After touring on their debut album, What Are You So Scared Of? , for a year-and-a-half, Australian pop-punk band Tonight Alive felt the need to>"/>
After touring on their debut album, What Are You So Scared Of?, for a year-and-a-half, Australian pop-punk band Tonight Alive felt the need to give fans a little something to hold them over until their second album is released later this year. Hence, "Breakdown," which they wrote and recorded with Good Charlotte's Benji Madden.
Lead singer Jenna McDougall talked with us about "Breakdown," the Australian music scene and the hazards of dyeing your hair while on the road before Tonight Alive plays El Corazon on March 20th.
SW: Where was the video for "Breakdown" shot?
We shot it in Sydney, in a suburb called Newtown. It was good to do it at home because a lot of our fans were able to be a part of the video. It was a lot of fun.
How did the collaboration with Benji Madden come about?
He has the same publisher as us and he was in town and the opportunity came up. It was something I could never have said "No" to because I'm a huge Good Charlotte fan. We sat down with Benji and wrote "Breakdown" in an afternoon ... then we asked him to sing on the song and he said, "No, no. Get Joel [Madden, Benji's brother and Good Charlotte lead singer] to do it; he's better than me." We were like "No way! You have to do it," so he did and he was really excited to be a part of it. He's a lovely, lovely guy. I can't say enough good things about him.
Do songs usually come together that quickly for you all?
Not that quickly. I think it was mostly because we had three minds put together--Whakaio [Taahi, Tonight Alive's lead guitarist], me and Benji. We went through a few ideas that afternoon and "Breakdown" was the last one. We were like, "OK, we've got something here," and we worked on it and recorded a demo. As we were coming up to record the real track, I had a look over the verses and [the lyrics you hear aren't] the original verses; they're a bit better. Sometimes you will get a whole song in a day but you'll improve on it later, but most of the time, for us, it comes together in pieces.
In the behind-the-scenes video for "Breakdown," you said the song was about, among other things, the challenges with long-distance relationships. How difficult is it to be away from your loved ones when you're on tour?
At times, it's really difficult, especially when you're just leaving or coming to the end of the tour; that's when it pinches the most. I love my family. I've got a really big family, and I have a beautiful dog at home [laughs] ... I think they've begun to understand and accept that this is how it's going to be for a little while, the full-on lifestyle where I'm home for maybe three or four days and then they have to drop me at the airport again. Especially with relationships, it was unbelievably difficult and our drummer is actually in a huge relationship and they're really happy but when I was in that situation, it was such a struggle to communicate and to keep each other happy when you're so far away so I guess it's all just a compromise of happiness and priorities.
On the flipside, what do you miss most about touring when you're at home?
I guess I do enjoy the simplicity of being on the road. It's not easy but the simplicity part is that you can wake up in the afternoon, like I just have [laughs]. You get yourself together, get ready for the show, play the show, eat dinner and then just drive. It sounds kind of boring when I put it like that but you're with your best friends every day. It's fun to make everything work. Like yesterday, we were driving and I had to dye my hair ... [and I was] trying to stand up in the shower where it's constantly trying to push you over because you're driving. There's little challenges like that every day that keep it interesting.
A Tonight Alive fan told me that talking with you at Warped Tour last year was one of the best experiences of her life. Can it be a bit overwhelming to hear something like that?
Wow. Yeah, sometimes people say that and all artists say "Thank you so much. That means a lot to me," and it does, but it's really hard to grasp the weight of that. It does mean a lot to you but I never expect it and think, "Wow, they actually mean that?" It's kind of mind-boggling to think people really let you into their life that much that you can affect them in a positive way and make a difference to them.
Sometimes I just have to put it into perspective and think "How did I feel about bands before I was in a band?" Or still, "How do I feel about Blink[-182]?" I watched Blink for the first time at Soundwave a couple of weeks ago, and I was so choked up, I couldn't even think. I didn't want to cry but it meant so much to me to be standing in front of that band and to be hearing the songs that I love so much. They were the soundtrack to my growing up. That was a huge deal to me, and I never put that in perspective enough that people could possibly feel that way about us. I don't feel like we've done enough to have affected people so much but if we have, there's nothing better in the whole world than that.
