Alaina Moore, one half of the beloved indie-pop duo discusses her new album, the power of distance & the female perspective
Tennis hails from Denver, Colorado. The husband-and-wife duo made up of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley make the kind of indie pop that is reflective of today’s issues as well as a joy to listen to. On their new album, Yours Conditionally, the band speaks directly, if somewhat sarcastically, about feminism on “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” and “My Emotions Are Blinding”.
The band also has an odd association with sailing, considering singer Alaina Moore is, “afraid of the dark and the ocean.” Their first record, Cape Dory, was created while the twosome sailed down the Eastern Atlantic Seaboard. This time around, in an effort to find what they had been missing, the duo took to the Sea of Cortez.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Alaina Moore to discuss the band’s seafaring voyages, get a sense of how an artist can make a difference in today’s world, and to find out what it’s like when a band strikes out on their own.
Christopher Friedmann: We are speaking because you are about to release Yours Conditionally and are currently on a North American tour. With all the buzz around, how is the mood in camp?
Alaina Moore: Our mood is trying to be, this sounds like a cliche, but I guess we are just trying to be present everyday. There are a lot of moving parts, and it’s harder to deal with everything all at once, so we are trying to tackle it one day at a time, one show at a time, one drive at a time. And then also to just stay in a place of gratitude.
It’s really easy to find yourself in a situation, especially when your record is about to come out, and now that we’ve done this several times now, if you… well, for me I’m an extremely pessimistic person, so it’s real easy for me to get into comparison world, or ‘what should we be getting that we aren’t?’, or ‘what should we be doing that we aren’t doing?’ So the way that I try to monitor myself is just having a lot of gratitude and just be like, “I can’t believe that any of this is happening. Everything is a gift. Every day is a miracle,” and just doing it one day at a time. So that’s beyond a mood, but that’s where my headspace is at.
CF: To talk about comparisons for a second, as I understand, the music on your first record was composed after an eight-month sailing expedition down the Eastern Atlantic Seaboard. This new record was created during a five-month sailing expedition in the Sea of Cortez. How does sailing help you work creatively, and what has it taught you that helps in the creation of a record?
AM: Yeah the juxtaposition of both sailing trips is really unique for us because, you know, one on the Eastern Seaboard and we were total novices. We were just learning how to sail and then the other side, the west coast, which is different entirely. It’s more barren. We were also sailing in a foreign country, we sailed into Mexico, the two couldn’t be more different. The other one was seven years later so we were experienced sailors by then, but we pushed ourselves to do much more difficult passages that were a lot more demanding, a lot more physically taxing, days and days at sea as opposed to our first sailing expedition where we would only spend one night off shore.
We never were off shore for more than two days and one night, but for this trip we would be off shore for three nights at a time, which was really intense for me. I’m afraid of the dark and the ocean [Laughs], so spending multiple nights at sea is not easy.
I think that the real reason we wanted to revisit it is that it had been so long since our first trip and we hadn’t been able to do another passage since we had actually gained the knowledge and experience to be good captains. And then the other thing is we just felt like our connection to our music was dissolving or not just our music, but Tennis like, “I don’t really know what this is anymore.”
We just felt like we were on a treadmill cranking out albums and going on tour and just barely keeping afloat financially year after year. And it just started to feel like… we were like, “Why are we doing this?” It felt a little joyless and a little like we were just doing it because that’s what was in our lives and we didn’t even know if we would have actively continued to choose it any more. We thought “let’s just take a huge step back, let’s take a break from the road, and go on another sailing trip in a way that we’ve never been able to do before and while we’re out let’s take stab at writing and see if it gets us anything”.
Sure enough, while we were at sea, just like the distance from the world and from music and our instruments and all of those things, made us miss it immediately, but also the isolation gave us the freedom to feel like we could write and express ourselves any way we wanted, so we made the decision that we would make music again and continue on as Tennis, but only on our own terms, which would be to self-release, self-record, self-produce, and just take full control of the whole project, so that we could feel more connected to it, more involved, and freer and more autonomous.
CF: As you were saying, this trip was through Mexico…
AM: Yeah, the first port we sailed from was San Diego and right into Mexico, and we had to clear customs and everything…
CF:… The record has some biting social commentary in it. It’s obvious on tracks like “My Emotions Are Blinding” and “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar”, but you were voyaging in Mexico when you were initially creating this record. How did that landscape help form the ideas that would become Yours Conditionally?
AM: The distance was really good for reflection, and I was able to spend a lot of time processing things about my experiences and thoughts about my experience in the music industry and my experience making music as Tennis and just being a woman in the world in general.
I had actually written “My Emotions Are Blinding” and “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” before the sailing trip. I’d written them right before we’d left, but I wasn’t sure if we would make a record, or if we’d put them on a record, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with them, and it wasn’t until we were in Mexico finishing writing that I felt like I was figuring out a place for all the songs that we were making.
People always ask if I feel like the landscape of wherever I am is influential to my writing, and I don’t really think it is anymore than it just subtly affects my mood. For me, my external environment is just about backdrop to my day-to-day routine, and I always want to be somewhere sunny. I totally get seasonal affective disorder or whatever, so I need sunshine and Mexico has plenty of that, but beyond that it’s very internally driven, so I feel like I could be anywhere that has sun, and I’ll probably end up writing the same songs – there’s no way of knowing if that’s true – but people always ask, “Does Denver or the mountains influence writing,” and I’m like, “I don’t think so, it’s just affects my mood, my headspace,” but I would have written that song about feminism wherever I was.
