Tonight Alive Could Be The Biggest ‘Tiny’ Band On Earth

Originally published at, April 23, 2011 – Read the full text here

Tonight Alive are just one of those bands that you don’t want to get, at first listen. Your indie-sensibilities groan at the thought of another Paramore (despite the fact that they’re still your secret guilty pleasure). But the similarities begin and end at the obvious: punk-pop band with a female lead. Not only are they worthy of early praise, but they’re completely committed to the music, and each other. That kind of maturity is not often seen from a group of friends in a band who are all under the age of 22.

The Australian five-piece: Jenna McDougall, Jake Hardy, Whak Taahi, Cam Adler and Matt Best formed in 2008 and have since toured with The Wonder Years and 3OH!3. Tonight Alive will also join Lil’ Wayne atThe Bamboozle in 2011. I got to chat with Jenna about the musical differences between Australia and the U.S., the tiresome comparisons and what she’s learned from all of this so far.

Kristina Villarini: Is the music scene, or more specifically the punk scene, really that different in Sydney versus the United States?

Jenna McDougall: It really is. You can’t tour for weeks and weeks or play every day. The scene is just different. There aren’t really hundreds of thousands of kids coming to see you. There are fans, but they’re really your core group of people that keep you afloat, by showing up.

KV: You have spoken before about the challenges of being a young band, and by now, the comparisons to other bands must be getting a little bland. What sets you guys apart?

JM: Obviously, the comparisons to other punk bands with female leads are going to happen. It just gets a little tired at times, like ‘Oh, c’mon, is that all you could come up with?’ [Laughs] We don’t take it to heart. I think it’s easy for people to do that, at first. They don’t really know us, so they’re trying to find something to help them decide whether we are something they would like or not.

All I can really say is that, nothing about the band was forced or premeditated. As corny as it sounds, we are just five best friends who really love playing music together.

KV: I think that the Hayley Williams [of Paramore] comparison is unfair because no one knows what you’re really capable of, yet. Who’s to say you won’t perform like Chrissie Hynde or Cyndi Lauper in ten years?

JM: That’s so cool! It’s definitely not something I think about. We get that question, when you say you’re in a band, it’s usually like ‘Well, who do you sound like?’and  I’ve listened to a lot of different people growing up, from Melissa Etheridge to Baby Animals. My dad played that music. I guess I’m still figuring it out. I get excited about what we do… Our sound is becoming diverse.

KV: Are you influenced by the songs you’re listening to or artists you like?

JM: Sometimes I hear a song and I will say to myself, ‘I want to write a song like that.’ Pierce The Veil, I’ve loved for a long time. I can’t put my finger on artists that inspire me. Senses Fail? I just got into Metric.Mark Trombino introduced me to Emily Haines, and I heard “Help, I’m Alive.” We were on the highway and I felt so good listening to them. But we’re all over. The band listens to heavy metal or the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, and I’ll listen to Frank Sinatra. I think we sound like a combination of that. We all just listened to a lot of Blink-182.

KV: Do you think the punk genre limits Tonight Alive?

JM: I don’t know. I, sometimes think we are cheating people by being called just one or the other. It might even be the other way around, because we come from that scene back home and we want to represent that genre. Those are the people we listen to back home and play with, so being put in that category is something we take seriously.

KV: Over the span of the two EPs (June 2010’s All Shapes and Disguises and November’s Consider This), there was a disparity in timing… There was less of a gap for the 3-song EP Consider This. How did that influence the sound?

JM: It definitely influenced the sound. Some of the songs on All Shapes and Disguises were written so long ago, like years. The first EP was really some of the first good songs we had, and a lot of songs were written ages before the EP was even made. It was a combination of a bunch of sounds while we were still finding our footing, and in comparison to Consider This, it shows the development of our band. It was just three songs but, we showed people we could do more and that they shouldn’t expect another All Shapes and DisguisesConsider This got us closer to finding what we want to be.

KV: All Shapes and Disguises had a nice split of ballads or softer songs versus your heavier material. How did you create the tracklist?

