Indie pop duo Tennis recently released their sixth album, Pollen, via their own label Mutually Detrimental, with plans for a U.S. tour kicking off in March. The band will visit over 30 cities and perform in famous venues such as Washington DC’s 9:30 Club, New York City’s Beacon Theatre, and Los Angeles’s Hollywood Palladium. Pollen follows their 2020 album Swimmer, which defined their elevated approach to pop music, especially with hits like “Runner” and “Need Your Love.”
Tennis was founded in 2010 and released their first album Cape Dory in 2011 after sailing the East Coast for several months post-graduation. This album laid at the intersection of contemporary lo-fi and vintage sound, laying the groundwork for their sonic identity. Twelve years and six albums later, Tennis has played over 400 concerts and multiple big name festivals such as Coachella and SXSW.
Bandmates and lovers Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore complete Tennis–the two met in their college years in Colorado and continue to explore life and music together. Flaunt had the chance to speak with the two on life, love, and Pollen.
What was your entryway to the music-sphere? Have you always wanted to make music, or was this a passion you fell into–and what keeps the passion alive for you?
Patrick and I grew up around music. He played in bands all through middle school and high school. I grew up singing in church. We met as philosophy majors in college after having both dropped out of music programs the semester before. Neither of us liked studying music formally. We didn't like rules, structure, or hierarchy applied to music, which is probably why we've worked so hard to maintain total control over our work and our career. We fell into making music together accidentally. We wanted to make music that emulated some of the production techniques of 60's girl groups. Patrick surprised me by sort of knowing how to achieve that. We recorded our first few songs on a four-track recorder and released them online and everything escalated quickly. A lot of other bands had the same idea at the same time and we ended up part of an emerging scene. Within a few months we had a record deal and were quitting our jobs to go on tour.
What inspired the album Pollen? Was there a specific moment, experience, or maybe dream?
When we start writing an album we have no concrete sense of what we're making. We demo extensively and once we've recorded enough, we listen back and notice that a theme has emerged. Once we get a sense of what we were unconsciously creating, we commit to it. The first lines I wrote were the lyrics to Pollen Song, "You point to the trail where the blossom's have fallen / but all I can see is the pollen f*cking me up." I felt like I'd tapped into something specific about my way of being in the world and wanted to spend the rest of the record unpacking that.
How has your own relationship impacted the creative process? Can we take a peek at your dynamic creating together?
Our relationship informs every aspect of our band. In a broad sense I wouldn't make music at all if it wasn't with my partner, it's not my preferred medium. But love is a great motivator and of course I end up writing a lot of songs about our relationship. Now our lives are consumed with this joint endeavor. We're either writing, rehearsing or running the label together. As far as our creative dynamic--we are both alphas and disagree constantly. We are very protective of the work, and in that way we protect each other.
How would you say Pollen sets itself apart from your formerly released projects—would you say that it’s an extension of it or a diversion from it?
Our goal with each new album is to expand on whatever we did best previously. Touring an album is a good stress test for songwriting. Sometimes in the studio you can mask a weakness in a song with production. But playing a song live will reveal any shortcuts you may have taken. After a year on the road, we feel ready to write another record with those revelations in mind. One specific goal we had with Pollen was to write a record that would fill out our live set. We felt like we were missing some things dynamically. We also took note of which kinds of songs translate better live and tried to double down on that with Pollen. Pat always resists soloing but the few times he does the crowd really responds. I lobbied hard to have some strong guitar moments on this record, like the ending of "Glorietta." Give the people what they want!
With your upcoming tour, does being on the road and on stage feel like home, or more of a workcation? What do you think about right before you get on stage?
I know some bands feel most at home on the road but that's not my experience. I have to work so hard to maintain my health mentally and physically for shows. It's such a high stakes feeling, it's impossible for me to relax into it. That said, I really love playing shows. I love our band. We've been playing with our drummer and bass player for many years now and there is a palpable sense of trust on stage. Right before a show, I try to keep my mind clear–as in empty–with a series of pre-show rituals. On stage, I try to imagine that I am in my own private space and have invited these people to share it with me.
What do you hope listeners take home with them?
Our goals are modest. We want to make music that integrates into people's lives; a record that you could listen to while you cook, drive, hang out with friends, get ready to go out, study. My favorite albums of all time were the backdrop of my life. That's not to say that I don't want people to listen deeply. We want our albums to reward careful listening. But I primarily think of music as an accessory to your daily life–something to add some color or heighten a mood.
How do you both keep your heart open?
With a great deal of effort. Through checking in and noticing that one of us has become bitter or cynical and trying to release it. While writing Pollen I began journaling every day. That's been an interesting exercise. I notice the things that worry me most in my day to day aren't very compelling when I write them down. They tend to lose their sting. I end up reflecting more often on people I love, experiences I am grateful for. It's a good way for me to gain perspective without actually trying to gain perspective.