Tennis Grows Up | Feature Interview

Posted by stashford on Tue, 02/21/2012 - 11:22pm in concert, fat possum records, interview, omaha, Slowdown, steven ashford, tennis, young & old

(Editor's note: This feature previews a concert tonight with Tennis at The Slowdown starting at 9. RSVP here.)

by Steven Ashford

Pop group Tennis never meant to be a band. Centered on the tales of husband-and-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, the story of Tennis started at sea, aboard an eight-month sailing excursion along the Eastern Atlantic Seaboard.

Riley and Moore documented their trip by writing songs solely for themselves. As the material quickly leaked to friends, what soon resulted was the release of their first album, Cape Dory, which attracted buzz across the waves of the Web.

Cape Dory was a charming ode to the sea that was saturated with bubbly, carefree pop riffs and breezy harmonic melodies that sounded pleasant to the ear. With the release of their latest album, Young & Old, Riley and Moore tried to break the constraints of the "sailing band" label by taking their work one step away from its simplicity.

Tennis’ transition into its sophomore album resembles a cautious cruise into new territory. The sounds are charming and stripped-down, sickeningly sweet and lo-fi, lush and garage-y. Keeping one hand firmly grasped to the safety ladder of their stylistic sounds, it is, no doubt, a mixture of both Young & Old

But when it comes to the new and old approaches, Riley says the two aren’t exactly in good company.

“If you took our band a year ago and introduced them to the band we are now, they would probably get into a fight because we are totally different people now,” Riley says. “If you asked us about a producer a year ago, we would have been like, 'Fuck you, producers are the devil!' But now we understand that producers are a necessary element for making music.”

Riley says the band last year would likely not have recorded Young & Old on tape and converted it digitally with the help of Pro Tools.

“It's funny to look where we've gone and how our perspective has changed as we've grown,” Riley says. “From being a self-produced, self-recorded band, it was really hard for the first few days to just not have control over that. If I wanted to set up my amp or pick out the microphone I wanted to use, an engineer was already two steps ahead of me.

“From there, Patrick Carney would step in and want to change subtle things about a song, which, at the time, we weren't ready for until he proved to us that his changes were worthy.”

In the integral stages of working with Carney, Riley says what started as resistance became a cohesive understanding of how a band should work side by side with its producer to construct a higher-quality piece of material.

“There would be times in certain songs where Carney would say, 'You need to slow this part here and gradually speed up; James you need to play your drum part differently,' and we would be rolling our eyes and play those changes just to humor him,” Riley says. “But then we realized that it actually does sound better, and from there the relationship was actually really good.”

With a polished, finished product in Young & Old, Riley says this is Tennis' first album as a band and meant to be released to a wide-scale audience.

“After touring with Cape Dory, we wanted an album that would translate better live,” Riley says. “Every song has a consideration as to how it will work and sound live, we question what the energy will be live, and that was our main perspective when we went into recording.”

The orchestration of the music has shifted from Tennis' initial release with Cape Dory, too.

“All of the Cape Dory sound was strictly organ, guitar and vocals,” Riley says, “whereas this album has a lot more to deal with and we have many different instruments that we have to shift in and out. The songs are a lot more delicate and dynamic and need to be played very precise.”

With the release of Young & Old, Riley feels comfortable in calling Tennis his full-time career.

“Now we have a set that's well over an hour, and with Cape Dory, it was barely 35 minutes," Riley says. “For us, we're having a lot more fun on the road, and a good show, we've realized, is all we need in order to function.”

As Tennis matures as a band by adding complexity to its music, using notable producers to formulate its visions and adding musicians to allow a more full-fledged sound, Moore and Riley say they still have a love for sailing the open waters, where the inspiration began not long ago.

“Last April, after our big U.S. tour of playing somewhere between 60-80 shows, we took a month off to sail around the Chesapeake Bay,” Riley says. “We are planning on recreating another sailing trip that was very similar to our first one, but taking it to the Bahamas sometime in October.”

Steven Ashford is a Hear Nebraska contributor. What made Maggie run? Reach him at stevena@hearnebraska.org.