Why Tonight Alive walked away from the pop punk scene
Tonight Alive's Jenna McDougall and Whakaio Taahi on Limitless, spirituality and the future
Aussie quintet Tonight Alive took fans by surprise with the sharp change in musical direction on their latest record, Limitless. In place of the spiky pop punk that found them fame was contemplative, introspective pop rock, with big choruses and slick production.
Since releasing their latest album, the Sydney band have toured relentlessly, first on Warped Tour over the summer, then in Japan then into the UK and Europe. Next, they'll be heading to South America later this month before finishing the year with a lengthy stint across North America.
For vocalist Jenna McDougall and guitarist Whakaio Taahi, Limitless isn’t just a change in their sound – it’s the musical manifestation of their desire to live their best lives. Here’s what they had to say about following your dreams and finding happiness.
You're really passionate about being true to yourself and always make this clear on stage – have your speeches helped you grow your own confidence?
Jenna: “Touring takes a lot of energy, focus and preparation, and a lot of fucks to give. You’re here and it’s a privilege. Part of the reason I [make speeches] on stage is so I can hear it every day. To have a mantra every day that you repeat, especially on stage where I feel like I’m on my highest high and I get to be who I truly want to be… you can’t always feel safe to do that, so I feel like the stage is the best place for me to say it and for it to be received.”
As well as the message on Limitless, it's also a big change in your sound. Were you worried about how it might be received?
Whakaio: “These songs on Limitless are starting to sink in for us. It’s really becoming a lifestyle now and we’re starting to live it every day. Jen’s really living that on stage and being her true self. We took a really big risk with Limitless because we’ve taken a step in a direction that we wanted to do, and it was the first time we didn’t censor ourselves. We’re willing to take the brunt of that and have people talk shit on us, but we want our fans to see they can do the same. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, because all that is, is a reflection of them. If they say a negative thing to you, it’s because they feel that way. It’s their fear.”
What first attracted you to a more mindful, spiritual way of living?
Jenna: “I think the place [our spirituality] began was our friendships being built on this foundation of ‘what are you going to do about it?’ That was the first action-based lifestyle we embraced. When I was about 15, I’d call Whak and cry and be suffering emotionally, and he’d say, ‘OK, so how are you going to change the situation?’ It was such a foreign concept to me, and it’s still something I have to create tools to work with every day. I guess I was always attracted to a more spiritual lifestyle, but I think it was something that developed naturally from the age of about 21 or 22. [I was] kind of raising my awareness a little more – working on my health, becoming vegetarian and then vegan. It cleared the passages in my body to be more conscious and aware of my environments and relationships. It was in increments, and I want to keep growing every single day and every person I meet, I want to learn from them.”
Whakaio: “I think looking at yourself is one of the hardest things you ever have to do in your life, because you may not like what you see. But that’s OK, we’ve all got to work on it. Everyone you meet has something to teach you, we’ve just got to be open and aware. Happiness is a by-product of the thing that you’re living. If you’re living your true excitement you’re going to be happy, rather than pushing down those thoughts of what you want to be doing, because that’s how you become sick.”
What does the future hold for Tonight Alive?
Jenna: “We’re really enjoying the touring cycle right now and I feel like we’re living the philosophy we wrote about that we weren’t yet embodying. Every day I feel like I’m closer to living my purpose, if not already doing that. And that’s a feeling that started at the beginning of 2015 when we were doing Soundwave, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m actually practicing what I’m preaching for the first time’. Half the messages and speeches and lyrics are so I can drill them into myself. I think I’ve said enough positive things that I believe them now, so I guess this is opening up the doors for us to keep accepting what comes naturally to us and developing our intuition in that way. I’m excited to see what kind of music we can create because we’re no longer chained to pop-punk. I feel like that’s where we were three years ago, but with Limitless I feel like we have a clean slate and an open door that we don’t know where it leads to, but I’m happy with that. I like the unknown. I challenge myself in ways that I wouldn’t do when I was younger, like cutting my hair a certain way or creating the costumes I wear on stage. I challenge myself and therefore I improve myself. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
Tonight Alive are on tour until December 18. Limitless is out now.