CF: As we just alluded to, feminism is a theme across the record. With today’s world being where it is, how do you view the voice of the female artist and how can art affect change?
AM: I feel like the female voice within the art world will have a lot more power once people diversify and nuance their perception of what a female voice can say. I guess that’s what I’m talking about, be it sarcastically, on “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” and “My Emotions Are Blinding” when I talk about women are closer to nature, like talking about women being reduced to their bodies or on “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar”, I can be the archetype of whatever you’re needing, the way that women are always cast as these roles to be complementary to male needs, essentially.
As far as the way art can affect change, I don’t really know. I feel like it can the cornerstone of a movement, and I feel like it can really unite like-minded people. I’m not really sure about art’s ability to change minds of people outside of a certain ideology. I don’t know if it has that power. When you look at the 60s, for example, where political music was so important. I guess it’s like the hippie or the straight man, like the guy in the suit or whatever.
I don’t really know if the straight men’s lives were changed by The Beatles or Jefferson Airplane or whatever, if they came around to social issues, I don’t know. Based on our current political climate, I don’t even know if the hippies were changed, based on the way baby boomers are today, so I don’t really know.
I think it’s important to certain political expressions within certain communities, in a sense of creating a group identity in things like that. And I think it’s important, it’s like catharsis, it helps you work your ideas. All of that is, I think it’s invaluable. I just don’t know what it can do for change. Just speaking a little bit ardently about it, I don’t know.
CF: As an artist do you believe you have a certain responsibility to fans, the music community and the world? And if so, what is it?
AM: I think that’s my first responsibility… I don’t know; I think that’s unique to the individual. Some people want to be a role model, but some people want to tear down the idea of role models, and I think that’s equally useful.
I feel like for me I want to explore what it is for me to be the person that I can be and then try to be as true to that as possible in the public expression of Tennis. I want to try to be the things that I wished I had seen growing up. So in that sense I guess I want to be an example, but that’s not to say that’s the only thing artists should be.
I think sometimes being a terrible example is also… I think art as a tool of critique and destruction is just as valuable. It’s just think it’s unique to who you are.
It’s important to be a good person in the world for the functioning of the world, but it is also important to the world could easily function a different way, it just happens to be on this set of values. I think art is good for showing different interpretations of history, different versions of history, different subcultures’ views of history, and I’m really interested in that. I think that’s one of the greatest advantages.
CF: To shift back to the record for a moment. You touched on the fact that you guys self-produced and are self putting out this album, and you wanted to do it because you wanted to do Tennis on your own terms, but with that, do you feel any more anxious with all of the weight that’s on your shoulders?
AM: Yeah, absolutely, but we also feel a lot freer too. This is unromantic, but it’s really nice to have no one else’s money involved. It’s obviously more stressful to pour what little you’ve managed to save as an indie band, all of it, into starting your own label, but it’s also amazing because Patrick and I are really confident that we would do more with one dollar than what a label would do with 10 because that dollar means so much to us.
We will go to the ends of the earth to get what we need out of that dollar. And so we thought, “We’re going to have half as much money as a label would have, but it doesn’t matter, we will be so careful with what we have.” And we’ve had some situations where a label will spend money on something where like, “This is not important. This isn’t going to add value to anything.” It’s just like industry standards so you do it, but I think it’s just easier to be more adaptable and choose what works best for your own band at this point.
We wouldn’t have been able to do this on album one. It took several records of experience and observing really great labels. We’ve had amazing label support in the past, and we’re so grateful for that, and we wouldn’t be able to fly free if we weren’t coming from that foundational experience.
CF: So you produced the record in Colorado, which might have had something to do with fiscal responsibility, you probably have a lot of friends there in the community. I was wondering if there were there any major changes made once you entered the studio in Colorado?
AM: There were some. One song called “Fields of Blue” wasn’t even written till we got into the studio. It was just that looped guitar part, but we thought it was really cool. And it was the only idea for a song that we had that in any way aesthetically reminded us of the sailing trip, and I just really wanted one song that captured the feeling of rolling waves, and just thinking about infinity [Laughs], which is something that really consumed our time, but otherwise the songs were pretty well thought out, and close to their final form when we got to the studio.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve have had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
AM: Actually when Vinyl Me, Please… it’s a record of the month subscriber-based program. You sign up and they curate and once a month you get a record. It’s either like a landmark classic or a couple of records each year are a discover record, like a new release from a smaller contemporary artist, basically. Anyway, it’s massive; they have a subscriber base like 20,000 plus, and they chose our album to be their record of the month this month, which that was a moment where I was like… I mean they compared it to many, many other possible records, all amazing, and they chose ours, and that’s like, “Okay, this is a reason to do this.”
That was the most humbling experience to be… right when we struck off on our own, and we expected to sell 500 copies, and now a week from now like 20,000 people are going to have our record on release date. So that’s when I was like, “Oh yea, that’s why we’re doing it. That’s amazing.”