Tennis with special guests Pure Bathing Culture
Tennis - A biography
Tennis didn't set out to intentionally shake things up for "Small Sound," but that's because they never have an agenda when they enter the studio. Guitarist Patrick Riley and singer/keyboardist Alaina Moore only have one guideline when they make music, and that is to bounce each idea they have back and forth between them until they know they've taken it as as far as it can go. And the husband and wife duo have taken it pretty far on "Small Sound," their first release for the New York label Communion, who immediately flew the band out for a meeting after hearing their new songs.
It's understandable why Communion got so excited. Working with Spoon's Jim Eno and producer Richard Swift, the pair have spread out and added an extra swing to their usual spritely pop template on the EP -- which will be released on November 5 -- buttressing their ever-elegant pop hooks with steady Motown grooves and their most intricate vocal harmonies yet. Tennis consider "Small Sound" a warm up for next year's next full length, but it works just as well on its own, filled with sharp melodies and sharper observations about life in the music industry and forging their identity. It took two previous albums for Riley and Moore to learn to trust their instincts, here are their thoughts on opening up and what's next for them.
Is this EP a release on its own or is it a harbinger of a new album next year?
Riley: It's a little bit of both. We wrote what would ultimately become the EP and the album all at once, but we think the EP stands on its own. "Timothy" in particular is a really special song for us and has become my favorite. It's a very personal moment for Alaina lyrically, and I'm really happy with the way it came out.
Do you think this is an indication of how the next album might sound and what direction you're going in?
Riley: I think so. The biggest difference is that the EP is a very digestible format. You can get into more over the course of a full length. For us I think that means the album will be a bit darker overall. Maybe a little weirder.
Moore: It is a small sampling of the full length. We wanted to give listeners a chance to reacquaint themselves with our sound. When you write in isolation, it's hard to know if you've changed a little or a lot. It feels like our taste and vision transforms continually. We hope that the EP will give our audience a chance to grow with us.
"Cured of Youth" and "Dimming Light" both have a soul/r&b feel, which is a new look for your band. Is that something you were intent exploring or just something that came out in the studio when you were playing?
Riley: For the last year or two, we've been listening to a lot of soul records. There's so much authenticity in that sound, and I think it's apparent that many of those artists did it for the love of their work, there wasn't an agenda or anything like that. These people made music for the sake of making music and that's something we strive for.
Moore: We have always loved Motown, soul and r&b, it's just taken a while for it to make an appearance in our writing. Spoon's Jim Eno, produced a session for us earlier in the year at his studio Public Hi-Fi in Austin. While working together he introduced us to Shuggie Otis, someone we should have known, but didn't. That was probably the tipping point. From then on we started writing more groove-oriented songs, with arrangements built around drums and bass. Perhaps this signifies the biggest change in our style, rhythm has primacy over melody.
What other albums were you listening to?
Riley: We listened to a lot of Funkadelic and George Clinton stuff. Alaina was really, really into Laura Nyro's "Christmas and The Beads of Sweat," as well as Judee Sill and Broadcast's "Haha Sound." Our song "Mean Streets" is a tribute to Laura Nyro's life. We've drawn many parallels between her life and ours. She seemed to be put off by the industry, and it was hard for her to find her place. People were constantly trying to categorize her, or group her with certain sounds and aesthetics, but she always resisted. She was honestly kind of fighting the fame aspect of it too. That inspired lyrics like, "Laura, there's nothing wrong with fame/leaving them surreptitiously could make a hit out of any song." She died young, and even now her canon is sort of a musical misfit.
Tell me about working with Richard Swift.
Riley: He's awesome. We've been lucky enough to work with a lot of talented people over the last two years, and Richard Swift is no exception. He's got this spark in him, where music is still so fun. His personal life and career motivated us to make unorthodox choices, because he is an example of someone who has made it in a tough industry on his own terms. Our goal in the studio was simple: to make something that excited us, and felt like a natural extension of who we are. That's what he really cares about.
Moore: We have been a fan of Swift's work for years. Our paths crossed indirectly so many times that it felt like we were meant to work together, it was only a matter of time. He is a master of getting a lot out of a little; the humblest components coming together in a breathtaking result. He taught us to trust our instincts. Nothing needs to be over-thought or over- worked. I have a tendency to be a bit of a disaster in the studio, but this time I felt like I was in a really good place.
What else did you learn working with him? Riley: Maybe the biggest thing I learned is to let the music go where it wants to go.
Moore: Yeah, self -doubt and scrutiny in the studio can be unhealthy. Richard creates an environment where those negative tendencies are precluded. The atmosphere is light, free and natural.
Is he working on the new album? Riley: Yeah. We'll be doing the album with him. When do you think it might be out? Riley: We're shooting for April or May but that's all tentative at this point. And you think it'll be darker and weirder?
Moore: We've been exploring early psych and prog rock and it feels like the next step. It's a different sound but we've been good about filtering new ideas through our own musical identity. We want to write something that will pick up where the EP leaves off, and then take you somewhere entirely new. That place might be weirder and darker, but we'll have to wait and see.