A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see two amazing bands live in concert: Taking Back Sunday, which has been my favorite band for over 10 years, and Tonight Alive, a more recent favorite who I haven’t been able to stop listening to since. I also had the opportunity to interview the lead singer of Tonight Alive, the seriously kickass and awesome Jenna McDougall.
Jenna and the rest of the Tonight Alive members (Jake Hardy, Cam Adler, Whakaio Taahi and Matt Best) are from Sydney, Australia, and have been steadily gaining more popularity here in the United States for the last few years. Currently, Tonight Alive is on tour with Taking Back Sunday and The Used (in August, the tour is heading over to Europe). No joke, I’ve been listening to their most recent album, The Other Side, on repeat for the last few weeks – it really is that good. And I’m sure you’ll become more familiar with them soon – their song “The Edge” is is featured in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
I met up with Jenna before one of their sold-out shows in New York City earlier in April, and I honestly did love having the chance to interview her. Not only is she really talented, she’s also incredibly sweet and humble. Jenna and I talked about dating and life advice, funny tour stories, and where her inspiration comes from, among other things. Check out the interview to learn more about her, and then do yourself a favor and start listening to Tonight Alive. Like, right now.
How did you become interested in music?
When I was a kid, I was always sort of doing plays and putting on nursery rhyme shows and stuff like that with my cousins and sisters. When I went into school, I joined the choir straight away, so it was kind of something that was really normal and comfortable for me. And then when I went into high school, I started learning instruments and being a part of musicals and that’s how I sort of started to network and make friends with the guys in my band.
When it comes to songwriting, what is your inspiration?
My lyrics are actually based off of my thoughts. So I don’t necessarily talk to myself, but as soon as something happens, maybe something negative like an argument or a frustrating situation, the first thing that happens to me is that I start to think of a way I could sum it up in words. My lyrics come from everyday things. It can be something really simple, and then it can grow into a whole song. I always write about… it’s always a personal experience. Something that is a recurring theme is self-empowerment. I guess, like everybody, I have my insecurities and I don’t like to feel like a pushover. So if there is ever a situation where I feel like someone might be taking me for granted, or what’s the word, taking advantage of me, that’s something I always write about because I feel really strongly about standing up for yourself. And not letting other people’s opinions of you affect your happiness and the way you approach life.
How did you get to a point where you stopped caring about what other people think?
I think I’m still working through that. Even at 21, you’re still going to encounter things in your life where people are going to undermine you, underestimate you, or just generally make you feel small. It was probably when I was like 18 or 19 that I started to really accept that it’s a choice and it really comes down to your attitude and your approach. You can’t control how other people are going to treat you, all you can control is how you choose to feel about it. So, it takes time.
What is the best general life advice you could ever give anyone?
I’d say the less you care about opinions of others, the happier you will be. So I think put your judgment before anybody else’s. Your opinion of yourself is so much more important. It’s dangerously powerful how much we can let judgment affect us, and I think that that’s something that can spoil a lot of high school experiences for people. So I’d say listen to the music you want to listen to, dress the way you want to dress, and do it with confidence, do it with your friends. I don’t think there’s any need for you to go through anything alone, so I think communicate, be honest with your friends, be honest with yourself, and do it your way.
That’s all so true. Do you have any good dating advice as well?
I think if there’s ever a moment in a relationship or in a dating situation where you feel like you aren’t being honest with yourself or honest with the person you’re with, I think that’s where the issue is born from. If you’re uncomfortable at any time, it’s not right. And if you feel like you have to try really hard to make it work, it’s not right either. I think a good relationship should feel natural. Of course there are going to be things that need work, but especially in the early stages, I think it should definitely be a comfortable and enjoyable time. If anything is forced, I don’t think it’s right for you.
You’ve been on tour with Taking Back Sunday and The Used… what is the most memorable experience from the tour?
Something funny that happened recently was when we got off stage in, I think it was Rochester, we went to our dressing room and everything in there was upside down – the couches, the chairs, even the water bottles; the furniture was completely the other way around. Taking Back Sunday played a little prank on us, so we’re waiting for the right moment to get them back.
That’s amazing. If you could tour with anybody, who would it be?
Rage Against The Machine. I’m a big fan of their music, but also the message. I love the aggression in the music – it’s real, and it’s honest. And then the performance is just… there’s so much body language, it’s so physical. And I really appreciate the art that takes to create. So anyway, they’re one of my favorite bands and I would love to tour with them. It will never happen, but you can only dream.
What other bands or musicians are a big inspiration to you?
It’s a pretty different range. If you asked me that a few years ago, I probably would have gone back to all the classic pop punk we used to listen to in high school. But these days it’s quite different. Like, my favorite female artist is Alanis Morissette. And I’ve actually started listening to, I guess going back in time and going back to this sort of girl rock… I love Avril. And I just started listening to Hole and Letters to Cleo. If you’ve ever seen 10 Things I Hate About You, they’re the band in the movie. It’s pretty different. I listen to Bob Marly every day and I like Jimi Hendrix and Bon Iver… so I wouldn’t say they inspire our music, but I guess it probably creeps into our song writing a little bit.
You probably get this question a lot, but what is it like being the only girl in your band and on tour most of the time?
At this point in time it’s very normal and very comfortable, but I really do miss girl time. I went to an all-girl’s school, I’ve got two sisters, so you do start to miss that. You don’t realize how special it is until you’re away from it. But I’m really lucky, the guys in the band are my best friends and we have been best friends for a really long time. The good thing about being around guys is that they really ground you, and they kind of bring everything back into perspective. It’s easy for me to be carried away with insecurity, and it’s great having guy friends that just break it down and bring you back down to earth. I guess their priorities are different, so it has affected me in a very positive way.
What is your most embarrassing moment?
Oh, God, I’ve had a few. This is the first one that comes to mind. We were on tour with The Story So Far, they’re a pop punk band from California, but they kind of have a bro punk feel to them. I guess their lyrics are very relatable, especially on the topics of relationships, so I think their fans are super, super loyal. Being a support band for an act like that was really difficult. I think we had a lot of folded arms and angry faces, like, “why is there a girl on stage right now, why is she trying to make me jump?” So it was already a bad start. We were doing the song called “Thank You and Goodnight” where we try to get everyone jumping. Anyway, I fell off the riser I was on and straight onto my back. And I laughed it off, and that’s all you can do. And the best thing was that the crowd just kind of applauded it. So it was embarrassing, but at the same time I kind of had everyone laughing with me so I kind of got away with it. I’ll never forget that.
Can you tell me about any of your favorite fan experiences?
I guess I’ll just say that sometimes we get letters from our fans that are really, really super serious. The crazy thing is that they’re smiling and they’re so happy every time that you meet, and you have no idea what’s really going on in their life. And so sometimes I’ll get a letter and go away and read it after I’ve met a fan, and I’ll go like, wow that’s insane. It’s really heavy. I guess if there’s anything positive to be said from that, it’s that music is what brings these types of people together. I’m glad that, even if our show for only 30 minutes or an hour creates some kind of safe place for them I’m really happy about that. The greatest thing that’s ever come out of fan experiences is that they make friends with each other and they create these support groups for each other and there’s a real community that comes with that through music. I feel really lucky that we can be a part of that.
Are you a fan of Tonight Alive? Which of their songs is your favorite? Tell me in the comments!