At its heart, ‘Underworld’ is Tonight Alive letting their love of music bleed into their songs again, even if the journey to get there was painful.
Full of unique melodies, heavy hitting rock sounds and the undeniable vocal magic of singer Jenna McDougall, this album marks a turning point for the band both sonically and personally.
Since 2008, from the outside it seemed like Tonight Alive were living every band’s dream: they were signed to a major label, released a trio of successful albums – including two ARIA Top 10 hits – and years of relentless touring saw the Sydney-siders become a force on the global music scene.
Behind the curtain, it was a completely different story for the now four-piece, comprising of Jenny McDougall, rhythm guitarist Jake Hardy, bassist Cameron Adler and drummer Matty Best. Coming into their third record with peak success the #1 goal, the pressure was on for Tonight Alive to create a big record with that ever-elusive radio hit.
As a body of work, Underworld is a pure expression of who Tonight Alive are at this point in their lives.
An emotional journey of the underworld we all have within us, the band artfully blended their last four albums and channeled them into a clear sound with a renewed focus on driving heavy guitars and drums with honest lyrics that see McDougall dissect her darkness to get a deeper understanding of who she really is.
Songs like Temple and Disappear – featuring guest vocals from Lynn Gunn (PVRIS) – wrestle with pain and the sickness that follows, while For You and Crack My Heart sees McDougall sing about love for the first time in some years.
The album culminates in McDougall finding peace in My Underworld, a stirring duet featuring Slipknot / Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor.
Over the following email interview with Tonight Alive, who are currently on the road touring the U.S. with Silverstein, Jenna McDougall spills on the story of “Underworld” and music matters close to her heart.
POPSPOKEN: What is the story behind the album art for your new album “Underworld”? Is it a belly button?
Jenna McDougall: It is. I think the bellybutton is one of the most sacred parts of the body. It’s where life comes from, it’s the source of your existence to some extent. So I wanted to draw attention to that part of (especially the female) body where behind it you find the womb, which I think in some ways represents the underworld, being a spiritual realm where the shadow self resides.
The shadow self is all the parts of you that are wounded and have been rejected and abandoned throughout your life. So returning to that space to confront and discover yourself and ultimately do your healing is a crucial part of coming into yourself and in my case, coming into my womanhood.
The petals represent new life coming from within, the V shaped rip through the picture is there for feminine symbolism, and finally the white T-shirt and black pants on either side of the photo represent light and dark, book ending the whole journey.
Why is “Underworld” a special album for Tonight Alive? What’s the significance?
Jenna McDougall: Underworld is our fourth record, so in a way at this point it feels like the “fully realised Tonight Alive”. It’s also the first record we’ve released since signing to new record labels UNFD and Hopeless, which had a huge impact on our creative process.
This is the first time we’ve ever gone into making a record and our team has said “do whatever the hell you want” and I feel that that’s when my best and most pure expression happens.
You guys are currently on tour with Silverstein in the US – What is Tonight Alive’s relationship with Silverstein like?
Jenna McDougall: This is the first time we’ve ever toured together, but having met briefly a few years ago when we played an off day show together the guys seemed awesome! They’re unreal live and there’s a really good energy behind the scenes.
You guys came to Singapore for Shut Up and Listen in 2013 together with Anberlin and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, what’s something memorable about that show in Singapore for you?
Jenna McDougall: It was a big deal to us at the time playing with Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. We were such huge fans of the record in high school and our drummer Matty was especially influenced by them.
It was some time ago now but all I strongly remember is that the fans and people were beautiful, super supportive, positive and accommodating! I hope we come back again soon!
If you could choose one problem to solve in the punk rock industry today, what would it be? How would you go about solving it?
Jenna McDougall: I think this “problem” really comes from a bigger picture but I would like to see boys and men feeling comfortable and safe to express themselves more freely, honestly and vulnerably.
Ultimately the suppression of women’s expression comes from the wounded masculine and more than anything I feel for men as that was never fostered or encouraged for them.
That’s a big reason why we get the dominant masculine energy in the rock scene which can be expressed through anger and aggression.
I would like to see men and women, boys and girls empowering each other, being less divided, spending more time understanding each other’s struggles and ultimately creating a more equal, safe, harmonious environment.
Has the songwriting process of Tonight Alive changed a lot over the years? How does the band dynamics like in writing a song?
Jenna McDougall: In the past we have written our records between home and the road, sometimes making demos on the bus or in hotel rooms. It was quite disjointed and spanned over a long period of time.
For Underworld, Whakaio and I made a studio space at my house and spent every day for three months writing and making demos.
I think we did some of our best work in that space and routine because the intention was really clear and focused. It also gave us a real family of songs rather than orphan songs spread out over two years.
What is usually the inspiration behind the music you create?
Jenna McDougall: My lyrics are my inner dialogue and in recent years we’ve moved away from the pop-punk branding to “Conscious Rock” as the message of self-empowerment and higher consciousness has amplified in our music!
How would you like Tonight Alive to be remembered?
Jenna McDougall: Authentic music, people and purpose.
For some reason this photo makes me feel 25. And I like the feeling. My birthday last year took me by the shoulders and said "This is your life. You're in it." And ever since then I've been trying to shake off the distractions of everything I wish I had and everywhere I wish I was; to just be present and to trust what the universe is offering me. Practicing this involved releasing my clinging to any expectations and becoming more flexible with "the unexpected outcome". The best thing I heard recently was "Live life as if everything is rigged in your favour" – Rumi. It's all happening for you, not to you 💫 Trust 📷 @jordan_kelsey_knight
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