Everyone loves The Graduate, especially the ending. The last shot that lingers on the couple as they ride away into the unknown. Dissertations have been written about that final shot, about what happens when that familiar yet unreal feeling of what’s next finally settles in.
Tennis’ beginnings are the stuff of a Hollywood romance. Couple meets; couple falls in love; couple goes on eight-month sailing expedition and records an album, Cape Dory, about the experience. But life doesn’t consist of budding romance and sailing trips, alone. Things inevitably slowdown, people stop moving around. What do you do then? What then is there to sing about?
Tennis’ least release Ritual in Repeat takes a stab at this quandary. In that way, it’s a high stakes album. It’s also a fantastic sublimation of everything the band did right in its first two full-length releases. All of which, suggests that when thinking about where we’re headed, we might just want to cultivate those things we did well in the past.
Having a sparse amount of time to talk with Alaina Moore, thanks to the poor reception of barren California, one thing was absolutely clear: Alaina is an optimist, and an ambitious one at that, teeming with plans for the future of Tennis. Proving, once again, that Hollywood endings are, in reality, only beginnings.
Your third album [Repeat in Ritual] came out this September and I think the sound the band cultivated in your first two albums really came together in this last one.
Is that gross? (Thinking she said ew instead of thank you)
No, that’s so nice. I really appreciate that. That’s what we wanted. We felt…we had a lot of trepidation writing and releasing this third album because we felt that was our moment to bring some clarity to all the work we’d done before, and, I felt, it was also our first opportunity to show development or progression as writers. Because our first album was this weird spontaneous thing, so in a lot of ways we felt that our second record was our first record. The first time we did something really intentional. So our third record felt like a really big deal. We kind of struggled for a long time figuring out where we wanted to take it. So it’s nice to hear someone hears out of it what we wanted them to hear.
It’s interesting because stylistically it’s very diverse, however, underneath it all seems to be a 50’s girl group kind of vibe.
Genre-wise or stylistically, there’s more diversity on this record, but that’s mostly due to the freedom that Patrick and I gave each other to write more independently. I feel like our musical tastes are a venn diagram where there’s some overlap but there’s a lot of divergence from each other. We just let ourselves write about whatever we wanted, so this is what leads us to write a song like “Wounded Heart” as opposed to a song like “Night Vision.” Just letting ourselves write in any direction we wanted. And I think what grounds it, as always feeling like Tennis, is that we’d always put each other…like I’d write a song for me, but then I’d let Patrick finish it so that he’d be able to put his filter over it. I feel like by us being the final step, like I’d be the final step of any song Patrick wrote and vice versa, it would always sound like us at the end.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWaJRja8n2k
The lyrics off this new album do sound more mature, though many deal with common pop themes of love, longing and lost, they’re quiet poetic, especially “Night Vision.”
I wanted a song that was more abstract and convey a mood. I didn’t want it to be a song where the lyrics were so heavy or engaging that they distracted you from the rhythm and the groove and the melody. Not like a trance, but a more visceral experience. So that was a very conscious effort. As opposed to a song like “Bad Girls” which is more lyric focused.
“Bad Girls” is the song that, to me, sounds very 50’s-ish, if the songs back then had been more upfront and less tongue-in-cheek.
Yep. That’s what I was going for.
Glad I got it down; makes me feel like a good listener.
(Laughing) You are a good listener.
So your first album was written about your experience on an eight-month sailing exploration. Then the second album was written about your travels through Europe and the American south. So where’s this last album come from?
So this third one comes from that quiet place of daily life. That’s why its called Ritual on Repeat. Its more reflective and striped down emotionally. We spent most of a year in Nashville, renting this little house. We had a bird feeder and we did yard work and we had only a few friends. So we had a very quiet, routine life.