When did you start singing and playing music?
I started singing when I was really little, like five or six. Me and my cousins always did shows for our families. Whenever we would have a family dinner or something, we would pop-up from behind the couch and we used to do dance routines and use puppets and stuff like that. I never took it terribly seriously until late primary school. I was like "Maybe I can do something with this." I started doing singing lessons when I was 16. I started playing guitar when I was 10 and by age 12, I was writing songs and covering Avril [Lavigne] and Simple Plan [laughs]. I was always in choir, and I always did the school musicals.
I tried a few things though. I tried sports, I tried dance ... but the one thing that remained throughout all my high school was music, singing, guitar and songwriting so I guess it's always been a part of my life.
I started playing live when I was 15 so that's when I broke into the scene a little bit ... It was a place in Sydney. It was really cool; they put on all the local bands there, and that's where Tonight Alive started as well a couple of years later.
I was going to ask about the Australian music scene but it sounds like they're really supportive of newer bands.
It's tricky because it's nothing like the States; it's nothing like the U.K. Where we found that music is really understood [in America] and there are resources for everything and everyone here--magazines, newspapers, radio stations, all kinds of festivals and tours, and because the country's so big, you can tour it a lot. But in Australia, there are, like, six major cities that you want to play just to make it worthwhile and there's only so many venues and only so many people ... It's not easy there; I think you really have to pace yourself, but you also have to fan out.
The venues are difficult where you've got really small venues that are 200 to 500 capacity, and then it jumps to 1,000 capacity. Then the next jump is 3,000 so it's not something that caters to when you're on the climb up. Since radio is so mainstream in Australia, ... there wasn't really anywhere for a band like us to fit in. It's really tricky and you have to be really proactive and get out there, meet your fans, tour as much as you can. It's important that Australian bands really breakout and start touring internationally because that's when they get noticed in Australia. Unfortunately, that's what it takes a lot of the time. There's only so many times you can do the same circuit on a tour so you have to breakout and then come back so that's what we're doing at the moment.
Was it frustrating to work so hard to make a name for yourselves in Australia, only to have to, in a way, start from scratch in America?
I think we knew that that was how it was going to be. We had to accept that but the first two or three tours we did here in America were not entirely beneficial for us. We were opening for Forever the Sickest Kids and some shows were quite small but they weren't sold out either ... It was a lot of situations like that where we paid a lot of money to come overseas and do the tour. It was also really hard sometimes because we were in a van and then that night, we couldn't afford a hotel so you'd sleep in the van again. It was a really good tour for fun but it was small and it was hard and nobody knew us so we had to do that a couple of times before it really started to change. There's only a few frustrating moments in there but we knew that that's the kind of thing we had to do.
Looking back on the early stages of Tonight Alive to now, do you feel that the punk rock scene has become more accepting of female musicians or is it still a struggle to be taken seriously in a very male-heavy world?
Someone actually asked me something similar but they said "Do you think it's coming into fashion now and it wasn't before?" And I was like, "No, because they were always female-fronted bands around." It definitely was really hard at first for us because we get a lot of comparisons and people wouldn't take us seriously and it was pop music in the metal scene back home so yeah, there was definitely that element of not being taken seriously. The more we looked by that, the more we broke away from it and I think there's a lot of bands that are paving that way for other bands now as well so it's really cool to be a part of this, I guess you could call it a movement, in a way. A lot of girls saying, "I think it's so great what they're doing and it really inspires me to take it up because I've always wanted to but I didn't think I could," and I'm like "Of course you can!" It's kind of a liberating feeling, and it's also a sign of how now it's kind of male-dominated but I think it's definitely changing. I'm really happy to be a part of that.