“We were just teenagers when we started playing together in our parent’s garages in the Sydney suburbs,” smiles Tonight Alive frontwoman Jenna McDougall.
A little bit older and a whole world wiser, today Tonight Alive are a band brimming with energy onstage and off – bursting with stories from the road and with a lust for life that overflows into their lyrics, their music and their explosive live shows. Today they’re a family so close-knit that it seems almost unthinkable that there was a time when the band didn’t know each other, but as guitarist Jake Hardy explains it was a mutual passion for music that caused the members to gravitate towards each other through their local scene, and ultimately brought the band that we know today together:
“Myself and our bassist Cam [Adler] were in a band together when we were at high school, we were mostly covering tunes from other bands that we were into. Through mutual friends we met Whakaio and asked him to join the band on keys and guitar. That’s when we started getting more serious. We started writing our own songs but we still needed a committed vocalist and drummer.”
On the other side of town, Jenna McDougall was playing her own acoustic shows – inadvertently putting in the groundwork that would lead her to front Australia’s most exciting young band.
“Jenna asked me to help her record some of her acoustic demos,” explains Cam. “When we were done I said that my band didn’t have a singer and I gave her a demo of a song we’d written and asked her to record her vocals over it …and that was it!”
“We had our first practice the day before my birthday, on the May 31, 2008 grins Jenna, “'We booked our first show at 'Hypefest' for August that year under the name 'Tonight Alive'. Hype would later become the place we cut our teeth, developed our live show and was ultimately our doorway into the local Sydney scene.'
After the first year since Tonight Alive's inception, the band parted ways with their original drummer - at which point the lineup was completed by Matty Best who was originally travelling for four hours each way to practice. “We had one band practice with Matt. He was really tight and he already knew all the songs. That was the moment that we knew everything had clicked,” Jenna explains.
Still too young to hangout in bars, the band found themselves at the heart of their local music scene, finding their sound and playing songs that would go on to form the band’s first EP, All Shapes And Disguises.
“We saved all our money and took time off work to record and practice, “ says Cam. “Jenna was still at school at that point so it was difficult to find time, but we managed to get into the studio with Dave Petrovic who later went on to record our second album, The Other Side. We recorded that first and second EP's with him, (All Shapes And Disguises & Consider This), in 2010 and with his help we knew that we’d finally found our sound.”
The recordings began to generate a buzz that saw Tonight Alive picked up for a support slot on UK band Lost Prophets’ Australian tour, venturing out on the road properly for the first time. They were soon spotted by major labels and invited to perform at a showcase, during which, both Whak and Jake snapped a string in the first song.
“We thought it had gone horribly at first but we did our thing and smashed through and ultimately the label were really impressed! We signed a deal shortly after and immediately pushed to travel overseas to record our first album,” says Whak excitedly.
It was this drive to expand their horizons and to take their music outside of Australia that saw the band head to LA to record their first full-length album, What Are You So Scared Of? in 2011, working with Mark Trombino; producer to the likes of blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World.
“We were just out of high school, we were coming home after the studio every night and cooking and hanging out together in LA,” laughs Jenna. “It was our first real taste of freedom and we had an amazing time. It brought us all closer together and helped us to define our message as a band.”
That message, one of hope, positivity and determination, provided the backbone of What Are You So Scared Of? and lead their debut to be described by many fans as a life-saving record.
“A lot of people have said that we saved their lives and that our music got them through really difficult times,” explains Jenna passionately. “To be that band for people is amazing because it was music that got us through difficult times ourselves. The band's message is about not living in the fear of other people’s judgement, not being held back by other people’s opinions, about having self-worth. That’s something that’s carried over to our latest album too from a different perspective; there’s truly a silver lining to everything”
Initially touring across America in a van with no backseats on a rough’n’ready adventure-of-a-tour described by the band as “a right of passage”, Tonight Alive returned home and embarked on several extensive and consecutive Australian tours to support the album’s Australian release, and eventually draining even this most energetic of bands.
“By this point it felt like our feet hadn’t touched the ground,” says Jenna. “We were exhausted and burnt out by a year of solid touring. I had been really ill for about 9 months between mid 2011 and early 2012, spanning over 9 different tours both national and international. I was battling severe head-to-toe eczema, seeing handfuls of different doctors in between tours. So after Australia's Soundwave festival we made the decision to cancel all of our upcoming commitments to recover and insure the rest of 2012 would reach it's full potential.”
Battered almost to breaking point, the band took time to rejuvenate and catch their breath, but with What Are You So Scared Of? being released around the rest of the world, they soon found themselves back on the road – but this time refreshed and with a renewed fire inside them. Their rapidly expanding global fanbase saw Tonight Alive hit the shores of Asia, North America and Europe with the likes of Pierce The Veil, All Time Low, Yellowcard and Young Guns – embarking on the almost perpetual journey that still continues to this day, penning the tracks for album two, The Other Side, as they went.
“The first track that we wrote for The Other Side was Don't Wish in a hotel room in Jakarta, Indonesia while we were on tour in 2011. Every track on the album can be dated back to the tour it was written on as we were on the road consistently between the recording of our first full length at the end of 2010 to the recording of our second at the end of 2012." explains Jenna.
"After playing on the full Summer of the Vans Warped Tour 2012, trekking across Europe and The UK on a headline run and later supporting Pierce The Veil across America we decided after spending so much time away from home, that we would go back to Australia to record our second full length record The Other Side. We found a big house out in the bush at Coffs Harbour (7 hours north of Sydney) and set up our own studio there to record once again with Dave Petrovic.”
What the band emerged with is a definitive rock record – a bold advance that Jenna describes as having both “balls and bite”.
“It talks about challenges and experiences that we’ve never been through or understood before. I think we found our lyrical and musical direction and through that wrote a rockier and more confident What Are You So Scared Of?.”
With the new album finished the band feel rejuvenated and reborn once again. Armed with new material and a world’s worth of road experience, Tonight Alive are ready to continue their journey across the globe – one explosive show at a time – and look set to take their music farther and wider than ever before.
So has the adventure so far changed them? “Not a chance!” Jenna says.
“We’re more experienced and wider travelled, but even when we’re home we still hangout every day. We started as friends with a passion for music and in that regard nothing has changed. There’s no ego and no ulterior motives, we just love making music and I think that's why we have such a strong fanbase.
“We’ve travelled a long way but we’re still as passionate as ever. Tonight Alive are the strongest that we’ve ever been as a band because we’re the same five kids that set out on this journey – only now we’re even more in love with the music than ever before.”