How old fashioned…
I know. It was fun for us. I’ve lived in the city my whole adult life in an apartment. And it was really fun for us to move to the south and rent a house. We’d literally make coffee and bird watch and chase the squirrels away from our bird feeder and write songs. It was just a long, slow, reflective process. Because, again, we didn’t know what we wanted our next record to sound like, but we knew that it was really important that we got it right. I felt like if we lost our way on this album we won’t find it again. I felt like there was very high stakes for this album in a way I hadn’t felt before. The stakes were for ourselves, not, you know, commercially or anything like that. It just felt like the moment where we needed to show ourselves what we could do and where we wanted to go, and I feel like we got that. Like we learned some tough lessons about how we write and I think the next writing process, the next album cycle, is going to be really really fulfilling. I’m actually excited to go home and keep on writing.
The production on the album [Ritual in Repeat] is also wonderful. Not in a way that it’s overproduced, but that it’s clear and purposeful. I know that one of the Black Keys produced the last album [Young & Old]. Who produced this one?
Yeah, Patrick Carney from the Black Keys worked with us on our last album and he also produced five songs on the new album. And then we also worked with Jim Eno from Spoon, and Richard Swift [of The Shins], who is an incredible talent. He lives in Cottage Grove in Oregon, and he’s just, like, a magical person. He has a gift. I love everything that he does. We had an amazing time. I love everyone that we got to work with. They all did something really great for us. And I also feel that it’s a selfish experience when we work with producers like that. We want to glean everything we can from them. I almost feel like we’re trying to cannibalize them for all their knowledge and file it away and use it on our own later. It’s a great experience.
Your first two albums came out on Fat Possum, which I’ve always associated with delta blues guys like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. But I suppose they also had the Black Eyed Keys.
The Black Keys…
That’s how they got their name out there. But I think now they’re established themselves as a very diverse label. Fat Possum takes risks, which is something I really like. I think they have great ears and I think…and I’m not trying to falter myself, I genuinely love the artists on Fat Possum’s label. They have Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Youth Lagoon; they released Melody’s Echo Chamber. That’s an incredible psychedelic pop album written by this girl Melody—I think she’s French. They released the first Purity Ring 7’; they’re huge now. I feel like in multiple genres they’ve established themselves as a really solid label. It sounds cliché, but they’re a taste-making label.
But now you guys are on a new label.
It was just a natural change. We loved being on Fat Possum. They do old school record deals where they sign you for one album at a time. Which is great because no one has to be there if they don’t want to be. And I think, after two really great album cycles working with them, we were just curious what working with someone else would feel like, and we meet Ben Lovett, who started Communion. He was really excited about the new stuff we were writing, and their deals are very similar to Fat Possum’s—just extremely artist friendly and supportive. It’s not a contract you’re afraid to sign. There’s a lot of trust. It was really…it almost felt like dating around. Like what else is there, because we’d only worked with Fat Possum. Weirdly, in the distance future, we’re really interested in self-releasing. I know a lot of bands are doing that and I actually feel that our goal is to get to a point in our career where its stable enough that we can take all the reins and do it ourselves. I think that’d be an ideal future for us.
It’s remarkable how excited for the future you are.
I feel like for us, when we think about the future—I mean we have no control of what that’ll be, and I know that ourselves and a lot of other bands don’t like to think about or project or hope for whatever kind of success might be waiting for them, and we feel the same way. So our future inclinations are more about obtaining more freedom and autonomy than achieving any conventional form of success. We’re not worried about…
Material or monetary success?
It’s not even material gain. We’d just so much rather have freedom and autonomy. Maybe its just cause we’re extremely rebellious by nature or something. In my picture of success, we work with no one and do everything on our own. And it’s not because I don’t love our team, I totally do. But that’d be the ultimate dream. That it’s our little thing and we do it all alone. You know what I mean?
Ideally, you want to make music that doesn’t compromise.
Exactly, and it’s hard to do that if you want to be big. If you want to have big numbers you have to let a lot of people in. You need a ton of help. And I feel, for us, it’d just spread us thin and we wouldn’t be doing what we wanted anymore.