Tennis is a Denver-based band. They craft incredibly catchy indie-pop songs. Vocalist and keyboardist Alaina Moore and guitarist/keyboardist/producer Patrick Riley wrote in to discuss living on a sailboat, lyrical inspiration and advice to bands just starting out.
Did you come from a musical family? Were your parents musical?
I sometimes think we are a little disadvantaged since we don’t have
parents with musical backgrounds. However, we do have parents that
pushed us to study music throughout our childhoods and into college which gave us enough of a foundation to make Tennis. It’s not hard to notice that many of the successes in music right now are tied to a
family member in some way; sometimes we wish we had that.
You spent seven months on a houseboat. What inspired you to name your houseboat the Swift Ranger?
I should maybe clarify, we lived on a 32-year-old, 30′ sailboat. We
roughly calculated the liveable square-footage of the boat and it came
out to 95’… all that said, I don’t think it was ever meant to be a
house. We actually didn’t name the boat, it’s apparently bad luck to
rename a boat and we needed all the luck we could get.
What were some of your strangest times on the boat?
It’s hard to pick just one. We encountered what we think was a whale in the middle of the gulf-stream. In a spot of the ocean that is over 2000 feet deep, our depth sounder was pinned at “over 300 feet,” then all of the sudden it blinked “50 feet,” 10 seconds later, “30 feet,” and then “10 feet.” We thought for sure something big was going to propel our boat into the ether. Then again, the mere fact of living without constant electricity (or electricity at all) was strange.
How often did you find yourself writing songs while at sea?
We technically didn’t write any songs at sea. Our boat was tiny and
without electricity, there’s not a good way to record anything. We did spend a lot of nights planning out songs, stylistic components,
arrangements, equipment choices, etc. The weirdest thing was that our choices mirrored a “lo-fi” movement that was shaping the music industry. We had no idea what we were going to be doing was trendy or of-the-moment. We couldn’t have known that, we were living on a boat.
What do you enjoy most about the music scene in Denver?
Maybe Nathaniel Rateliff. When we originally started out, we were
pretty isolated from any music scene. We weren’t trying to make music for other people to enjoy, we were doing it for ourselves. Nathaniel was the first to reach out and help us navigate the music scene and give us some direction into what we wanted as a band.
What inspires you lyrically?
It changes often, but I have consistently been drawn to iambic
pentameter. I love the pacing and subject matter of the late Trish
Keenan’s lyrics (of Broadcast). Her lyrics remind me of nursery rhymes or old hymns. Because my personal life isn’t immediately formed by relationships and heart-ache, I favor writing about nature when I can.
Pop music should feel intuitive, and so should the corresponding
lyrics. I like to imagine that a song we are writing already exists
and we are simply mining for it, rather than creating it out of
nothing. That is how I approach lyric writing. As soon as it feels
contrived or unnatural I know I have lost my way.
What was the first song you wrote for Young and Old?
“High Road.” It’s a nice transition into the new material lyrically and musically.
Patrick Carney, of the Black Keys, produced the album. How did that
We just called him up on the phone and asked him. He said yes. I wish
there was a better story to go along with the relationship, but there
isn’t. “We met in a bar fight” sounds nice.
Tennis tours all the time. What have been some of your favorite
moments on the road?
There are plenty, the best part about touring is the inconsistency;
you can’t predict how a show is going to be. Some standout moments this year were Primavera in Portugal where we had a nervous and utterly silent dinner with Steve Albini / Lyon, France where someone fell onto the stage and unplugged all our equipment on our last song /
Someone tricking us into thinking we were doing a photo shoot for a
fancy magazine, but it ended up being for a tic-tac add (it didn’t go
Do you have a favorite quote or motto that you live by?
There’s plenty of quotes, but they won’t make sense to anyone. We
usually end up with something utterly self-deprecating that
illustrates our dislike for SXSW.
What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your career?
This year was full of obstacles, playing late-night shows, working
with a producer for the first time, getting a management team, trying
to make an album sound good live without using backing tracks, adding a 4th member… With our first album, everything was DIY and cut down to a manageable size. We had to learn how to let other people help us, which continues to be our biggest weakness.
What advice would you give to artists just starting out?
Sit in your room and write as many songs as you can, start as many
bands as you can, and if you fail to succeed, change your band name,
get a haircut, and start over again.