Meet Tennis, the engineers of 60s musical sound fused with 21st century influences

Tennis, the married musical duo from Denver, has a new whimsical album, Ritual in Repeat, and it combines a 60s mood, 80s beats, and contemporary influences for a sound that resonates all the way to the sold-out box office of their upcoming tour, starting April 25.

Their combination of an angelic voice with haunting beats has gotten band members Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley attention and praise from fashion houses such as Marc Jacobs and Rebecca Minkoff, leading to cameo appearances on their campaigns and fashion shows. Most recently, one of their tracks made it into the popular HBO series Girls.

Tennis’ front woman Alaina Moore has more than just an understanding of and love for music—she recently wrote an Op/Ed for Port magazine, which only reinforces her credibility as a songwriter and composer.

Check out my interview with the lead singer, Alaina Moore, about their new album Ritual in Repeat. (first published at http://www.dot429.com)

Hi How are you?

Good How are you?

Good, I was actually just listening to your music, bad girls is my favorite!

Oh my gosh, thank you! that’s actually my favorite too.

1-​The sixties are still very prominent in your sound, but it seems like you’ve made a conscious decision to move towards the sounds of the 70s and 80s. What bands were you listening to while recording the album?

It wasn’t really a conscious effort to change our sound, it was more like a natural evolution of what we were listening to. You can only listen to the same artists or the same era of music for so long before your curiosity starts to move you forward, you know?

We just started to listen to different music…a lot of what attracts us to musical genres is just the engineering of the way things are recorded, essentially, so I got really interested in different drum tones, and just different sounds in general; especially different ways of recording voices— like drier double voices, for example Judee Sill, who is a folk singer from California from the seventies, she did a really dry doubling of her vocals that has this very.. the way she did it in particular has this incredible quality, it was such a tight doubling, and yeah, we just started to become interested in other sounds, if that makes sense. So we started listening to these artists and started to write to that, so it was more of a natural progression rather than a choice.

2-​What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in an attempt to evolve musically?

Oh yeah, there are so many. Psychologically. Before we start writing again— I mean, we are always writing a bit, plotting an idea or a lyric— but when we are really sitting down with a conscious effort to write a new record, I am basically full with existential dread and I doubt myself, and I think that I’ll never be able to write a song again, and if I do, I think i’ll never write a song that I like, and it’s so mortifying… and it takes us a very long time psychologically for me to press through it, and so I’m like no.. I still have something here and I’m not done, and I go through that for every record that we write, and I feel that this record was no different, but for this album ‘Ritual in Repeat’ I feel that the transition was a lot harder for me.

3-​What was it like trying to create a cohesive album using three different producers? I know one of them was Patrick Carney from the Black Keys. Are there any producers you would like to work with who you haven’t already?

There’s so many people that I respect and admire in this industry who I would love to work with, and sometimes even more than recording with them I would rather watch them work. It feels like a mentorship. Its about being able to get up and close and personal with somebody whose work you really respect. We had an incredible experience recording with all three– they are all incredibly talented hard working people who aesthetically we connect with in so many levels. i think that the next time that we work, me and Patrick(husband and band-mate) are drawn to the idea of self-recording and self-producing again. We are interested in knowing how our music will sound, you know, five years later, and all these producers later, we do a completely DIY project again. We are curious to see how different that will be if we self-produce our next record.. which may or may not be self-produced, I’m just kind of comparing that and see how we’ve grown completely on our own.

4-What was the inspiration for your album cover? I know Cape Dory’s artwork was intentionally sarcastic. This one is a bit more abstract. Is there something behind it?

