Kerrang! (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TOS: JOR­DAN KNIGHT

“We were never pre­pared to give up on the band…”

“Dur­ing Lim­it­less, I was fight­ing with my­self and could feel it in­tu­itively, but I wanted to trust the peo­ple we worked with so much. I’m just re­ally glad that’s the last time I’ll ever be in that sit­u­a­tion.” Jenna Mcdougall is look­ing back on Tonight Alive’s third al­bum with a tone that sug­gests that there are mo­ments from the past few years that she’d like to lock in a heavy box, wrap with bulky chains and cast into the depths of the Tas­man Sea.

And yet, from the out­side look­ing in, the first few months of 2016 ap­peared to be pretty rosy for the Aus­tralian quin­tet.the band – com­pleted then by gui­tarists Whakaio Taahi and Jake Hardy, bassist Cameron Adler and drum­mer Matt Best – had two al­bums to their name and racked up count­less air miles as they criss-crossed the globe with re­peated vis­its to the UK and the States, while their song The Edge was cho­sen to play out the $709m-gross­ing movie The Amaz­ing Spi­der-man 2. Main stage ap­pear­ances at Read­ing & Leeds.a Kerrang! cover. It’d take a cynic to bet against the Syd­neysiders’ chances of mak­ing tidal waves fol­low­ing the re­lease of their third al­bum in the spring of that year.

In­deed, Lim­it­less was backed by the might of the Sony cor­po­ra­tion; sure, the la­bel re­leased their first two al­bums – 2011’s What Are You So Scared Of? and its 2013 fol­low-up,the Other Side – but all signs seem to sug­gest that their pay­mas­ters thought that their third al­bum was the one.the band worked them­selves into the ground amid a flurry of pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­ity, with glossy videos ac­com­pa­ny­ing the sin­gles Hu­man In­ter­ac­tion, How Does It Feel? and Drive.

While the al­bum reached Num­ber Six in Aus­tralia and a per­fectly re­spectable 37 in the UK charts, the process was far from smooth, and left some­thing of a sour taste in mouths. For starters, the band reg­u­larly crossed swords with their la­bel over how they should be pre­sented to the wider world.the whole ex­pe­ri­ence came with a price that weighed heav­ily on Jenna’s mind, and went in some way to in­form their new record, Un­der­world. Re­leased this week, it’s an al­bum borne of catharsis and in­formed by the slow, steady re­build­ing of their tat­tered con­fi­dence.

“We did nine days of pre-pro­duc­tion and spent three of those days sit­ting in an of­fice lis­ten­ing to ref­er­ences, play­ing demos and rat­ing the songs,” she re­calls of the Lim­it­less ses­sions. "It was such a men­tal and emo­tional grind and it was suck­ing the life out of the record be­fore it had even been made.”

In par­tic­u­lar, the de­ci­sion to re­lease the poppy Drive as a sin­gle – ac­com­pa­nied by a jar­ring video that fea­tured back­ing dancers – caused much fes­ter­ing ran­cour to­wards the la­bel.

“I didn’t want to put the song on the record,” she ad­mits to­day. “to make peace with the de­ci­sion, I rewrote all the lyrics; it’s about re­ject­ing the con­ven­tional and re­ject­ing con­trol.the video with back-up dancers and all that kind of stuff was an ex­per­i­ment.the la­bel felt it was go­ing to con­nect, but that whole time, we were hop­ing that it wasn’t go­ing to dam­age our re­la­tion­ship with our fans.

“It wore the band out a lot and in­stilled a lot of fear in us that we had made a big mis­take and weren’t go­ing to be able to come back from it,” she adds. “it took some time to re­gain our con­fi­dence.”

Fol­low­ing Warped Tour that year, the band sev­ered ties with the la­bel and found them­selves in a state of flux as they pon­dered their next move. But, as Jenna re­veals, quit­ting was never an op­tion.

“We were never pre­pared to give up on the band,” she says. “it was only ever a ques­tion of mem­bers want­ing to stay, and that of course even­tu­ated in Whakaio leav­ing [af­ter the al­bum was fin­ished to pur­sue a ca­reer in song­writ­ing and pro­duc­tion]. we were just un­sure of the best way to re­build and re­de­fine who we are. I knew my work wasn’t fin­ished.”

It was dur­ing a camp­ing trip 14 months ago that Jenna de­cided to shave her head, per­haps as a way of emo­tion­ally dis­tanc­ing her­self from a trau­matic pe­riod in the band’s ca­reer.

“I felt it com­ing for a long time,” she says of her hair­cut. “i felt that im­age had con­trolled me for so long that if I got rid of that ob­ses­sion, it would no longer do that – and I was right. I cre­ated a fire cer­e­mony; I put all my crys­tals out, shaved my head and then burned my hair. I said some words about set­ting my­self free and re­leas­ing my­self from that at­tach­ment and ob­ses­sion with im­age in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, con­ven­tional beauty and fem­i­nine ex­pec­ta­tion that was re­ally peak­ing for me on the Lim­it­less cy­cle.”

And with that, the locks from her bleach-blonde, Warped Tour bowl cut crack­led and dis­ap­peared in the flames. How did you feel af­ter­wards? “It was like I saw my­self for the first time,” she ex­plains. “it was like be­ing a baby, where noth­ing has made an im­pres­sion on you yet. It felt I was go­ing back to a purer ver­sion of my­self that was un­changed by the world. It was like look­ing at my soul. I felt a lot of peace. I didn’t want to stop shav­ing my head and grow my hair back un­til I knew I could main­tain that state of mind. I guess I kept my head shaved for three or four months, then I knew the work was done. I let that go. It was a ges­ture, a phys­i­cal gift to my­self.”

