Tonight Alive UnderworldTonight Alive vocalist Jenna McDougall answers our questions about the Sydney pop-punk act’s personal-demon-slaying fourth album, Underworld.

What was it that first prompted you to look closely at the ‘ugly’ feelings which informed the writing of this album, when you could have just kept squishing them down?

Essentially they were breaking out through my skin! In a literal sense I was suffering with chronic eczema, but the mirrors in my relationships were becoming clearer and I couldn’t escape my reflection anymore. My tongue was on fire, I was saying things and acting in ways I didn’t relate to or take pride in. I was really restless and dissatisfied and thankfully the peak of it all was when we took three months off to write the record. I say ‘thankfully’ because I can’t imagine the distress it would have caused on the road, but I guess I’d never had time to let the truth surface for me the way it did.

Were there any times at which you had to re-work something because it was too raw?

I didn’t reserve anything while we were writing. [Former guitarist] Whakaio [Taahi] and I knew it was important to offer something real to people, so that set the tone of safety for us both to make that offering. Of course there are songs that didn’t make it onto the record that tell other stories and have their own levels of radical honesty, but the same applies for the 13 tracks you do hear on Underworld!

“I felt like I was taking the power away from everyone’s expectations; to be ‘more feminine’ is something that’s always been pushed on me”

The very first line of Temple is “I’m intoxicated by my depression.” Do you think romanticising misery or mental health issues is a trap artists in particular (musical, visual, whatever) can easily fall into?

For sure. I’m super wary of it. I always tell the silver lining story. Not in a shallow way, but I feel that it’s my purpose to encourage self-empowerment through our music, so writing and singing that lyric actually took a lot of courage! I don’t like to feed low vibrations but this was a moment for me to acknowledge them.

The chorus of Crack My Heart sounds pretty demanding; you’re throwing your voice up in an inversion which spans almost a whole octave! How important was challenging yourself vocally on the album?

It always happens that way! I write things that really challenge me and that I’m not entirely ready for at the start. But once the muscle memory develops for those melodies I feel right at home! I love the fierce, commanding energy of that chorus, so thanks for recognising that!

The line “It’s a lot like breathing,” in Burning On is just a simple but powerful analogy. How did you come to write it?

That lyric is just something I spat out! I remember Whak and I looked at each other and laughed. I really love those moments, when you complete a phrase or write the hook or just find the rhyme. There’s always a shared recognition when the meaning and the timing and the feeling click.

Tell us how you guys met Corey Taylor (featured on the awesome album closer My Underworld); also, did you record together or separately? (Your voices are so complementary it’s difficult to imagine him sending his part over digitally.)

Amazingly we recorded our parts separately but it blows my mind too. The song was fully finished when I reached out to him but everything you hear has Corey’s touch on it! I took a chance messaging him on Twitter once we’d finished the record in July, and he responded a few minutes later, so the whole experience was super positive and enthusiastic.

This is the shortest I’ve ever seen your hair. This isn’t a dumb “What are you wearing?” question; I think for tons of girls, long hair is a giant part of identity. Was cutting it connected with any psychology do you think?

Definitely. I felt like I was taking the power away from everyone’s expectations. To be ‘more feminine’ is something that’s always been pushed on me, and coming from a major label background and fairly conservative family I am really familiar with what’s ‘safe’ and ‘conventional.’ I have slowly reclaimed my image over the years and my hair has always been an expression of that.

Just looking at your historical tour schedule makes me feel depleted – the number of jaunts you’ve done is mental. Have you got everything down pat now (pack in five minutes and you have your trusty neck pillow ready to go)?

For sure. I kind of thrive off it! Coming back to a house and shelves and cupboards and drawers of belongings completely spins me out. I honestly love the ever-changing nature of my lifestyle; it’s taught me to know what I need and release what I don’t.

Underworld is out January 12 via UNFD.

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