Today (June 7), Tonight Alive vocalist Jenna McDougall launches her solo project Hevenshe with the single ‘No One Will Ever Love You’, which arrives ahead of her debut live show under the moniker this week.
Hevenshe has been a while coming – the first song for the project was written in 2018, ten years after McDougall joined Tonight Alive. Over their four albums, the Sydney outfit evolved from scrappy pop-punk band to ambitious, experimental, conscious-rock group, without ever losing their snarling passion or heart-on-sleeve honesty.
At the end of 2018, though, they cancelled a US headline tour “to address and prioritise our mental and physical health” and apart from a one-off Tonight Alive & Friends show at Unify 2020, they’ve been on hiatus ever since.
In 2018, Tonight Alive had embarked on a gruelling stint on travelling punk festival Warped Tour and McDougall was getting heavily into the sprawling rock landscapes of The War On Drugs. She had already told the rest of the band she had no interest in writing another record with Tonight Alive – the departure of guitarist Whakaio Taahi, announced October 2017, had been “too hard” for her – and so every song she wrote was for herself. That gave rise to the first song for the Hevenshe project, ‘Wild Wild Heart’.
‘No One Will Ever Love You’ followed a year later, but the bulk of Hevenshe’s music (which currently stands at around 40 songs) was created in 2020 and 2021 when McDougall was locked down in her Melbourne flat with a secondhand piano she’d got for $100.
But Hevenshe isn’t a part-time lockdown project. “I want to be a headline act. I want to play festivals and I want to be busy,” McDougall tells NME. “I want to be creating nonstop and right now, I want to do that as Hevenshe. Tonight Alive will have its moment again but this isn’t just a get-it-out-of-your-system-and-move-on project. This is the next evolution of me as an artist. I’m going to give this all the years that I can.”
McDougall will launch Hevenshe with a gig at Sydney’s Crowbar this Friday (June 10) – read on for her interview with NME about the inspiration behind ‘No One Will Ever Love You’, the future of Tonight Alive and why now for a solo project.
What inspired ‘No One Will Ever Love You’?
“I’d left a relationship that we both thought would never end. I was such a devastating break-up with this person who’d been my best friend and my soulmate not wanting contact with me anymore. I had so much to say that I couldn’t direct anywhere, so this song is me saying my last piece.
“The first line of the song, “no one will ever love you as much as I do”, is actually what they said and it’s always felt like a threat – why wouldn’t you want me to be loved, even if it’s not by you? The song goes through a lot of stages, it’s bitter, then sweet and there’s a lot of acceptance as well. It covered what it’s like to grieve, losing someone you love.”
Why launch Hevenshe with this song?
“When I wrote the song, I just knew that this was my new sound. It felt new but also authentic and it was the first time I’d written a song that I could see shaping my future. It’s also not too far removed from Tonight Alive – it’s got that pop punk palm-muted verse, heartfelt lyrics and uplifting melodies but it’s not aggressive.”
And what about the other songs, what’s been inspiring them?
“The Strokes have definitely rubbed off on me. I’ve also been inspired by Bob Dylan and Courtney Barnett, especially with how they sing in a more spoken way. That’s given me the licence to enjoy singing instead of doing it as an extreme sport, which is what singing in Tonight Alive was. Hevenshe definitely won’t be easy to pigeonhole, though.
“As for the lyrics, I had so much processing to do. I was doing a lot of therapy once we got off the road then I got out of that relationship, moved away from home and then lockdown happened. It was a time of rapid transformation that uncovered trauma, fears and doubts. I went on a deep-dive of self-discovery and healing. There are so many songs that people will never hear but I’ve covered everything from relationships with parents, coming off the road and having to learn who I was outside of Jenna From Tonight Alive, to getting into a healthy relationship. They’re all very intimate but I think they have the potential to speak to a lot of people.”
Why Hevenshe instead of Jenna McDougall?
“I love a one-word moniker and I wanted this to be a character or a persona. Hevenshe isn’t that far removed from who I am, but it’s a more progressive, advanced, elevated version of myself, that I can aspire to be. It felt most natural to want to become more than I am.”
And why now for a solo project?
“I always thought I’d be a folk singer-songwriter when I was younger but then I got into pop-punk as a teenager which led to Tonight Alive. I’ve waited years to do this, but I didn’t have the skill, competence, or the songs. That all took years to develop. It’s been a rite of passage for me as well, because previously, I’ve always written songs with other people but this is all me. Now does feel like the perfect time, though. I’ve just turned 30 and it feels like this whole new era in my life as well as my career.”
What’s the future of Tonight Alive?
“Interestingly, the start of Hevenshe has aligned with the comeback of Tonight Alive. There’s no official, scheduled reunion but we’ve discussed making music and touring again, and that will involve Whakaio. He’s the one that instigated the reunion actually, and I really didn’t know if it was ever going to happen. The first day I went into the studio to record for HevenShe earlier this year was the day the band all got on a call together and discussed the future. It’s strange how they’ve both aligned.”
Do you think you have things to prove with Hevenshe?
“There are nerves because I’m doing a lot of this myself, so I’m nervous about the workload but I’m not nervous about creating, self-expression or being an extrovert again. I feel really confident in myself, in the music and in myself as a performer. I hope it’s not an overconfidence, but I just feel aligned right now. I don’t really need or want anyone’s approval. I feel like I’m good enough and that’s been a process… I didn’t always feel like that. I feel good coming into this without fear.”