JM: It was around 30 songs that were good, that we wanted to put toward the album, and closer to the end, we kept changing the tracklisting. But it worked out really well. We want to have a mix of the heavy stuff, the happy and ballads.

KV: Tell me about the YouTube video updates.

JM: Oh, god [Laughs] If you ever want to be humbled, just watch a video of yourself on YouTube!

KV: Do you have a preference of performing the heavier, punkish stuff versus the happy tunes?

JM: I like playing the heavy songs. We really do come from this hardcore metal place, and we love going to those kinds of shows back home. I can’t compare what those bands do to us, though.

KV: Two EPs in, now you’re working on a full-length as we speak with Mark Trombino… So you have some songs to play with at shows. How do you guys decide your setlists?

JM: I know, it’s getting mental! [Laughs] We try to choose our favorites, the most popular songs, or the songs that are the most fun to play. Every now and again, we’ll throw in a new song. It’s cool to see people react.

KV: Is there a sense of overwhelming pressure to be the ‘face’ of the band?

JM: I think the only pressure there is, is the one to be a good frontwoman. That’s not because of the comparisons or the stuff people put out there, but really because I want to be. I think, there’s a need to be strong, in every way, you know? A strong singer, or anything else. I don’t necessarily think it’s good or bad. I totally believe that none of us are any more important in this band than the other. There’s no difference between us.

KV: So, obviously, that sense of mutual respect is there, but you’re still trying to create something that is dear to you. How difficult can it be to make music with your friends?

JM: We compromise. There are things I want to say and they’ll pull me back. Sometimes I’ll want to say too much, and they tell me. After so many songs and things like that, we just know when it sounds right, and that’s what we all want. The only thing we really disagree on is that I write too many love songs. [Laughs] I guess we’re lucky. We don’t write together. We just let everyone have their own ideas for a song.

KV: Is there pressure as a young, new band trying to get attention and build your fanbase, to create a hit?

JM: I don’t like sitting down and pressuring myself to create something, but before the EPs, we had all these sh*t songs… Just, bad demos we did in a bedroom. I hate them, and people find them and think it’s the coolest thing ever. [Laughs] There is a little pressure, because you want singles and songs people like. You want to have a strong set of songs. So we do craft them, in a way, because we want our albums to be perfect. We put the pressure on ourselves, but I think with the full-length, we’ll just feel relieved because we are already really proud of it. It’s like a year in the making, I want to build it up to what it’s meant to be.

KV: Now that you know what your sound is, do you ever think about maybe re-doing the first EP?

JM: That would be so cool! To kinda revisit it, I guess. Some of the things I hear now, I know I wouldn’t sing it that way. I just feel like I sound very different.

KV: Are you critical of your voice?

JM: God, all the time! There are some days when you wake up and you know you’re going to rock it and others when nothing sounds right. I know what I’m capable of and I’m super critical about it. When I can’t do what I want to do, it just ruins everything. You have it in your head, ‘This is what I want it to sound like.’ So if it doesn’t, it’s frustrating.

KV: Are there two sides of Jenna? The performer versus the real girl?

JM: I believe that so much. I really don’t believe in signs, but Gemini describes me perfectly. It can be hard when you’re perceived to be something else…

KV: Like when fans meet you and they’re surprised you’re nice?

JM: Yeah! All the time. I think people don’t know what to do when you’re not a diva, or some scene girl.

KV: Do you feel like you have learned from working with [Producer] Mark?

JM: For sure. He’s just a good person. He’s so funny. He lets you be who you are, and doesn’t push us to be something we’re not. He challenges us to do better, and he calls us out when we’re recording if we’re not doing our best.

KV: You guys were named one of the “Seven Acts to Watch in 2011” by The Music Network. What’s that like?

JM: It’s like… How the hell do you even know who we are?! No matter what you do, you always sort of feel tiny. I think we’re tiny. No one knows who we are. It gets really thrilling, because we are putting out our debut album and we’re hoping people will wait for us or find us. You get hopeful. It’s always an honor to be compared to or included in anything with successful artists.