Tonight Alive are going to change the world,” starts Whakaio Taahi. “Everyone who leaves one of our shows is going to walk away and live a positive life.” After the longest break in Tonight Alive’s eight-year history, Jenna McDougall, Cam Adler, Matt Best, Jake Hardy and Whakaio are back with third album ‘Limitless’. Bold, daring and provocative, it sees the band put their positivity front and centre. In a few hours they’ll take to the stage of Barcelona’s Sala Apolo for the second date of a world tour (and somehow, their first show in the city). Halfway through the show Jenna McDougall asks the audience to put their phones away so she can speak to them directly. “You always have a say,” she tells the room. “Say it with me, ‘I always have a say’,” and the crowd follows her lead. It’s moving stuff. Leaning down to someone in the front row, Jenna asks for the Spanish translation to make sure everyone gets the message and before she’s had a chance to stand back up, the entire room is chanting “Siempre tengo algo quei decir.”
From their scrappy debut EP that offered ‘All Shapes & Disguises’, through the buoyant cry of ‘What Are You So Scared Of?’, and out ‘The Other Side’, Tonight Alive have always come loaded with reassuring messages of hope. However, it’s on ‘Limitless’ that they finally cut the ties of everything holding them back.
“I just want people to fucking hear it,” explains Whakaio from their dressing room. “I want people to understand what we’re trying to do.” Lifted from the album, there’s a worry the singles don’t make sense yet because of how removed they are from people’s expectations. “That’s frustrating and I’m an impatient person anyway,” he ventures. “I think people will understand when they have the whole album. We were very finished with ‘The Other Side’. We were very finished with what the band was at the time so this has been a complete rebirth of us, of what we want to do as people and as what we want Tonight Alive to stand for. It’s such a progression.”
The band didn’t set out with a rebirth in mind though. Work began on their third album pretty much as soon as ‘The Other Side’ was recorded so within a month of that touring cycle winding down, Jenna and Whakaio went to a cabin just north of Sydney. They wrote fourteen songs they believed would be their new album and when they showed the rest of the band, everyone agreed “this is great.” They showed the “really punk rock” record to one of their team and the question was raised, “this is really good, but do you just want to do the same thing again?” “Jenna and I just looked at each other. Fuck.”
This sent Jenna and Whakaio “on this two year journey” that saw the pair engaged in numerous writing sessions. “We started to broaden our horizons. Jenna and I write everything together and if we don’t get an outside view, we’re just going to keep doing the same thing. How else do you learn?” They went in with the approach that “maybe we won’t use this song but maybe we’ll learn something from this person. When we would write together after a trip, we’d always write an awesome song.”
“We got angry, but we got angry in-between ‘The Other Side’ and ‘Limitless’. We got angry on those songs that never made it onto the record,” explains Jenna. “There’s a heap of lyrics that I had to write. I went through my own self-therapy with things I was pissed off about.” Listing the music industry, business fuck-ups and the world at large, Jenna was left with a choice. “Am I going to write about that and put that negative energy out into the world or not? I don’t want to live like that. I wanted to write a Rage Against The Machine album with Alanis Morissette vocals and that would have easily made me so happy, but that wasn’t the path for the band.”
It’s not a new perspective that’s given Tonight Alive this new direction. It’s the five-piece giving in to themselves. “The reason it’s different is because we’re being true to ourselves. Let’s stop being afraid of everything we were writing, because we wrote heaps of stuff that didn’t make sense at the start,” starts Jenna, before Whakaio adds, “We’ve always written songs that have been discarded because it wasn’t Tonight Alive. There were songs for ‘What Are You So Scared Of?’ and even the first EP that were left because we said ’this isn’t Tonight Alive’.”
“Who are we to say what Tonight Alive is and who are our fans to say that,” reasons Jenna. “It is what it is and we have to stop controlling that. We have to forget the word control even exists because you don’t have control. Just let it be what it will be. In a lot of ways we wrote the record, but it also wrote itself. It was almost like this being that resisted every time we tried to say no or yes. The record made the rules, we didn’t.”
This excerpt is taken from Tonight Alive’s cover feature for March’s Upset. To read the full thing, pre-order a copy now.