Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore met while studying philosophy at the University of Colorado. Soon after graduating, they were sailing along the Eastern Seaboard on a seven month expedition as husband and wife. Upon their return, feeling inspired by their experiences, they began writing and recording music along with drummer James Barone, under the moniker Tennis. The result was their 2011 debut Cape Dory, a buoyant and bright record that showcased their knack for crafting melodic indie pop. Now, with the memories of their voyage washed away, the couple are back with a new album, Young & Old. Thanks to production duties from The Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, the new Tennis sound is amped up and buzzed out, and signals a pretty significant shift in their evolution as musicians. We had the chance to speak to them recently about their inspiration for the new record and getting older and wiser.
BULLETT: When was the first time you saw each other?
Patrick Riley: We met in college. We were both studying philosophy. Fortunately, or unfortunately, philosophy is a very male-dominated study, and Alaina was the only girl in the whole entire Analytic Philosophy class. We quickly met and were great friends from there on.
Did you make music before college? What kind of a musical background do you come from?
Patrick: All of us come from pretty substantial musical backgrounds, but I think they were a little bit misguided at times. I was really interested in recording ever since middle school. But all the projects I played in were disastrous. Our songwriting was wretched, that was back in my days where I was struggling with trying to be cool, so all the projects I’ve played in were like “noise band!” or “experimental rock!” or something like that that no one wants to hear, especially coming from me. Teen angst bands.Alaina Moore: I used to sing in church, it was not at all something I took seriously. We both dabbled with studying music in college for freshman year and quickly thought we were not cut out for it. We could barely pass our music theory courses and we switched majors simultaneously to Philosophy.
And, you actually started making music together after going sailing for seven months?
Patrick: We didn’t even really mention to each other that we played music. We didn’t play music or even talk about music until we got back from our trip. We were kind of just bored at home, missing that vagabond-style life when we were living off of canned food and rice everyday. Music was the perfect outlet for all of our frustration and nostalgia.
Alaina: When I first met Patrick he had a guitar in his closet. But then, every boy in America has a guitar in his closet. He never played for me and I never asked. After that, we were in the midst of his sailing dream so all of our time and effort was about learning how to sail. It wasn’t until we’d been together for a couple of years that we could play music together.
Sailing demands a lot of teamwork. How did it feel working as a team for such a long period of time?
Patrick: The first few months we had no idea what we were doing. We immediately turned into this survival mode together. The one thing that saved us was that ‘me and you versus the world’ feeling. Honestly, it feels like that feeling never left us. We still kind of have that ‘us versus the music industry’ feeling, where we’re trying to find this pocket of the music industry that we feel comfortable in.
The inspiration to your first album, Cape Dory, came from sailing. What is the inspiration behind your new album?
Patrick: A lot of people don’t realize this but we weren’t actually supposed to be playing the Cape Dory songs live. Those songs weren’t really meant for anyone but ourselves. It was essentially a way for us to share an overall feeling that we had with that part of our lives. It was a total accident that we turned into a band. Young & Old is the counterpart. It was the first time we wrote the music with the idea of someone else hearing the songs. Alaina’s influence over the direction of the album is a lot stronger than mine.
Alaina: For me, it’s about growing up specifically. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the transformation that I felt I went through in the last few years. We spent a lot of time soul-searching when we were touring over this past year, and that’s what motivated these new songs for us. I was also inspired by Yeats’ poem A Woman Young and Old. I really liked the idea of this woman reflecting on a particular subject at different ages, from young womanhood to being a very old woman. The idea of trying to transcend time, space, and even your own body. I really liked that idea, so that’s kind of the concept I used when I wrote these songs. Each song is a vignette; a small window looking into a particular experience or memory that resonates with me.
At the end of the day, how do your music and lyrics come together?
Patrick: With some songs, the music is completely written by me and Alaina is like, “Oh that reminds me of such-and-such,” and she’ll just write lyrics to suit the songs. Sometimes we write a song entirely together. We’ll just be playing in our apartment one day and the song will come about, and all will be written in a matter of minutes – whereas sometimes it takes months to write a song.
Alaina: I struggled for a long time, we had all this music written but I had no lyrics. I’ve never written poetry before; I’ve been more of a long, Victorian novel kind of a girl. I started trying to read poetry for inspiration. After Cape Dory with its simple narrative and sailing adjectives that rhyme so perfectly, I was really challenged to write something that was substantial and didn’t get in the way of the music. If I could, I would probably just use syllables, like “ooh’s” and “aah’s” and forgo lyrics entirely.
Speaking of an album about growing up, how do you feel about being your age at the moment?
Patrick: I feel like I can understand my desires a little bit more. It’s also nice not getting frustrated over small stuff. It takes a lot to piss me off right now, and that’s something that I’ve really had to learn.
Alaina: I think I might be at the perfect age right now where I’m without question young, but finally out of those early angst-ridden twenties, full of insecurity and anxiety.
What do you think your name would be if it weren’t Tennis?
Patrick: The name is just a placeholder. I don’t know. I think band names are really troublesome from the start because you’re trying to pigeonhole a sound, which I think is impossible. I think our new album sounds different enough to us that we feel like we’re kind of a different band already. It’s tough to say. I wish we didn’t have to have band names, honestly.
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