Tonight Alive find themselves in their audience. From introducing their new album face to face to fans in record stores across North America to their heart-filling blitz across the UK, the first few weeks of ‘Underworld’ existing in the world have been “a really beautiful connective experience with our fans,” beams Jenna.
“I’ve had a lot of people come up and say, ‘I really needed something like this to come along at this time’,” adds Jake. “To know that we’re helping people by releasing music, which we love doing, is amazing.”
“The byproduct of your self-expression helps other people, and that’s really epic,” continues Jen. “It’s not even been a year since ‘Temple’ was written. That knocks my hair off. ‘Temple’ was written in May. So was ‘Just For Now’, and ‘Disappear’, ‘In My Dreams’, ‘The Other’. All those songs were written in May last year in Nashville, they’re not even a year old, and people are in love with them and so am I. I’m still living the thread of the story that you hear on the album. It’s not finished,” she promises. “The cord has not been cut.”
Since letting people into ‘Underworld’, perspective of the songs has changed. “I was hoping but didn’t really expect people to say that ‘The Other’ has that Tonight Alive cult fanbase feeling,” explains Jen. “I did want to represent outcasts in that song. I always imagined filling out a form and it says male, female or other but you don’t feel like you can tick the boxes that are there, ‘cos you are an alternative. You are the other. I relate to that as well. It brings people together just being able to relate to the fact that you feel like an outcast. That’s what the punk scene is. It’s nice that we can contribute to that story.” Elsewhere “‘For You’ is “an interesting one,” she says. “We’re asked is ‘For You’ dedicated to your fans but it’s a love song.”
“That’s so cool,” grins Jake, as Jen agrees, reciting lyrics: “I’m not afraid to make mistakes. You never asked me to change. Whenever I’m in doubt, you put the fire out. That’s so true. Our fans are always looking out for us. It’s a song about unconditional love for a partner and the way that whatever they do can make you feel like anything is possible. It’s pretty cool that people interpreted that as a tribute to our fans. I might just introduce it as that now.”
The band have been non-stop since the release of ‘Underworld’ and there’s no sign of them slowing down. There’s an Australian headline tour, another trip around America with Warped and then hopefully they’ll be back in the UK for festival season.
“We’re not slowing down,” promises Jen. “We’ve talked about it as well, do we need a break? Last year was hectic, even though we weren’t touring, it was a fucking huge year so do we need a break? Do we all need to get some headspace? But we did just put a record out. Do you put a record out and take a break? We’ve got to keep the momentum up. It’s really cool though; mental health has become a big topic in the band now. It’s something we’re all paying attention to a lot more and noticing in ourselves and each other. We now have a crew that is sensitive and accommodating to that. There’s no self-sacrificing bullshit. If you’re not well or you don’t feel up to something, you don’t do it. You need a hotel room because you’re feeling super anxious and you can’t be around people right now, have the hotel room. That’s something we neglected for a long time.
“Before, we’d just sweep it under the rug and push through it until we got home,” continues Jake. “Touring is an incredible lifestyle. It’s gruelling, it’s awesome, and we love it, but at the same time, it can really get to you. I feel like with everything we’ve gone through in the past year or so, why not talk about it?”
“It’s about fucking time,” grins Jen. “It’s nuts being best friends and having known each other for more than ten years. Why aren’t we talking about the real shit? It’s because it’s a little bit too close for comfort sometimes. It’s cool to feel heard and to feel understood and that’s the cool thing about coming into adulthood. Some people might never reach that level of transparency and vulnerability and realise that that is a strength in relationships.
“It’s easy to admit weaknesses to a stranger because you never have to see them again. When you do it to friends or with people you live with for eight months of the year, it’s not like you can just say something and it goes away; you have to keep addressing it. If any of us had problems on the last tour we did, we spoke about it and then a couple of days later, we’d be having a beer and ask what’s happening now.”
And that new mindset of transparency is matched by the new songs. “It’s cool to see Jen come into her own onstage,” says Jake. “I feel like you blossom in those songs, or bloom if I’m going to quote a lyric.”
“I feel like that too,” replies Jen. “I feel more myself in the new stuff than I do when we play the old songs. We were in Philly, and I noticed I was doing the same moves and the same spiel that I’ve done for maybe 6 or 7 years now. I realised I need to change this shit up. It has been an intention of mine to go onstage and not do anything that’s choreographed or that I’ve done before. That’s super hard to do.”
“I used to be quite precious about myself,” she continues. “I was always afraid that if I did anything too far out, or even something that I thought was cool, there was a chance it would be judged and be made fun of for it. That’s always on my mind. I’ve changed my performance style a lot since writing the new record and doing the ‘Temple’ music video, that was the first time I used my body the way that I did. I couldn’t walk the next day, but I’m trying to do this thing of returning to the child. Trying to go back to the childlike mind that’s not afraid of judgment, that doesn’t have awareness of judgment because it shouldn’t exist.
“I said something last night onstage that surprised me. I am quite rehearsed in what I like to say, especially if it’s a gap in a song. Right before the bridge in ‘What Are You So Scared Of, I said: ‘Say this like you’re looking in the mirror’, and then I went on to sing ‘I used to be scared, I used to be like you’. Where the fuck did that come from? The songs have changed their meaning in that way. Having played them enough and believed in them enough, we’ve let the songs change us as people. ‘Human Interaction’ is a song that’s changed me. ‘I will be better’. I didn’t say that before the song was written, it came with the song and you create a muscle memory. They’re very intentional lyrics. The songs do evolve and help us evolve.”
“It’s funny you say that about ‘Human’ because when I was learning all the new lead parts, I wasn’t feeling, as a guitarist, that I was there yet,” ponders Jake. “I said it a couple of times to myself. ‘I will be better’. Going into lead guitar was a very confronting experience for me. I’d be sat there listening to something like ‘Just For Now’ over and over thinking what the fuck was [recently departed band member] Whak doing here? How did he play this? I know I could just message him and ask, but that’s lazy. It’s been a real growing experience, and now I’ve had time to get a couple of shows under my belt, it’s great. It’s fun using your own band’s stuff to get you through,” he smiles.
Tonight Alive shows and the meaning behind them have been “enhanced”, by ‘Underworld. “It’s gone deeper, and it’s gone higher, I don’t know why those two things seem to go together, but I get that natural high from going deeper into the source of something, that’s what I’m feeling right now. It’s such an emotional experience at our shows. I felt like a proud mother last night; I had a smile on my face that is very maternal. I was looking at the crowd and feeling how safe and comfortable everyone felt and involved and engaged and united. I could feel it and see it; there’s no violence at our shows.
“That was something I really struggled with on the Silverstein tour, the violence. The aggression, the pits. When you have a pit at a Tonight Alive show, everyone is smiling and jumping and pushing, but enjoying it so much. It’s so loving. I call it a dance pit; it’s not a mosh pit really. We do have fans that create a tour out of our tours. They’ve created their own community that I feel is almost nothing to do with us, it’s just our music is the soundtrack to what they’re experiencing in their lives. They come together through the music, but that’s totally their creation. I feel a small part of something big.”