Interview: Tennis

photo by Brian Cullen

Denver trio Tennis emerged in the summer of 2010 with the release of “Marathon,” a heavenly 7″ single featuring a catchy, easy-going melody and the crystalline vocals of front woman Alaina Moore. Their debut full-length, Cape Dory, was released the following January and contained a similarly delightful collection of laid-back surf pop inspired by a post-collegiate sailing voyage taken by Moore and husband/guitarist Patrick Reilly. On February 14 they will release their sophomore album, Young and Old, which was produced by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. I was able to catch up with singer Alaina Moore before a December show at The Crocodile to discuss adjusting to life as a musician, working with Patrick Carney, and the new album.

So 2011 was quite the year for you guys…

Yeah, it’s mostly been a year of learning what it takes to play music and that we want to do it and the getting comfortable with it. It’s just been a confident learning experience and really fun. It’s nice to be on the other side of things, like prepping for an album to be released and now feeling more up to the task, whereas every experience with Cape Dory was a complete surprise.

And so the new album Young and Old is coming out on Valentine’s Day?

Yes, unintentionally.

Haha, that wasn’t planned?

We wanted it to come out February 7, but for logistical reasons we needed to push it back one week. It just so happens that exactly one week later was Valentine’s Day and none of us realized it. Someone ended up telling us later.

Is anything different on the horizon in 2012 compared the route you took this past year in terms of touring and promoting the album?

I hope that one big difference is that we can do more support tours. We toured a lot this past year, in my opinion, but apparently we did the bare minimum compared to other bands. We didn’t end up doing a support tour, mostly because our album was only 30 minutes long. We were offered a few things and we were like, what are we going to do on a 40-day tour? We can’t change our set, we can’t even play for 45 minutes, and we felt like we needed to go home and write, and that’s what we did. I think that’s going to be the big change, kind of honing our live show. It’s much longer now that we have two albums to draw from.

“Origins” and “Deep In The Woods” have already been released, and Patrick Carney [of The Black Keys] produced… just “Origins”?

Yes, just “Origins.”

Origins by tennisinc

How extensively did he work on the new album as a whole?

He produced the whole record. We did the whole thing with him, but we had wanted to do a 7″ with Forest Family from day one. We loved them so much and they had been really supportive, so we wanted to release our first single with them, and so we wrote “Deep In The Woods” just for the Forest Family 7″.

How did you guys get hooked up with Patrick Carney to begin with?

He was our first and, kind of, only choice. We obviously knew the Black Keys and were fans and we knew that Patrick Carney had recorded and engineered most of their records. I think anything that Danger Mouse didn’t do, he did. We thought they had a consistently amazing sound, and I feel like we were kind of going through the lo-fi identity crisis of really enjoying that aesthetic and that’s kind of what we had with our first 7″ that we released, and even Cape Dory, I guess, was kind of lo-fi sounding. We wanted some kind of middle ground where we had that AM radio quality, because I just genuinely prefer it. I think it’s just more pleasurable to me. It’s really a matter of taste, but I wanted some middle ground where anyone can hear it and not have to have a particular built-in preference. Patrick Carney was the perfect choice to have grit and character, but still have a really high quality production, and he did. He handled our songs really respectfully as far as our songwriting. He didn’t tamper with anything, but he helped us reconsider arrangements and kind of get out of old habits; we were really stuck in the surf-y sound, for example. And just a few other things, like instruments we hadn’t thought of using, like acoustic guitar or, ultimately, adding actual bass.

Yeah, you can definitely tell he worked on “Origins”; his fingerprints are all over it.

Yeah, I think so, too. And I think it still sound exactly like us. He didn’t write anything, but he helped us think and be really particular about each sound that we made. I’m really happy with the outcome.

Most people know by now that you and [guitarist] Patrick [Reilly] saved up money in college so that you could take a long sailing trip up the East Coast after you graduated, and that this adventure is what inspired you to start playing music and to write Cape Dory. What was it like trying to write songs that don’t all draw from one particular experience?

It was actually very liberating to write songs for the sake of themselves and not for the consequences of trying to document something that was hard to convey with words alone, which was what made Cape Dory. Now we just thought about the song in and of itself, and for the first time had the intention of sharing it with an audience, whomever that may be. Whereas Cape Dory, the way that I think about it was more like writing a diary that someone accidentally stumbled upon and happened to really like reading it, and it’s like, cool, congratulations on reading my diary, but it’s really weird and kind of invasive. Whereas this was like purposefully writing something to give to someone.

Is it more of a collection of songs than Cape Dory was, or is there a unifying concept or theme?

Yeah, there’s a very loose theme. I didn’t want the songs to be entirely unrelated, but it’s not a concept album by any means. I like to have just one kind of lens or filter that I have in mind when I approach each song that’s on the record and the thing that I used was the lens of age or maturity for myself. I did so much reflection being in a van for hundreds of hours.

Kind of like a sailing voyage unto itself…

Exactly, it really was. And the weirdest thing for me about that experience was that I had thought I was going to be in graduate school pursuing this very grown up life, and that Patrick and I would have buckled down and gotten married and would be doing the adult thing, and then all of a sudden out of no where we had the opportunity to be in a band and go on tour with 19-year-olds. So I was feeling very reflective about that and that’s what I was considering. I felt like was in this very weird place of maturing and transitioning, personally, but at the same time I felt like I was avoiding growing up, and so the album is called “Young and Old” because each song is kind of like a vignette of me reflecting on some particular aspect of my life, in that sense.

Do you guys still sail?

Yeah, we love sailing very much and we still have our boat. Sailing is not nearly so big of a part of our lives at the moment. This is our new sailboat, this band and the music that we make together, and this is where we’re at right now, and I’m sure we will be doing a lot of sailing in the future, but right now it’s just music.

Thanks, Alaina. Good luck tonight.


Tennis’ new album Young and Old will be released on Tuesday, February 14 on Fat Possum. They will begin touring February 9 and will be back at The Crocodile in Seattle on April 26. Check in with their Facebook page for updates. You can follow Tennis on Twitter @TennisInc.

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