"We wanted to create something timeless and iconic," says frontwoman Jenna McDougall. "We decided to do something musically that isn't being done now and hasn't been done for a long time."
That meant abandoning the punk-inflected sound that has won the band a global fanbase over the past five years and reaching for the stadium territory occupied by U2 and Coldplay. Limitless is unashamedly anthemic and deliberately inspirational; an album for kids who have rejected rock & roll's self-destructive narrative and are searching for something uplifting.
McDougall grew up in Sydney's religious Hills District and joined Tonight Alive when she was 16 because she felt like a social outcast. "I was at an all-girls school, listening to Blink and Simple Plan and Green Day," she says. "That was the music that made me feel normal."
The band gathered momentum quickly, but McDougall found touring Australia and the United States with other alternative musicians to be almost as alienating as high school. "I used to think I wasn't a rock star because I didn't make crude jokes on stage and I didn't get smashed," she admits. "I felt disconnected from our touring buddies – I couldn't relate to them."
By the time they began working on the follow-up to their international breakthrough LP, The Other Side, McDougall and Co. were longing for a change in attitude.
"We made a conscious decision," she says: "we would set ourselves apart and establish a new sound."
The band sought out co-writers like David Hodges (Evanescence, Kelly Clarkson) to help them reinvent themselves. McDougall decided to shift focus lyrically, and take a more active role in empowering the band's younger listeners. "I put more intention behind the words I wrote than ever before," she says.
Tonight Alive took the new songs to veteran Canadian producer David Bendeth (Paramore, Taking Back Sunday), hoping to benefit from his famed perfectionism and tough-love approach. "He can make you feel like you're a gift to the world," McDougall says, "but he can also make you feel like you're worth nothing."
In the coming months, Tonight Alive's management and record labels will devote considerable resources to Limitless in order to introduce the band to non-punk listeners. McDougall says she and her bandmates are raring to spread their new message. "In this position, you're going to be a role model whether you like it or not," she says. "The choice is whether you promote something good or bad."
From issue #773, available now.
Topics: Tonight Alive