In 2010, there were few bands as easily summed up as Tennis. The group’s super-catchy, sun-shiny Cape Dory was surely one of last year’s finer debuts, but its backstory — a record written during and about a six-month-long sailing voyage around the Atlantic — certainly helped bolster the buzz. Before long, sweethearts and bandmates Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley were signing to a hot indie label (Fat Possum), adding a new member (drummer James Barone), and hitting the road for a nearly year-long stint of touring.
Sonically, Cape Dory delivers a sparkling and summery selection of tracks rooted in the triumphs and struggles of Moore and Riley’s time at sea. The songs pull heavily from the pair’s sailing soundtrack (The Shirelles, Paul Simon) and, fittingly, feel right at home alongside Phil Spector’s iconic girl-group recordings. Today, though, Tennis is looking to shed the cutesy, seafaring image — or, at least, expand upon it. In early 2012, the band will release Young and Old, a sophomore effort that finds the trio embracing new instruments, new tones, and a new palate of inspiration. Better still, they’ve enlisted the help of producer/Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney to tie it all together. This Friday, the band brings both albums to life onstage at Velvet Jones. Below, Moore discusses the new songs, dispels a few Internet rumors, and explains where Tennis is finding inspiration off the water.
First and foremost, you guys just dropped a new single. Word on the street is that your next album is already done? Yeah. It’s been a pretty quick turnaround; we surprised ourselves, I think.
What prompted you to get back so quickly to writing? We had a month off after our first nationwide tour supporting Cape Dory in the spring, and that was our first time really promoting those songs and playing that set night after night. We really loved that album, and it was really fun to do. But it tells one story, and it recalls one kind of experience, and after a couple of months on the road, it wasn’t resonating the same with us anymore. We started to feel the desire to write again and branch out and started experimenting with different instruments and different tones and incorporating different musical influences — ones that we had purposefully left out when we recorded Cape Dory because we wanted one certain mood for that album.
Would you say Young and Old is a pretty big departure? Not huge, but it was kind of like swinging open the doors to the rest of the world of music; we have such a varied taste in music, and it was fun to start looking through these new and different influences and start purposefully channeling that in new material. … I think, even with this new album, we’re still finding ourselves. I think we’ve grown a lot as a live band and as songwriters, and I definitely think songs like “Origins” and the next single, “My Better Self,” will be a taste of things to come. It’s kind of hard to predict, though; you go through so much change as a person after touring that you never know. We might end up wanting to dive into some totally random genre after this album is released. Maybe we’ll be a metal band. [Laughs.]
And Patrick Carney produced. Are you guys big Black Keys fans? Yeah. One of the things that we like so much about them was that they record their own music. We felt they had a really solid sense of not just being distinct songwriters but recording, which is such a different world. We feel like they’ve maintained something consistently theirs through all the albums they’ve made.
Your backstory is such an interesting one, but I can’t imagine a bigger lifestyle change than going from living on a sailboat to touring in a band. That was part of what was so hard about it, especially playing and performing songs live that were recalling times in isolation in the wilderness. At first, it was really awesome, but then at times it started to feel — I don’t know what it was — maybe ironic or sometimes even insincere to be in Manhattan singing about that and trying to feel as taken by those memories as I was when I wrote those lyrics.
You guys got a lot of blog buzz last year, most of it surrounding you and Patrick sailing around together. Is there anything else you wish fans knew about you? I don’t know. There’s one misconception, though. I don’t think it’s that prevalent, but it was really surprising to me to find out that people thought we were trust-fund kids or that the sailing trip was this really long self-indulgent vacation. In truth, we had no electricity, no running water; it was hardly a resort. But people have these ideas that we were out in only sunny waters with beautiful clear skies and piles of money or something. I mean, I realize that we were fortunate enough to even be able to have the choice, but we made a lot of sacrifices so we could have this other experience, and sometimes I feel like people don’t realize that.
Would you do it again? Totally! I think we’re going to do it a lot more. It’s a very enlightening experience, and it’s extremely challenging; it’s much more trying than touring by far. [Laughs.]
Tennis plays an all-ages show at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Friday, December 9, at 9 p.m. with openers Miniature Tigers and Devon Williams. Visit clubmercy.com for tickets.