2016 has been a huge year for Tonight Alive. Kicking it off with a world tour and the release of their third full length album ‘Limitless‘, It marked a step of growth and character for Tonight Alive, finding themselves both musically and on a personal level, and creating a stronger bond between themselves and their fans in the process. Today, August 26th, we witnessed Tonight Alive play a short but certainly sweet set in a packed NME tent at Leeds Festival which reminded everybody how brilliant they really are live (which you can check out in our Friday Leeds review here). Soon after their set we caught up with Front woman Jenna McDougall and guitarist Whakaio Taahi for a quick chat….
Great set folks, I want to get straight into some of the things you talked about in your set – there’s a lot of pressure on women to be and look a certain way in this current social climate and I’m just wondering where your drive comes from when you use the words “My reality, my expectations”.
Jenna McDougall: My drive comes from the fact that I got wrapped up and swallowed in it just like every other girl that doesn’t realise that it’s happening to them. It’s so in-built to look at yourself and size yourself up to other people because our image of beauty is so distorted and so exclusive to a certain type of body and a certain type of face. It’s super unhealthy and I’m in the process of cutting all that out.
The reason I changed my image so much is because I’m trying to prove to myself [I can] and get away from the confines of conventional beauty. Those expectations are so in-built that we don’t realise it’s happening.
It comes from a really personal place that determined my happiness. It’s why I verbalise it so much.
So it becomes a mantra?
Yeah, it becomes part of my fibre and my tissue. The more I embody it the better it is for our fans. It’s said that the best thing you can do for somebody is to be your true self and be on your true path because it invites them to do the same thing.
How are people reacting to that – with this new message?
I find it to be a really positive response and those that don’t like my make-up, hair, the way I dress or my on stage uniform, I can see that those people are suffering because they’re stuck thinking I should look a certain way. That’s a reflection of what they see in themselves as well.
If you don’t feel that you can do something that challenges yourself or scares other people then I think it’s those people who are judgemental and are really hard on themselves. It’s a reflection of their fear that they can’t do something that’s just purely for themselves.
That’s what I’m doing. Those that understand it are ready to move on in their lives and those that don’t aren’t ready yet.
Whakaio Taahi: I think the biggest realisation we had was that not everyone is going to like us. As soon as we accepted that for ourselves we just said ‘You know what? We’re just going to do what we love and be who we are and be champions for the people that need to do that for themselves.’
It creates a stronger bond with the people that respond to it better as well.
You realise that these people that are giving you negative thoughts and negative vibes are just giving a reflection of their own insecurities. Instead of hating them for that or being put down by that is to develop compassion for that. It’s difficult, but as soon as you realise all that it’s kind of like water off a ducks back.
It’s like you have a shield now, you have a flame in your head that no one can burn out because you’re doing what you should be doing on this earth.
I think sometimes the media weaves us into an unnatural path.
J: You can tell when something isn’t genuine and that’s the reason some people love these big bands/models/artists and I can’t relate because I just don’t see it being real.
W: It’s comes down to things like our food too. Our food is so different to what it should be, there’s so many additives that make us feel a certain way that’s not healthy. But it takes all of that to get us to break out of it. It is force and reaction. That’s what we’re feeling like, we feel like we’ve had enough.
Well it looks like liberation. Having seen you a number of years ago and the gulf between what you were doing then and what you’re doing now especially with ‘Limitless’, which is a record that’s not your usual sound. Was it fuelled through these feelings and emotions?
Yeah, I think the biggest inspiration was starting to accept what came naturally to us as the right thing and to stop ignoring our intuition. That’s why I feel like I’ve come into myself so much more because of that notion and trusting my gut feeling.
Is it difficult to do that?
J: Of course, you don’t have any experience of it. You don’t recognise yourself anymore because you’re doing new things but they excite you so it feels right. You don’t have any muscle memory of these feelings.
W: There’s no golden walkway that you’re supposed to be stepping upon.