Yeah for this album, I think we basically had this photo taken that it was very beautiful, but it was just like a cool photo of a band, you know, and when I was talking to Mike, who did our artwork for this one and ‘Young and Old’, about how one of the things that we like to do musically is play within a genre but subvert expectations a little bit, so I was trying to do something unexpected–our idea was to have a  conventionally beautiful kind of iconic photograph and do something to destroy it a little bit, and the first idea was to erase my facial features— my face is still there but my features are gone, so its kind of this self-erasing subversive kind-of take on as a front woman, and I loved that image, but I think it was a little too surreal for some people. It was a little bit jarring, and we came with the idea of him physically taking out my face, so it still has concept of the diminished front person, and for me, my thinking is of the reluctant star —I feel like once you have some kind of a public life, there’s an expectation from you to transform into a Diva, especially as a woman I feel that pressure. I will never be that person and I don’t want to be and I don’t care to be. For me, physically erasing my face out of the photo was the most cathartic type of experience and something that I kind of wanted to convey.

Amazing! I actually love your hair when it’s puffy—on the cover of the album and during your live shows. I watched your live shows and I love your outfits on stage. Do you have a stylist or do you dress yourself?

[laughs] Thank you!  No.. I dress myself, although I have a really really close friend from childhood who is a stylist now, and she gives me advice and helps me track down things that I really want but I can’t find anywhere. I mean we are a small operation over here [laughs], we do everything ourselves, we tour manage ourselves and style ourselves. For photo-shoots and everything I style myself, and for better or worse [laughs] I do my own hair and make-up. This is kind of a long process of discovery. For me, making music was a very private experience and once that became public, I had to learn to see myself in a third person kind of way, which is an erred experience, and especially for my bandmate Patrick, it had to do so much with him to some degree, but it’s different for him since I’m more like the voice of the band. But learning how I wanna convey myself and how I wanna dress and do my hair, these are conscious decisions but are sort of secondary things to me. I’m learning to make something out of that, if that makes sense.

5–​Who are your favorite fashion icons from the 50s and 60s? What/who influences your outfit choices on stage?

I think my style icons are probably similar to many I’m obsessed with— Patti Smith, and Blondie— I like women who are beautiful and have a distinctive look and play with androgyny. There’s something extremely powerful about androgynous dressing. I want to feel literally strong and capable and competent when I’m on stage— 99 percent of the time I’m gonna be wearing pants and boots on stage and I’m never gonna be girly— and its not like I have any criticism about it—but it’s about what makes me feel comfortable on stage, which is an outfit that I could run away in or jump a fence, you know what I mean? I just wanna feel really competent….

and comfortable.

Yeah exactly! and I feel theres something very comforting about that, so I look to women like that, that play with androgyny in a really amazing way.

6-You recently mentioned in an interview that you write for PORT magazine for their men’s style section. How did you land that gig?

So I did a one OP for Port–I did a small piece for them. It was actually just supposed to be an interview, and I was talking back and forth with a journalist for PORT magazine and started talking about something I was interested in at the time, and he was just like,”this is something that I think it would be better if you wrote yourself,” which was awesome, and I wrote the piece. Its something that I’d like to do more. Interviews can sometimes be amazing but they are sometimes limiting, especially when it’s a very complex subject matter. The piece I did for them is called ‘Writing other Women’ and it’s about the women either directly in my life or women that have influenced my writing, and it was really rewarding to talk about- but its kind of hard to convey in an interview.

7-Who are some of your favorite up-and-coming bands? Or bands that don’t necessarily influence your music, but that you love.

There’s so much going on in music right now, its very overwhelming. I feel whenever I want to dive into this underground reservoir of music I feel very rewarded. There’s this band from the UK called Stealing Sheep, amazing. I’m obsessed with Melody’s Echo Chamber- she has a new record coming out in May, and I cant wait!! There’s the band ‘Alvvays’ with two v’s instead of a W, they’ve been around for a while but I am just a big fan.. There is infinity of new and good music.  I’m never out of luck if I need something new to listen to.

I’ve seen your tour dates.. I am in San Francisco, and it’s already sold out here!

and thats amazing.

A lot of our shows are selling out and quickly and its an incredibly rewarding feeling.

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