In the fol­low­ing months, whakaio and Jenna be­gan work­ing on new songs at the singer’s house.

“I came into writ­ing Un­der­world not even yet griev­ing for the way things went for Lim­it­less, so I felt pretty ten­der,” she notes. “dur­ing that era, I felt very sup­pressed and con­stantly felt I was try­ing to coun­ter­act the con­trol that was be­ing ex­er­cised over me. My per­sonal ap­proach was to prac­tise rad­i­cal hon­esty. I guess I felt, af­ter hav­ing shaved my head in Septem­ber and us cut­ting ties with our la­bels and things, that I would never com­pro­mise again.”

The al­bum ti­tle it­self comes from a place of spir­i­tual ne­glect, a murky realm where un­com­fort­able, em­bar­rass­ing things are brushed to one side. Rad­i­cal hon­esty, says Jenna, is a way to con­front and cast off this emo­tional bal­last in or­der to live a more peace­ful life. “It’s so nice when you feel safe in your re­la­tion­ships to be vul­ner­a­ble and ex­posed,” she says. “i’d al­ways had ac­cess to that but I was so afraid to be judged. Dur­ing Warped, I re­alised the power of ask­ing for help and ex­press­ing your needs. It’s just be­ing at peace with the fact you don’t have to know where you’re go­ing with your thoughts or have a spe­cific ques­tion or hope for an an­swer; it’s prac­tis­ing self-ex­pres­sion. I think be­ing more hon­est in your jour­nals and in your con­ver­sa­tions is a re­ally good place to start with see­ing your true self.”

Em­pow­ered and ex­hil­a­rated by this re­al­i­sa­tion, the songs came thick and fast. Fol­low­ing a tour with You Me At Six in April of last year, the band spent six weeks in Thai­land with pro­ducer Dave Petro­vic. But it was there that Jenna had to con­tend with her long-run­ning bat­tle with eczema, as well as deal with those neg­a­tive feel­ings lin­ger­ing from the Lim­it­less ses­sions.

“I wasn’t happy in Thai­land,” she says qui­etly. “my body was cov­ered in eczema and I was re­ally sick.the most frus­trat­ing thing was that I was do­ing ev­ery­thing I could to feel bet­ter: hav­ing a ve­gan diet, be­ing sugar-free, al­co­hol-free, grain-free. there was a point where I couldn’t even eat with­out the fear of my con­di­tion be­ing any more se­vere.


I dealt with it with a lot of pain and pri­vacy.”

Af­ter mul­ti­ple calls to doc­tors for help with any kind of di­ag­no­sis, some­thing amaz­ing hap­pened.

“My body had some­thing to ex­press and amaz­ingly it left my body once the record was fin­ished,” she says. “the al­bum has taken me on a ride, and I’ve felt a huge shift in my­self.”

The past 18 months have wit­nessed a dras­tic, pos­i­tive change in Jenna’s out­look on life as she’s weath­ered her own can hear it in her voice; she’s calm, yet con­fi­dent. It takes her a mo­ment to gather her thoughts when asked what she’s learned on this per­sonal jour­ney.

“I’ve learned that in the past I’ve suf­fo­cated my po­ten­tial,” she says. “i’ve learned that I hold my­self back and should hold my­self ac­count­able for that. The po­ten­tial al­ready ex­ists; it’s just about me grab­bing it, ac­cept­ing it and liv­ing it. I think I’m com­ing to my power, com­ing into my wo­man­hood, and I think I’m only scrap­ing the sur­face of that right now.”

It’s a far cry from the young woman who only a few years ago could barely come to terms with the per­son star­ing back at her. In the song The Other, she sings:‘ i see a woman in the mir­ror / But she’s not in my re­flec­tion.’

“I’ve looked in the mir­ror a lot of times and have said,‘ i hate you,’” she ex­plains. “I’ve looked in the mir­ror think­ing, ‘You are pa­thetic, what are you do­ing to your­self?’”

So what do you see when you look in the mir­ror now?

“I see a per­son I don’t want to change,” she bright­ens. “the rea­son why I changed my im­age so much in the past was be­cause I didn’t feel like my phys­i­cal self was an ex­pres­sion of my true self. I don’t feel like there’s any­thing I need to shun or ne­glect or aban­don or crit­i­cise any­more. there’s a lot more self-ac­cep­tance. I just want to en­hance and ad­vance. Keep pro­gress­ing.”

This process of painful self-eval­u­a­tion and a stead­fast re­fusal to give in has birthed Tonight Alive’s most con­fi­dent body of work yet. whakaio may have re­cently parted am­i­ca­bly from his band­mates – “He was the heart­beat of the band and thrived in the stu­dio,” she says – but at this point, if the past two years couldn’t de­rail the band, then it seems that noth­ing will.

“I think the lyrics in Burn­ing On sum up the record: ‘you’ve spent your life avoid­ing pain / But beauty lies in that which is not safe,’” Jenna ex­plains. “It’s sort of me talk­ing about risk tak­ing and trust­ing the uni­verse. Last year, some­one said to me, ‘you have to stand in the fire,’ mean­ing you have to feel the pain and know it. that’s the only way you can learn from have to see it through.”


Jenna Mcdougall (vo­cals)

Cameron Adler (bass)

Jake Hardy (gui­tar)

Matt Best (drums)

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