The dream-pop duo bring us aboard their houseboat for our forthcoming Cadence Issue.
Is it a boy or a girl?
Who cares? What difference does it make?
– Overheard in Silverlake
Well guess what, delusional parents-to-be? It makes a tremendous difference. In the current social climate – where one can’t even write a music column without trying some kind of political pedagogical statement as an introduction – to the indie pop scene, led by bandmates and couple Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, AKA Tennis, is also ready to speak up about double standards in the music industry and address a manifesto for womanhood.
As they did for their debut – Cape Dory – in 2011, the duo composed this year’s Yours Conditionally (out now via Mutually Detrimental) on board their sailboat. The boat – a Swift Ranger – cost the same price as a 2000 Honda Civic at a fair dealership but it’s a wealth of inspiration for them. “It’s about the isolation of sailing and the kind of existential crisis that happens when you leave land behind and you get into a fragile state.” Riley tells me, “It’s something powerful for both of us and I feel like we get a lot of creativity out of it and just the bare fact that we have no one to bounce ideas off of other than ourselves. We just truly write music without influences other than the natural world.”
Yours Conditionally – their fourth album and the first they have been able to produce, engineer, and mix themselves – sets the mood for a new norm of female empowerment. Both Moore and Riley feel like there is a lot more of their DNA imprinted in it than previous efforts. It is this independent approach that allowed Moore to write lyrics that genuinely describe her experienceas a woman. She juggles with the most defining aspects, maybe those that make the struggle worth it – such as lady friends, married life, hormones and rock’n’roll. On “Modern Woman,” – a minimalist ballad with a sultry reverb – she calls truce to a lost friendship and tries to make sense out of traditional feuds between women and how they affect us as much as romantic heartbreak. Speaking about the song “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” she remembers: “I was thinking of female archetypes for the song, the way that they shape me as a woman, the way thatI take that on without meaning to and then reflect it back into the world. It’s me trying to make an assertion against it, just defining myself and being myself and whatever that means.”
Sweet sounding per usual, Tennis really comes through when the dichotomy of their pop songs hits home by faking innocence on paper but dropping sarcasm between the lines. On “My Emotions Are Blinding,” Moore keeps to a strict drum beat: the challenge it is to be taken seriously as a woman. The song hearkens back to “I’m Callin’” off Ritual in Repeat in 2014, with which the band entered a new dimension in their career. “Callin’” has the same sassy mainstream-yet-intellectual seduction that Madonna’s “Borderline” had in its day, and which keeps the song urgent more than three decades after its release. A few years ago, before taping a talk show, Moore noticed how she was getting cornered by the members of their professional entourage. “They had all of these suggestions. Like how I should stop playing the keys and walk around and sing – but I thought, I write all of my parts, I want to perform them. This song is me saying that men get away with things that I feel I don’t get to get away with. Like being vain and narcissistic. I feel like it’s much less of an unattractive quality and it’s more attributed to hormones.”
The core of the band resides in the overlaying of two circles in a Venn diagram that represent their respective influences and creativity. The band is a contributive democracy (they’ve never released a song that one of them has vetoed) and each song is like a millefeuilles – a many layered cake – they both add layers independently to one another. No interference. Coming from very distinct musical backgrounds and visions, they’ve elaborated this system of songwriting like a new form of procreation. In this recent album, Tennis has also unveiled their wedding day as “a way to debunk the false romanticism that’s been assigned to our band” explains Riley. Moore adds with a smile: “But doing that made me feel romantic in a way and it is a romantic song. Whenever I embrace my cynicism I go full circle back to romance.”
Moore and Riley are truly both team players and team human beings. With Yours Conditionally, they empower, as a man and a woman, an incisive message. And when they feel the need to turn down the noise of the world, it’s just them against the world on their Swift Ranger.
Photographer: Easton Schirra for Studio64.
Stylist: Lisa Bae for The Rex Agency.
Hair & Makeup: Heather Rae for The Rex Agency.