J: That was the mentality that lead us to song writing in a way that was to accept what came naturally to us and stop saying ‘save it for another band or project’. These were conversations that limited us from pursuing songs that could really be great. That’s what I really fought for when we were writing these songs. It’s new and surreal but it’s natural. I don’t regret anything we’ve done in the past but it felt as though I couldn’t control anything beyond that point.
Were there too many voices?
J: There were a few, yeah. But ours were the loudest. It was really about changing the language in our heads. I always give people the advice that you shouldn’t block out the voice in your head or don’t listen to it. Look at the language it’s using. If you’re saying something negative to yourself then you have to develop a way to spin that and change the perspective.
W: These feelings never go away. There might be negative, there might be positive but you’ve got to address them or you become sick. This comes because you cannot push down the true voice in your head. This is the first time we really addressed it and listened to it and this [Limiteless] is what came of it.
It really sounds like rehabilitation…
W: Yeah, we’re really starting to feel like different people.
J: It was one thing to write, record and release it but to tour it is to live your philosophy. There’s something about putting it into practice that is more rewarding than having written about it.
I always say that healing doesn’t feel good and an open wound is really painful. Healing has this connotation that it’s this beautiful and liberating thing and it is but not until it’s done. That’s when you get to enjoy it. Self-progression and improvement never ends and out here on tour the circle never keeps turning.
You took this to another level on Warped Tour with your spiritual workshops. Tell us about that.
J: It kind of became something more for us because every day was so different. We had different kids every day and we called it ‘Limitless Discussion’.
The Entertainment Institute gives you this opportunity to have 40 minutes with a class of your fans and people do all sorts of different things but we realised the thing that connects us with our fans is our message. Our message is self-empowerment, so why not talk about the things we believe in for 40 minutes rather than shove song writing down their throats.
It was really therapeutic for us too to talk about where we come from and our philosophies on fear and happiness and again saying that everyday lets it become part of your physical being
W: I think for us it was realising that this album was more than just music. This is really a lifestyle for us and a way for our fans to live. For them to be their true self no matter how hard it is.
We’ve never been a band to be like ‘it’s ok’. It’s not us doing it, it’s you. So that when you get there it’s you who gets the pat on the back.
J: Exactly, our friendship is based on saying ’What are you gonna do about it?’
W: It’s about knowing you always have a choice.
Instead of ‘fake it till you make it’, we say ‘manifest it till you make it’.
Tell yourself everyday you’ll get better and you will get better because the most powerful thing is your own voice. It’s the loudest thing in this world.
J: From my own experience, experiencing depression is resisting your natural state. Anytime I think back to feeling depressed, I always wished I was somewhere else or at a different stage in my life or different physical place or state of being. If you want something you have to take action on it.
The universe doesn’t realise intention it realises action. We can’t wait for opportunity, we have to create opportunity. We can’t wait for someone to support us, we have to support ourselves.
In the same way you can’t love someone else until you learn to love yourself. You have to create an ecosystem for happiness to thrive in. If you don’t know your life purpose just follow the things that get you excited because that’ll give you a pretty good indication.
Ok, One final question: The world’s music has been forgotten because the Men in Black have neuralised the world. Including your band you each have to select an artist/musician/band to recreate music for the entire world.
J: Odessa – It’s like uplifting electronic music and I find it really peaceful, beautiful and liberating and just feels like connecting with yourself.
Alanniss Morrisette – I think she’s an angel from another planet with an amazingly uplifting and spiritual message and she seems to be a pure human being that is flawed but totally honest and real.
The two of those together would be amazing for mankind.
W: Coldplay – That band has such a way of making you feel whatever you need to feel. It’s magical, if music was like a magic vibration then that’s the sound of it. They just have a vivid image that comes along with their music.
The Script – No one has ever really described love in the way they have.
Those two bands are what the world needs!
Interview: Will Paddison
Photography – © Danny Peart Photography