Alaina Moore feels for Katy Perry.
Not the artist in abstract, but the subject of a documentary she’s watching, on the last flight of the most recent tour for a band that never intended to be a band in the first place.
“[The documentary] talked about how much struggle her career was in the early days,” she said. “They were always trying to market her in these formalized ways and really couldn’t find her niche. I can’t think of how many times her career was thwarted by well-meaning people, when her real self wasn’t able to come across.”
It’s a peculiar vantage point for Moore, who just a few years after she and husband Patrick Riley circulated a home-recorded demo under the moniker “Tennis, Inc.,” now finds herself in the epicenter of a new wave of female frontwomen.
“The Internet…the blog band era…it’s really democratized the music-making process,” Moore said. “When you have to go through mainstream channels, it has this homogenizing effect on female artists. Now, you can just get right around it. Since anyone can have GarageBand on their computer, all you need to do is e-mail your own songs to Pitchfork, and without a ton of expertise, women can completely run their own career. I love seeing that.”
But before the Internet, there was the ocean.
While female pop stars like Perry were swimming up (main)stream, Moore and Riley had the winds at their backs, quite literally, draining every dollar they’d accumulated to sail around the world on a boat called “Cape Dory,” the vessel for one rad post-grad adventure and the titular inspiration for the couple’s first record.
The record came off as a musical diary of sun-kissed days at sea, with Moore and Riley presumably below deck, making jangly, harmonic songs about their travels. They were two Denver kids who had never sailed before, whose savings washed away just about the time they reached land again. Once there, they were inspired to pay tribute to their time at sea – and all the emotions that came with it – the result a beautiful, ragged mix of Riley’s stinging guitar fills crashing against Moore’s cooing soprano. Home-recorded songs like “Seafarer,” “Pigeon,” “Long Boat Pass,” and “Marathon,” their first single, were never really intended for release, “just for Patrick and I,” Moore said.
Which could explain why during the band’s first tour, Moore—yanked from the cozy confines of their home recording setup—found herself at odds with the premise of fronting a band on the road night after night. Crippling stage fright resulted in a cut-short tour.
“I was so unready for having an audience, but now, I am so thankful for that,” she said. “Over the years, I have grown and gotten used to it, but I am never going to be the woman that dances around the stage, like, WASSUP NEW YORK?!?!”
That may be true, but Moore and Riley have grown tremendously on stage and in the studio, where they’ve put together their most nuanced album to date, in Ritual on Repeat. With the assistance of producers like Patrick Carney (Black Keys), Richard Swift (The Shins), and Jim Eno (Spoon), Tennis’s sonic palette has expanded with heavier percussion, dense layers of fuzz, and swelling keyboards; songs like like “I’m Calling,” and “Night Vision” add a dash of grit to the waves of endless summer sounds that are still at the bedrock of the band’s blueprint.
“This is the first time we’ve had an actually very specific vision – the first time we’re in control of what we’re doing and everything is so intentional.”
Now, not only has Moore conquered her stage demons, but also the band has taken cues from the way the songs sound live.
“It’s affected so much of the way we write,” she said. “Marathon…I mean, I would never write a song like that again – not in a million years. I was writing it just for me and Patrick, not anticipating anyone hearing it. I wasn’t thinking about it as being my legacy, but now that’s the way I think: my recording catalogue, a legacy. Even if it’s the most tiny little legacy, it’s still mine.”
Courtesy The Wild Honey Pie
Ritual on Repeat isn’t just the sound of a band growing; it’s of a group of musicians leaning into that legacy. Tennis isn’t scared of being pretty, or of wearing their ’60s-girl-group-beach-band influences on their sleeves. Moore says it’s been fun to be a part of a collective consciousness, where bands like theirs, Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls, and many others have all emerged at the same time with their own homage to a specific time in musical history.
“It’s a time that is foreign to us, which is what we’re all nostalgic about,” she said. “It’s kind of amazing that all at once there can be this collective shift culturally in our tastes. I loved witnessing that. Even now, the shift [in indie music] from the ’60s to basically to the ’90s…it’s fascinating. The reactions can be so extreme, and yet each movement kind of sets up the next one. I love watching it unfold.”
Ritual on Repeat will be released Sept. 9. Tennis will perform at the A&R Bar on Oct. 4. For more, visit www.tennis-music.com.