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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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July 2010 - January 2013
Tonight Alive Reaches A New Level, Rocks With A Superhero
Wednesday, April 09, 2014

For Australian pop punk outfit Tonight Alive, who have been together since 2008, the past three years have been a non-stop whirlwind. It’s a whirlwind they’re still in, and it’s one they’re enjoying greatly.

With two albums released in the US during that time (What Are You So Scared Of?, The Other Side), numerous tours, and an embracing of the punk side of pop punk, Tonight Alive have carved out a place for themselves as one of the preeminent rock bands in the world today.

Currently on tour with Taking Back Sunday and The Used, and with a song on the upcoming Spiderman 2 soundtrack, Tonight Alive are primed to not just take the next step in their career, but to take a gigantic leap into “household name” territory.

In-between shows on their current tour, I caught up with Tonight Alive singer Jenna McDougall to find out more about the incredible ride the band has been on, and their ongoing message of self-empowerment, and personal strength.

Adam Bernard: You are currently on tour. It seems like you are always on tour.

Jenna McDougall: 95% of the year. {laughs}

Adam Bernard: I’ve read that some artists, after touring for years on end, don’t know what to do with themselves when they’re at home. Do you have that problem?

Jenna McDougall: Yeah, that’s so true. You get into this routine and sort of adapt to a completely contrasting lifestyle to what it’s like at home, and you get into a groove with it, and it becomes normal, and it becomes the reality, so every time you go home it’s funny, because it’s like a holiday to be home. You almost just don’t know what to do with all the time. We just had a great summer break. We had two months at home. It was an opportunity to rejuvenate, and kind of refresh, and reset for the upcoming year. At the same time we were quite productive. We wrote towards the new record. It’s different every time.

Adam Bernard: You said that being at home is like a holiday. Do you end up finding joy in some of the things that people who don’t tour for a living kind of hate, like grocery shopping, and doing the laundry?

Jenna McDougall: Exactly. That’s dead on. Every time I go home I love going for a really good grocery shop and getting all the fresh produce, and hanging out with my mom, and walking my dog, and even hanging out the washing because I live in Sydney and it’s always beautiful weather, so it’s like my garden is really green, and the sun’s out, and it’s just perfect. You take a lot of joy in really really simple things when you don’t get to do them every day.

Adam Bernard: Tell me about something you take with you to remind you of home while you’re on tour.

Jenna McDougall: I’m quite a sentimental person, but I actually don’t have something that does that for me. I guess just little things, like the moisturizer that I use would be just like my mom’s, or I always bring body wash from home so I still smell like home {laughs}. Just little things like that. There’s not necessarily like an object, or something.

Adam Bernard: There is a smell of home?

Jenna McDougall: Yeah, definitely. A while back my mom was actually sending with me fabric softener that she uses. It’s funny. It sounds so lame. Every time we would do washing, which was probably every 7-10 days, I would be using this stuff that my mom sent with me and it just smelled exactly like my bed sheets at home. I sound like such a baby talking about it right now! {laughs}

Adam Bernard: Nah, you’re all good. Changing topics, your latest album, The Other Side, came out last year, and did really well. Now you have a song, titled “The Edge,” on a fairly prominent movie soundtrack. How’d you land on the Spiderman 2 soundtrack?

Jenna McDougall: Spiderman is a Sony Pictures movie and we are signed to Sony in Australia, and worldwide, including America. We were on tour last year for The Other Side, and we were actually in America when I got a phone call from someone back home at Sony Australia saying Sony Pictures are looking for a song for the Spiderman 2 soundtrack, and what their kind of guidelines for what they’re looking for was a female fronted rock band, dark, driving music, and not a ballad. It just kind of fit our description perfectly. That must have been in November of last year, so when we got home we got a little bit of the background on the synopsis of the movie, and we kind of wrote it from there. It took a few weeks to come together, but it was quite a natural progression with that song. It was really nice to write with a storyline in mind rather than from personal experience because it’s kind of less... you’re less connected to it, so I guess you can get into a character a little bit more than usual, which is really fun.

Adam Bernard: Obviously, Spiderman is a legendary comic book superhero. If you were a comic book superhero, what would you want your powers to be?

Jenna McDougall: Oh my gosh. Maybe to change a state of mind. Maybe have an influential power where you could take someone’s rage away from them, or pain away from them, and you can put them in a different state of mind.

Adam Bernard: One power you’ve expressed in your music is that of self-empowerment, and personal strength. Was there a specific incident in your life that inspired you to make this your statement?

Jenna McDougall: That's an awesome question. I think I just always kind of had a complex about not being cool, or not fitting in, and was always liking things that were different to what everyone else liked at the time. Even when I was ten years old my dad would always play rock and roll music at the house, or in the car, in the garage, or on camping trips, so it was just what I was around, so it’s just what I enjoyed. At school everyone kind of made fun of me because I didn’t like the same music as them. They were like, “Why are you listening to old people music?” So even from a young age, if you’re a little bit on the outside, and that's really not a dramatic issue to have, but I think something I had to carry with myself is to have confidence in myself without having gained it from somebody else. When I became friends with Cameron (Adler) and Whakaio (Taahi) when I was about 14, and 15, they just had these completely different attitudes to me, where when I would come to them as a friend that needed comforting, they weren’t the type of friends that kind of patted you on the back and said “poor you,” they kind of had a little bit more of a realist attitude towards things, and I guess that rubbed off on me a lot. (Everything was) about self-worth, and making things happen on your own, and not looking for answers in other people.

Adam Bernard: Why do you feel it’s important for a woman to have a stance like this, and be voicing this kind of sentiment?

