One of the first and most important rules of being in a band is: Never sleep with your bandmates. Things are good for a while, sure … until they’re not. And once they’re not, the ship can wreck real fast.
Tennis is one of those rare examples where the combination of relationship dynamics and creative collaboration actually works, and it’s largely because music for them serves as a source of mutual growth and not as a source of competitive imposition. Nonetheless, Alaina Moore, the better half of the husband and wife duo, told me over the phone a couple of weeks ago, “If I hadn’t met Patrick [Riley], I wouldn’t be doing this at all.”
For Tennis, infectious indie pop is an extension and public manifestation of their relationship and not a confused byproduct of artistic passion. Some couples go on bike rides, some take Eurotrips and some take cooking classes. It just so happens that one of Moore and Riley’s favorite couple outings is an endeavor with an audience.
Their mutual love for sailing offers a nice parallel to their music here. It all started when Moore noticed a stack of sailing books on Riley’s coffee table. Moore had never been on a boat, but according to her, Riley was convinced from an early age that, “‘Oh, this is how I want to live.’”
As their dating got more and more serious, they prepared to live the boat life after graduating from college, “learning everything together at the same time, with no hierarchy of knowledge,” according to Moore.
And that’s how music is for them. Riley’s “single vision” tendency serves as Moore’s ignition spark. It’s important for her, because with her naturally private, guarded and “slightly nervous” disposition, she had “no ambitions of forming a band and making it -- no natural inclinations of performance.”
And once out at sea, they operate and develop in tandem, as equals -- both captains of the ship.
But Moore, like Riley, was a philosophy major in college, so she isn’t unconscious as to how much relationships can come to define a person. On Tennis’ new album, “Yours Conditionally,” which comes out on March 10, Moore acknowledges the balance that she’s had to strike.
“The [album’s] title reflected the conclusion that I belong to the world, that I have a boundary where I’m trying to find how much I allow myself to be devoted to my husband and my fans,” she said.
So, the new album finds Moore asserting her autonomy in the stormy waters of expectations and evaluations. But the personal always becomes the political, which accounts for the album’s “tone of the critical evaluation of cultural expectations” -- especially when it comes to restrictive female archetypes, according to her.
Ironically, it’s amidst the fear of the external that Moore was able to conquer her biggest critic -- her own internality. Half of the new record was written while Moore and Riley sailed to the Sea of Cortez from San Diego, and the rough, demanding trip was mostly characterized by “just trying not to crash into whales,” Moore said. “The fear of losing the boat or being in a storm was more immense than writing a bad song, and that eclipsed my inner critic, leaving me without inhibitions.”
Once they found that really calm place in the Sea of Cortez, she wrote without fear, which is why, according to her, it’s her best lyrical work yet.
At Tennis' show on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the Irenic, expect a well rehearsed band with a slight amount of stage fright, a newly discovered openness and a willingness to risk the stormy, open waters for a peaceful, cloistered sea.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. He now plays in the Lulls and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.