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For Tennis, It’s All Love/Love

Casbah stage features set by Tennis on Thursday

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It was one of the most talked about origin stories in recent memory: Boy and girl meet in college, graduate as a couple, sell their possessions and buy a boat together, go on a  seven-month sailing trip, write a sweet little record of unassuming pop tunes about it.
    Turns out, the girl and boy in question, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, are pretty good at what they do. They got that first record, Cape Dory, released on the ever genre-expanding Fat Possum label, and their follow-up, Young and Old, will be dropping on Valentine’s Day.


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    The couple are heading out on a brand new tour (they’ll be making a stop at the Casbah Thursday night) and are looking forward to establishing themselves, along with drummer James Barone, as a band that has moved beyond songs and stories of its time on the high seas.
    I recently spoke with Moore about the upcoming album and tour, getting their boat out of the conversation, and the dreadful adjective cute that always seems to pop up.
    Scott McDonald: How’s it going?
    Alaina Moore: Good. Good. But we’re just a little crazy because we’re leaving tomorrow. This is our last day for one more rehearsal, packing and cleaning everything so we don’t come back to black mold in our house. We’re going to be gone for three weeks or something. We’ve been home for a couple of months with just a show here and there, but we’re excited to get back on the road.
     
    SM: This tour is previewing Young and Old?
    AM: Exactly. We’ll be playing most of the new record on these dates. I’m really excited about it.
    SM: Must be nice for you guys to be able to expand things live.
    AM: You are entirely correct. For the tour we did for Cape Dory, it was a lot of fun, but we basically had about 30 minutes of original material. If we wanted to expand the set, we had to learn cover after cover. We didn’t want to just keep doing that, so we actually cut touring for that record a little short because we needed more songs. We initially thought we’d just do an EP or something, but we ended up writing Young and Old over the course of a month or so.
    SM: How did you hook up with [Black Keys drummer and producer] Patrick [Carney] for this record?
    AM: Well, we have the Fat Possum connection. Matthew [Johnson, Fat Possum's co-founder] is friends with both of us, and we had told him that working with Pat would be our dream. But we weren’t counting on anything. We thought it was a long shot, and we were most likely just going to keep working, but he was into it, and it worked out incredibly well. We had already written everything before we went into the studio, but he really helped a lot with arrangements and encouraging us to try different sounds and instruments. We added bass guitar to this record, which doesn’t seem that significant, but it was a big deal for us because Cape Dory didn’t have any at all. He also helped push us forward a little bit, and that’s really why we wanted to work with him in the first place. We also wanted someone who had absolutely no background in “cute” music at all, because we’ve kept, mistakenly, falling into that category. And we were never going for that; we just kept making pretty '50s music, and, lo and behold, we just kept getting described as cute. We know we’re more than cute, so we got Pat Carney, knowing he’d fix it up. He lives in Nashville now, and there are just a lot of crazy, talented, music nerds there. It was really a lot of fun -- total opposite experience from the way we recorded Cape Dory. It was a really nice change.
    SM: So much is made about the genesis of that first record. It’s one of those great origin stories, but was it hard to get the same motivation for this one?
    AM: I was actually worried about that exact thing at first because I had never written a song before Cape Dory. And that was really easy to write -- it was a particular, linear story. Also, the nautical terms are so good for rhyming -- they’re all one or two syllables; it’s not even fair. It was a complete cheater’s way to write your first album of songs. So I was really concerned that the new record might not come as easily. But I just started writing from a place of inspiration that was drawn from the overarching and direct experiences from my life right then. That ended up being things like forming the band, dealing with the insecurities of it all and my reluctance, at first, to embrace the opportunity. By the time we were on the other side of Cape Dory’s release, I felt like I had learned so much about myself and had really reflected on my own personal changes. That’s where the whole concept of Young and Old came about. I felt like I grew up a lot, the band grew up a lot, and after wrestling with the decision to really become a band, we all came out of it feeling honored with the opportunities we’d been given and decided to fully embrace it. And that’s where I chose to write from.
    SM: Well, it’s a lovely record. Did you feel relieved in some ways?
    AM: I absolutely do. People started asking that before Young and Old was even written -- "Are you going to need to go on another sailing trip?" -- and all of that. I was hoping not and wasn’t going to force it if it didn’t come. But it was awesome to find out that songwriting has become somewhat of a natural mechanism for me through the most important things in my life. These are all things that needed to be mulled over, and it ended up working out really well.
    SM: I know this wasn’t always the plan. At what point did you decide that this was going to be a full-time gig?
    AM: The moment that happened was at our very first show. A gentleman producer, whom we really respect, flew out to see us. There was no personal information about us on the Internet at that time, and I don’t think we’ve even done a single interview, and he found us by tracking down the promoter of the show and getting our information through him. We thought it was so weird. We were playing at a 100-capacity show at a dive bar in the middle of nowhere, and this guy is coming to see us. Nothing happened right away, but it was right then that we decided it was time to start thinking about it a little more seriously.
    SM: It must have been cool to realize that you could parlay it into something more than a hobby.
    AM: It was a very weird thing for me to grasp. I had spent the last several months prior applying to all kinds of different law schools. It’s what I had planned on doing. I hadn’t wanted to play any shows at all, and the boys convinced me to just do one. And then that happened, so ...
    SM: There are other married couples out there who have done this, but not that many. Is it hard on the relationship?
    AM: It really depends on what we’re going through. The hardest thing about doing this while being in a relationship, much less married, is being business partners and having to make very serious creative decisions all the time that affect both of us. We love each other, but we are not the exact same person and have differences of opinion all the time. It’s funny to be a married couple, be in an argument and say it’s not personal, it’s just business. It’s just strange to even be in a situation where you say that. We’re just trying to get used to that idea. And it’s nice to be able to miss each other some of the time -- spend a few hours away doing something else. It’s weird to be together all the time, but I won’t ever complain about it. I know there are all of those couples who desperately wish they could have more time together, and we get every minute of every day. [Laughs]
    SM: New record comes out on Valentine’s Day.
    AM: That was actually, well, kind of a mistake. We had no idea. I don’t have a problem with it, but I’ve never really paid attention or cared. We had first said we were going to release it on the 7th, but Fat Possum said it was too soon, so we agreed on the 14th. We didn’t even know it was Valentine’s. Later, someone pointed it out, and we knew that there would be reading-into-it, but we were OK with it.
    SM: Who knows? It may help it.
    AM: It might. We go through these phases where we want to resist being known in this “couple-y” sense. So much of that defining our band sometimes gets tiring. But then, a lot of times, we’re just “whatever" about it all as well. If we’re slated to be known as a band of songwriters who are in love, there are a lot of worse things out there to be known for. 
    Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com