T“For some reason, these 14 songs resembled those bands a lot more than anything we ever did before,” Jenna says. “Which is why they were exciting for me, because that was my teenage self fifinally writing songs like the bands I loved when I was a kid.”
But, as Jenna jokes today, those songs sounded like they belonged in 2004, and therefore were more or less scrapped, with only To Be Free and The Greatest surviving the cull.
“It was really disheartening, because there are songs that meant so much to me in those ‘Original 14’, which is what we call it. And I really would like to develop and re-record them one day. But it was a very positive turning point for the band.those songs had to be written for Limitless to have been written.”
The label’s solution to procure a ‘New 14’ was to send Jenna and Whak out to meet songwriters and producers, all the way from England to LA, to get them in a new creative environment.
“Whakaio and I have a very formulaic way of working together, just because we’ve been doing it since we were so young,” explains Jenna.
They wrote with David Hodges (former Evanescence member, and the man behind Kelly Clarkson’s Because Of You) and decided that David Bendeth (Paramore, Papa Roach, All Time Low) was to produce the record.
“David was a big part of helping us discover our direction and our vision for the record, because when he goes into making a record, it’s more of a holistic approach,” explains Jenna.“he’s not just there to record your music. “Making Limitless was more than just making a record – it was us fifinding our life purpose as individuals. It wasn’t just,‘let’s make a good album that people are gonna like.’ That was almost the last priority. It was more about our personal discovery.” David put them through what Jenna describes as a nine-day “boot camp for musicians”, where he would be highly critical, without any fear of hurting their feelings. “You can’t blame the guy, because it’s not personal, it’s musical,” laughs Jenna. “But it does hit you personally – you are your instrument, and you are your career.
“I think that’s something that would tear a lot of bands apart, what we went through in that time.”
hile penning the lyrics for Limitless, Jenna was in the midst of a spiritual “awakening”. It began in the offifice of an osteopath of sorts. There, after years of suffering pain in her hips and shoulders, she’d lie on his table while he would prod and poke at her muscles, stimulating her nervous system. “He said, ‘I just want to warn you, you’re going to become a lot more aware of things than you used to be, and you’re going to see things coming that
W“LEARNING TO LOVE MYSELF IS THE BEST GIFT”
you would never have predicted or pre-empted before,’” recalls Jenna. “And I didn’t understand it until it happened.”
‘It’ was the day after treatment, when Jenna would physically “hit rock bottom”, which the practitioner put down to her body dealing with past pain. “Your body is literally processing something that could be from two days ago, could be from two years ago or two lifetimes ago,” laughs Jenna. “Your body holds onto all kinds of memories of pain.”
Pain fifinally dissolved, Jenna found herself with spiritual superhero-type powers. “I could see situations coming, I could respond better to different behaviours and I could protect myself. I started developing skills and I started developing my intuition.”
From there, Jenna began her spiritual journey, expanding her knowledge and awareness of spirituality, and human nature, which, having affected the way she looked at the world, also changed her songwriting.
“There are songs on this album that talk about understanding the needs of our Earth and the way that we’re damaging it,” she explains. “Which might sound pretentious – and I don’t have that intention at all, because I don’t think that I’m better than anybody – but I’m starting to experience these feelings and I want to do something about them. And, at this point, songwriting is the only thing I know.”
While Jenna was writing songs about the Earth (such as on We Are – the chorus of which sees Mother Earth addressing the human race), other songs literally came from the Earth. Jenna got the idea for Waves (a song about the highs and lows of being in a relationship) when swimming in the ocean on a stormy day, before getting back to her car and recording a voice clip of what the song became. The Greatest was also written in the sea, but this time in Maré Island, France, where Jenna walked out into the ocean and looked down to see tropical fifish swimming around her feet.
“It was like a dream,” she recalls, “and I just got this idea: ‘’ Cause here I am fearless,here I am weightless, here I am unbreakable, here I am the greatest’. I’ve never made such certain statements in my life as I have in that song.”
That certainty is all thanks to her spiritual awakening, which put Jenna at one with the world, and at one with herself. And the result is an overriding theme of empowerment that runs throughout almost every track on Limitless.
To Be Free is Jenna requesting the universe get off her back, realising things she’s done in the past didn’t work, and that she has to fifind a new formula for happiness. Power Of One, meanwhile, is a song full of affififirmations, that preaches being true to yourself and not constantly asking for forgiveness. Elsewhere, I Defy talks about escaping manipulative relationships, while the lyrics of Drive declares that it’s okay to look like the bad guy if that means standing up for yourself.
Limitless, then, is easily Tonight Alive’s most confifident work to date.
“It kind of borders on that line between ego and just being self-assured,” explains Jenna. “I think I’m always on the good side of that fence and it feels good to stand up for yourself and not be afraid to sound like you’ve got a big head.”
If the frontlady has developed a big head, it might just be because it’s fifit to burst with all her newfound happiness.
“I think I’m approaching the happiest I’ve ever been in my life…” she reflflects. “For the fifirst time since making the record, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m meant to be in life at this point in time. Like, this is part of the plan and I’m living it and I’m enjoying it. I’m not resisting anything right now. It feels really good.”
THE HAPPIEST I’VE EVER BEEN”