Jenna McDougall: I think it’s important for anyone to carry that. I don’t necessarily think it makes a difference whether you’re a man or a woman, but I think something that is positive about being a woman with a message is you can connect with people in a different kind of communicative way, especially with a female audience, because we don’t really have many female leaders in the alternative rock music world at the moment, and not even in the pop music world. I guess you could say Beyonce, she kind of has that sort of powerful essence, and she’s kind of like a woman in control, and I really love that about her, but it’s so rare. Most women will just sexualize themselves, and cheapen themselves for the attention rather than having something worthwhile to say. In rock I think that it’s something that we’ve been sorely missing, and I hope that we see more of it in the future.

Adam Bernard: Knowing how you affect your fans, and how close of a relationship you have with them, do you have an especially memorable fan encounter that let you know your message is being heard, and it’s making a difference?

Jenna McDougall: It happens quite regularly, but the ones that stand out to me the most are when a fan is really well composed, and they kind of have this ability to shake your hand and sort of give you a little bit of their story and share how we have affected it. That’s when I am able to take it in the most. When people are really emotional, and crying, it’s a little too much to take in. Recently I remembered a girl from a show we played maybe four months ago, and I saw her again, I recognized her straight away. She wrote me a letter, and sometimes I don’t get to read every one of our letters, especially if you’re given twenty in one go, it’s really hard to keep track of who gave them to you, and what not, but she wrote me a letter, and it was amazing because she’s such a smiling, happy, person, and she has really positive energy, but to read about what her childhood was like, and how many things could have stood in her way of being a happy person, I was really inspired by that.

Adam Bernard: That’s awesome. Switching from inspiration to aggravation, as a band you spend a lot of time in a van, or a bus, together, so I have to assume you end up getting into the occasional disagreement. What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever gotten into an argument over as a band?

Jenna McDougall: We don’t really fight that much, but if anybody has a pretty bad habit, Matt (Best’s) bad habit is leaving things around. Our rule for the day is everyone puts their backpack in their bunk. Put your things away so the living area is clear for everyone to just hang out in. Matt has a habit of leaving shoes, and socks, and little bits and pieces of everything, and Whak has a bad habit of throwing people’s things out. It’s not that he’s malicious in it, it’s just that he’s kind of got an OCD part to his personality where he likes to throw things out and simplify. I guess some of the arguments I’ve had with Whak are definitely over looking for something I’ve lost because I left it out, but he threw it away without asking. That's kind of a common occurrence. Other than that we work really well together. It sounds really Brady Bunch, but just have a really good dynamic. We know when each other needs space, or when we need to be together. It just works.

Adam Bernard: If you have one person leaving socks around, and another person throwing things out, don’t you eventually have someone who’s run out of clothes fairly quickly?

Jenna McDougall: Absolutely. It’s funny, he can bring ten pairs of socks on a tour, and you know what, that’s sometimes all he needs, because sometimes you wash in the shower, or every 7-10 days we’ll do a load of washing, so ten socks should technically get you through a tour, but you’re always losing things, so you’re always having to restock.

Adam Bernard: You are in America, thousands of miles away from home, but you seem pretty at home here. What’s the most lost, or out of your element, you’ve felt in a foreign country?

Jenna McDougall: Aww. Poland was a country I felt very strange in. We got there and the sky was gray, and the language was so foreign. It’s not even like German where you can kind of fudge your way through it, and it’s something I learned in high school, or French, where there are things you can kind of adapt to, and learn quickly. I had no idea about their culture, their language, or anything. I felt really disconnected from it when I got there. It was very quiet, and it was really sad I didn’t really know anything about where I was, or what we were doing there. We played a show to about 30 people, and the fans were amazing. When I think about it, we don’t have a label there, we don’t have anybody pushing us there, so all the people that came to the show were people who’d heard of us through the internet, and they still had our album, so that blows our minds, but like I said, I felt very far away from home in Poland.

Adam Bernard: If you don’t have anybody pushing your music there how’d you end up booking a tour date in the middle of Poland?

Jenna McDougall: I’m not sure how we could end up in that position, but I guess there was a little bit of demand, and we just kind of tried to answer that. Fingers crossed it just keeps growing. It’s so funny, as I said, we played for 30 people that night. The next night I think we played for like 15. It was just nuts. That's like going right back to the year we started, like playing shows to no one. It’s almost just as challenging, if not more challenging, to play to 15 people than it is to 5,000. You completely have to change the game.

Adam Bernard: Finally, a lot of people view you as a rock star, so flipping the idea of what a rock star is on its head, tell me the most non-rock and roll thing about you. I know we’ve already talked about grocery shopping and detergent.

Jenna McDougall: {laughs} Oh my God, this whole interview has been so un-rock and roll of me. It's so funny. The most un-rock and roll thing... maybe that I do yoga every day, and I make smoothies in the morning, and I like pressing my own juice. That’s probably right up there.

Adam Bernard: So you’re a little bit of a health nut. That’s a good thing.

Jenna McDougall: Yeah, I’m a little bit of a closet hippie. I think I must have been (one) in another life, or something, or, alternatively, I’m just gonna grow into the biggest hippie ever as I get older, and have my own veggie patch, and really long hair, and stuff like that.

Adam Bernard: And you’ll learn how to play the sitar.

Jenna McDougall: Oh my God, I would love that. I would LOVE that. I’m gonna embarrass the shit outta my kids when they grow up. Well, when I have kids.

Adam Bernard: I was about to say, would you like to break a story right now?

Jenna McDougall: {laughs} No way. Not ready for that. Please no. I haven’t even thought about that. It’s far away.

Interview originally ran on Arena.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 2:30 PM  
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