It shouldn’t take a listener long to notice two themes in Tennis’ songs: feminism and relationships, and how they intertwine.
Tennis is the musical collaboration of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley. The married duo has evolved sonically over the years, becoming less lo-fi but holding on to sweet sounds of decades past that resonate in their previous three records.
“Cape Dory,” Tennis’ first release in 2008, was born from a sailing trip the pair took about eight years ago. Sounds of sea and travel are woven into the album. In writing “Yours Conditionally,” Moore and Riley took to the sea again less for a sense of travel, Moore explained, but more to clear their heads around writing.
“It was feeling very forced and unenjoyable, and we just decided to do something that would really disrupt our routine and get us out of that headspace. We weren’t totally sure what we would write or if we would write honestly. We decided not to put a lot of pressure on ourselves… We just carved out some time for ourselves to kind of be alone and basically be in the wilderness. While we were there, it felt really good to write and just very reflective and easy,” Moore said.
When writing “Yours Conditionally,” Moore and Riley dug into ’60s and ’70s acts like the Bee Gees and Donovan. In any case of writing, the pair eschews contemporary music during the process, “only because I don’t want to be swept up in whatever my peers are doing,” Moore said.
In seclusion and in writing for their 2017 release, Moore pushed herself to evolve, and to face the realm of pop music with a sense that she was sharing a message she cared about.
Since “Ritual in Repeat,” and most noticeably in “Yours Conditionally,” Moore has offered a nuanced look at feminism through her own lens as a female musician who also fronts a band with her husband.
“I started as an exercise in sort of a catharsis,” Moore said. “I wrote ‘Ladies Don’t Play Guitar’ first, then ‘My Emotions are Blinding,” and then “Modern Woman,” and I just continued to feel like I was doing like some necessary work for myself to say those things and to work them out in a song form.”
Moore, in facing feminism, her identity as woman and experiences with “mundane, everyday forms of sexism,” also had to face the social convention of marriage and how it plays into her own partnership with Riley, musically and romantically.
“Writing about marriage and relationships felt like the other side of the coin for me as I thought about feminism and my own identity as a woman,” Moore said, “because I feel like I’m always negotiating how like as a feminist how many social conventions should I reject and how many can I accept.
“A lot of ‘Yours Conditionally’ is about setting up boundaries and being very assertive about my identity and pushing back against the classic love song— those sentiments in a pop song about, you know like loving someone forever, unconditionally, not matter what they do,” Moore said.
In sticking with themes of defying norms, Moore and Riley started a new label to release “Yours Conditionally.” It’s aptly named Mutually Destructive as a poke at the music industry’s infamous cycle of taking advantage of artists.
“We were making this joke about finding a 360 deal for ourselves, where everyone is taken advantage of and nobody makes any money. When you look at the classic example of a record label, there’s so many instances where I think, ‘how is this working for anyone, the label or the artist?’” Moore said.
Previously Tennis has worked with Communion Records and Oxford’s Fat Possum label— indie labels where they said they’ve had amazing experiences.
“Patrick and I are extremely, strangely rebellious and tedious to work with,” Moore said. “We hate having people tell us what to do even if it’s a good idea. I always say I didn’t start a band so that I could have a hundred bosses. I don’t want any bosses. I just want to do what I want. So Mutually Detrimental was our way into that. It’s been a really big learning curve. Releasing music is really hard, but we are proud of what we’ve done and wouldn’t change it at all.”
Tennis joins Spoon (whose drummer, Jim Eno, produced “Ritual in Repeat” and mixed their latest release) tonight at The Lyric as part of their tour for “Yours Conditionally.”