Interview with Whakaio Taahi of Tonight Alive

What does Australian pop punk sound like? In the case of Tonight Alive, it’s not too different a style from some successful acts who launched careers in the US in the late ’90s. New Found Glory, Thrice, and Yellowcard, to name a few, have unquestionably influenced the quintet. And, therefore, it should come as no surprise that the band tapped Mark Trombino, known for his work with a bevy of outfits — Jimmy Eat World, The Audition, Valencia, Blink-182 — to produce their debut album, ‘What Are You So Scared Of?’ The record originally dropped last October via Sony Music Australia, and now it’s about to surface Stateside, with a little help from Fearless Records. So, what are these young rockers scared of? Not US crowds. The group, led by vocalist Jenna McDougall, are preparing for an upcoming tour with Go Radio and a spot on this summer’s Warped Tour.

Spotty cell phone reception while touring the UK made it difficult to get in touch with the band, so we emailed them a few questions instead. Below, guitarist Whakaio Taahi discusses the band’s debut full-length, experiences in the US, and the one and only Vans Warped Tour. Check it out.

Can you tell us a little about how the deal with Fearless Records went down? When did they first get in touch with the band?

Well, we signed to Sony in Australia after being on an indie, and we were specific in the fact that we really wanted to start on an indie in the States and do it properly. We were talking to Hopeless Records for a while, and that didn’t work out, but then Fearless came around and we found our home for the States.

In the States, we’re experiencing a pop punk revival of sorts right now. Are similar things happening in Australia?

I think so. There are a lot of pop punk bands coming out of Australia now, especially Sydney. It is very refreshing and I hope we take over the radio soon in Australia. Too much indie and dance music for my liking!

The US is known to house some pretty wild things. What’s the strangest experience you’ve had while visiting?

I think I will never forget stopping at a truck stop in Texas for the first time and walking in to see a million fireworks sitting on the shelves. We went a bit crazy and bought loads and set them off on Galveston Beach.

Out of all the songs on ‘What Are You So Scared Of?,’ which is the one that you feel like you (or the whole band) completely nailed? Meaning, it has a perfect combination of lyrics, melody, rhythm, and whatever else you deem to be a necessary element of great songwriting.

The track “What Are You So Scared Of?” is a favorite of the band, but as for [us] nailing [something] songwriting-wise, in my opinion it’s probably the song “Let It Land.” Structure-wise and melody-wise, I think we did okay with this song, and I’m very proud of it.

What were some specific things that producer Mark Trombino really helped with in the studio?

Mark really helped Jen with her vocals. He made her realize what she always had but didn’t have the experience to find. Without even probably knowing he did it, he made her a better singer and songwriter, and now we are looking very forward to the new record, as songwriting is coming a lot easier this time round.

The song “Let It Land” seems to be about allowing life to take you wherever it thinks you need to go. Was the track written about something specific, like you wanting to develop a career in music, or is it more general than that?

Like most of the rest of the record, it is about not letting your life go to waste and getting up and finding your feet and direction in the life that you want to lead. It’s also about making decisions for yourself (“everything we know is just something we’re taught”) and figuring things out through personal experiences. I always hear people say, “I wish I was doing something different” or “This isn’t what I want to be doing,” and I always just say, “Live your life how you want.” What’s the point of working 5 days a week and 10 hours a day to come home and be unhappy? Even if your dream pays less, in my opinion, I would rather be happy and poor than rich and unhappy.

Can you tell us a little about “Fake It”? Was it the kind of song that was written in a matter of minutes, days, weeks? How did it develop?

“Fake It” was actually the first song written in the writing process, funnily enough. It doesn’t really match the other songs on the record, but I’m glad it stayed. Me and Jen wrote a majority of it on the acoustic guitar and then finished it off with Cameron [Adler, bassist] on Guitar Pro. I think it came together quite fast, as we loved it from day one.

Tonight Alive have been on the road for a while now, and you have a lot more touring ahead of you. What TV shows, movies, books, and/or games are helping you (or the whole band) pass the time right now?

I’ve recently found Sudoku. I love it so much that I bought a book of it in Germany and play it every day! Jen and I watch One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl a lot in the van. Not very manly, but it definitely passes the time. [laughs]

Recently, the band confirmed that they will be playing Warped Tour this summer. Besides the mountains of sweat that accumulate on stage, what are you looking forward to the most?

Hanging out with friends. We have a lot of friends in bands that we have already toured with, and we are so stoked we get to see them every day again. It’s going to be like a big family reunion!

Pick up Tonight Alive’s new album, What Are You So Scared Of?.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.