Jenna McDougall: "I’m Not Afraid Anymore"
Talking positivity, rule-breaking and channelling alien beings with Tonight Alive frontwoman Jenna McDougall as the band prepares to drop their new album Limitless...MTV: Your new single 'Drive' is ridiculously catchy, it makes us dance about. Your moves in the video are pretty impressive; what songs do you dance to in the privacy of your own home?
Jenna: "I love Shakira, Ricky Martin – I love ‘She Bangs!’ That video, where they are in the club underwater with mermaids, how cool is that?! I love to dance, although I used to be quite afraid of dancing. It’s an expressive thing to do and you have to have confidence, I never had that before. Writing this record, there were so many situations where I had to overcome my fear of being expressive and being myself. So now a lot of things have come out in my personality, now that I’m not afraid!"
The feeling we get from the new album is that you are pushing back hard on negative influences; can you tell us specifically what they are and why?
"My whole life I’ve been hypersensitive to judgement and other people’s perception of me. That judgement was something I was really conscious of all the way through high school. It stuck with me and the position I’m in now means being constantly open to people scrutinising me. But I think we are born to overcome what we are afraid of and realising that really helped me to become a woman. More than just ‘growing up’, it helped me embrace myself."
You project a lot of great positive vibes – where do they come from? What makes you feel positive?
"I totally believe in vibes, haha! When I met Cameron [Adler, bassist in Tonight Alive], he became my best friend in two weeks. The best thing about our friendship is that he never felt sorry for me – that sounds weird, but as a 14-year-old I was highly emotional. Every time I came to him with a ‘problem’ he would always just say ‘Ok, so what are you going to do about it?’"
"Totally! He real-talked me. That’s the way I learned to handle things: ‘what am I going to do to change this situation?’ You can’t change the things that happen to you, but you can change how you react to them. Positivity is a choice – you can be a naturally positive person, which I might be, although I can just as easily go into a dark place. But positivity is within our control."
That’s a really inspiring message. Tonight Alive fans often talk about how much they rely on you as a band to help them feel motivated and happy; how does that make you feel?
"Even more than the music, the connection we have with our fans is completely founded on the type of people we are. Tonight Alive has never belonged to a scene or a sound; as much as people call us a pop punk band, we were never about that. I never felt like we belonged on tour with pop punk bands, we never had a trendy sound or look. Everything Tonight Alive has done has been built on our relationship with our fans, because of our message. I love that they take that on and make that a part of their lives."
On your recent Australia tour, what was it like meeting up with fans who have been there from the start?
"Awesome. Some of our oldest fans recently made a video of this tour, it was so good. I always recognise people in the crowd; we just played in Sydney and I saw a guy who is now in his mid-twenties, but when I first met him, years ago, we were supporting Short Stack and it was one of the biggest shows we’d ever played. He was the first fan who cried in front of me, which was a really bizarre experience – I was 17! - but it happens more often now! It was amazing to see him at this recent Sydney show, a grown man."
Was he crying this time?
"No, no tears! Our fans are really cool, we meet them in three stages of their lives. Maybe when they are going through a hard time, and they need our music the most, and then when they are self-healing, and finally when they have grown into totally reborn, different people! That’s not due to Tonight Alive, but I love the fact that we get to see them in those different stages. The fact that they include us in that is awesome."
Your loyal fans have noticed that you’ve chucked out the genre rule book with this new record and are about to tour with another great band, Set it Off, who defy categorisation. So many bands are disregarding the idea of who’s allowed to play with pop, with hip hop, with electronica – why is that?
"It’s the right time! It’s really necessary right now for people to stop following the rules and doing what people expect them to do. That created a cookie-cutter generation of bands. However, everyone of this age group is inspired by the 90s and early 2000s and those were such experimental times."
There’s such a huge melting pot of inspiration available, which is making music a lot more interesting.
"I love the term ‘melting pot’ because it always makes me think of fondue!"
[Jenna and MTV go off on a totally separate chat about how to cope with not eating cheese when you are a vegan.]
How Does it Feel?
You just worked with the legendary David Bendeth (who has produced Bring Me The Horizon, Paramore, All Time Low, A Day To Remember etc.) He has a reputation for pushing bands to the max – how did he challenge you personally?
"He challenged me personally even more than musically. David wanted us to see potential at a greater level. He would put on videos of Beyoncé, Ellie Goulding, Sia, huge female artists, and I couldn’t see what the hell they had to do with me – I don’t want to be a popstar! But he explained it was about the powerful presence they have. These women are so important, not just because of the music they make."
As the frontwoman, and lyricist, you must be the primary target for any producer?
"In the studio he was actually grinding the guys more than me! He never got involved in my artistry, he respected it, and created a really safe space where I could experiment. We had a really close relationship; he respected me as a person more than anyone ever has, as a woman and as a singer – he believed in me. Our relationship had a lot to do with why I performed the way I did on the record and why it became what it is. He (and we) wanted to make something that would last forever."
We know how much you love late 90s/early 2000s music but what other stuff from that time inspires you?
"Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You: I watched those movies over and over all through high school. I love Kat Stratford and how Julia Stiles plays her. Her attitude, the way she dressed, how she didn’t take sh*t from anyone; she wasn’t fazed by high school. She was intelligent and someone I really looked up to. Plus she loved music so I felt like we had a lot in common! And the fashion in Clueless – not Cher and Dionne, although they look great - all the guys with their funky pants and tie dye. I never thought that I could experiment like that until this past year, which I’ve really enjoyed."
Kudos to you for trying out whatever you want and ignoring what people say.
"Thank you, it feels natural. We all grow out of things but not everyone has an audience commenting every time they change their hair or clothes. It’s an unusual situation, but one that actually gives me confidence to do things that make people question my choices!"
The Edge (From "The Amazing Spider-Man 2")
Where do you find yourself hanging out online?
"I’m a Tumblr fiend, I can scroll the dashboard forever and occasionally look back on my own blog, at all the random things I have collected. I love nature pictures, strange quotes and gifs. I also follow The Mind Unleashed on Facebook, and on YouTube I watch this guy called Bashar – I found him after watching a video on ‘channelling’, which is where you can channel a higher consciousness or even another being. So I looked it up, and found Bashar. This is kind of out there, but the concept is that this person making the videos is channelling Bashar from another planet, from the future. It doesn’t even matter if that isn’t true, because what he says will bend your mind and open you up to different perspectives. His theories and advice are so cool. I also just love getting lost on silly video rampages! It’s not all heavy!"
Does that tie in with why you decided to call your fans ‘Humans’?
"Yeah! I hate fanbase names that are derogatory towards the fans. I wanted to call the Tonight Alive fans humans; the first single we put out from Limitless was ‘Human Interaction’ and sometimes on Twitter I’ll say ‘hey humans!’ instead of ‘hey guys’. I want our fans to feel appreciated and respected by us. I’m really proud of that name and it’s starting to catch on."
Limitless by Tonight Alive is out on 4 March. Catch them on the upcoming UK tour dates:
18 February: O2 Forum Kentish Town, London
19 February: O2 Ritz, Manchester
20 February: Newcastle University, Newcastle
21 February: O2 ABC Glasgow, Glasgow
23 February: Portsmouth Pyramids Centre, Portsmouth
24 February: O2 Academy Bristol, Bristol
26 February: O2 Institute, Birmingham
By Georgina Langford-Biss
2006 Was One Of The Greatest Years For Music & Here's The Proof
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