Hevenshe: “I’m Embodying What I Set Out To Be, As An Artist And As A Person”

hevenshe looking at camera with head covering, blurred background

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A beautiful energy of defiance weaves itself through the music of Wild Wild Heart, the debut EP from Sydney-based songwriter and musician, Hevenshe. This is music that comes delivered with warmth and a rich sense of self. It’s a portrait of an artist who is creatively nourished and at peace.

It wasn’t always like this for Hevenshe, though. As the solo project of Jenna McDougall, the songwriter and vocalist best known for fronting Sydney pop-punk group Tonight Alive, Hevenshe presented itself to her at a time when introspection and healing was crucial to her personal well-being. 

The Birth Of Hevenshe

In 2018, Jenna found herself far from home, having just ended a North American tour with Tonight Alive. It wouldn’t be until the end of that year that the band would announce a hiatus from international touring, in order to prioritise their mental and physical health. But for this particular moment in time, Jenna found herself at a particular crossroads, not yet cleared.

Embarking on a solo road trip through California, she began a process of looking inward. Though she didn’t realise it at the time, a new pathway of self-discovery was manifesting. The new pathway opened with the writing of ‘Wild Wild Heart’, the title track of the EP and one of the most important songs Jenna says she has ever composed.

“It was the first song I had written that wasn’t for Tonight Alive,” she remembers. “I wrote it without an instrument in my hands; the inspiration was just in my head, I could just hear a song. When that happened I was like, ‘I have to do a solo project.’ It was a lightbulb moment.”

“This was clearly something different; it was the song that let me know that something else was coming. I didn’t record it until four years after that, but it was the one I held on to. It was the evidence that there was a new path starting to form. It commands attention. I’ve given it a lot of importance, but it was the start of Hevenshe. It’s the reason Hevenshe started.”

The music itself takes inspiration from artists like The War On Drugs — groups whose songwriting heart comes rooted in real-world experiences, layered with empathy and rich sonic texture. 

Much like Adam Granduciel, or other artists like Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino or Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel, Jenna’s songwriting and vocal delivery as Hevenshe is intimate, emotionally open. Songs like ‘Dear Life’ and ‘No One Will Ever Love You’ capture the breathlessness of love and heartache, while a song like ‘Wild Wild Heart’ perfectly represents the clarity found in realising a relationship is ending “I never thought I’d see the day / We were not together / ‘Cos we carved a path for love / No-one knew the path would sever / But you’ll always be the one / That changed my life forever…”

As Hevenshe has found her rhythm and purpose, the music has taken on new layers of strength in the live space. This year has seen Hevenshe debut live shows up and down the East Coast, including an impressive spot on the 2023 BIGSOUND program — such experiences have seen Jenna reintroduce herself to audiences.

“The recordings now, they’ve had a bit of a life of their own in my world, and also now on stage. I’m experiencing them in a new and beautiful way,” she says. “The new live versions are starting to form; a lot of people haven’t heard the music, so they’re experiencing it on stage for the first time.”

“I Realise Now, More Than Ever, What Actually Matters…”

A Hevenshe live experience is one marked by vibrancy and light: the smile that refuses to leave Jenna’s face as she hits each soaring note is infectious, as is the rhythmic dynamic she shares with her bandmates on stage. 

For anyone who may have been worried if Tonight Alive’s hiatus would mean the end of the road for Jenna as an artist, this venture exists to squash such fears. It’s not to say that those fears are unwarranted, either. Staring into the creative unknown, faced with the reality of rebuilding a career in a different genre, a different climate, and different industry to the one she had last been used to, Jenna has navigated unprecedented territory in falling back in love with a creative spark.

“I’m actually embodying what I set out to be, with this, as an artist and as a person,” she says. “I didn’t expect the time in between starting and reaching this point, I didn’t expect so many dips and challenges. Mostly, the internal experience of self-doubt.”

“I spent my career in Tonight Alive refining, rebuilding, and sharing that expression of self. I was really known for that. To come to a place where you’re uncertain and on shaky ground… it was unprecedented to experience such an identity crisis in the centre of Hevenshe.”

Speaking with Jenna days before the release of Wild Wild Heart, there is a sense of serenity that comes through, even as she recalls such feelings of unease and uncertainty. She speaks of finding a middle ground between remaining authentic, intentional with her output, and chasing the magic that comes with those non-premeditated moments of artistry.

“I had so many negative narratives in my mind that made me want to give everything up,” Jenna admits. “I felt like I didn’t have a choice: it’s this or…it’s not good. The reality of not making music is not a good reality, it may not be a reality at all. It took me to a dark place, to consider not making music, because life without it is, for me, almost not worth living. It was a heavy consideration, but to keep going is so rewarding. It’s not rewarding straight away, but that’s something I am proud of.”

Driven by a desire to see Hevenshe evolve in the most natural way possible, Jenna is excited to explore where this project can take her as a solo musician. Already, the satisfaction she feels with the completion of the EP comes from realising her own strength.

“I feel really humbled by the new experience of starting again,” she says. “It does feel like a really important reason as to why I’m alive or why I was given the ability to sing and to write. I feel really affirmed. I’m so happy having a genuine exchange with the audience.

“I realise now, more than ever, what actually matters.”

Hevenshe’s new EP Wild Wild Heart is out now.

Sosefina Fuamoli is an award-winning Samoan-Australian music writer and radio broadcaster, based in Melbourne.