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Tennis' Patrick Riley on Growing Up in Arizona, Working with Pat Carney of The Black Keys, and Living With His Wife on a Sailboat

Tennis' Patrick Riley on Growing Up in Arizona, Working with Pat Carney of The Black Keys, and Living With His Wife on a Sailboat
Joe McCabe

Best Beach Wavves Coast House Fossils. There are plenty of "beachy" bands out there, and most of them combine 60's pop melodies with boatloads of reverb. Tennis plays off the nautical theme -- on in name, but in origin: the Colorado husband and wife team were initially inspired by a seven-month Atlantic sailing trip. Should we call it yacht-gaze?

Tennis' debut album, Cape Dory was released earlier this year, and the group is following it up with Young and Old on Valentine's Day of next year. Tennis is kicking off a short tour with Miniature Tigers tomorrow, December 6, at Crescent Ballroom.

We recently caught up with guitarist Patrick Riley to discuss recruiting Patrick Carney of The Black Keys as a producer, living on a boat, and what to expect from Young and Old.

I'd like to talk a little bit about your new album, Young and Old. What was it like working with Patrick Carney of The Black Keys?

It was definitely a good experience. We were really hesitant about using a producer at all. I think secretly we're all kind of anti-producer people. Throughout history, I feel like bands have the most change when they introduce a producer into the picture. We were really worried that they were going to take the reigns and run off in a different direction than we wanted. But, in the case of Patrick Carney, everything we wanted was completely fulfilled and came out in a way that we were all really happy with.

I know you wrote Cape Dory after a long boat trip, so it would be impossible to get the same exact sound twice. With that, how is Young and Old different from Cape Dory?

Young and Old is our first album so to speak. Cape Dory wasn't meant to be listened to by anyone else other than ourselves. We wrote it at home and recorded most of it at home and it was supposed to stay that way. It was a total accident that we stumbled into this career of making music and touring around the world. In that sense, Cape Dory was just an album for us. We really like it because of that, there's a cohesiveness to it that feels really good to us.

With Young and Old, we just wanted to make an album that showed that we were comfortable with making albums, and comfortable with our band, and with each other, and our writing styles. When we first approached Patrick Carney, we were just like, "Hey, we haven't really done much as a band and we were so restricted before because we were a three piece, and now we want to take out all the stops and make an album."

I find that interesting that originally Cape Dory was just for you guys, then all of a sudden, Tennis was everywhere. How would you describe your success? How did you make it as a national touring band?

It's a really shitty time to be in a band right now. The money's bad, with the internet, everything's transparent, you can't hold on to your lives anymore. I think both of us were really resisting being in a band. It really just came about by accident. Some of our friends convinced us to play a show after hearing some of our music at home and we drunkenly agreed one night and we ended up playing a show and our music just started snowballing. We couldn't stop it, this life was already set out in front of us. We're kind of like downstream swimmers if you will. We just took it where it wanted to take us.

I wish I could say that deep down inside we've been working at this for years, and years, and years. Alaina [Moore] and I have fairly strong musical backgrounds, we were both music majors in college at one point, but that dream faded pretty quickly and we both found ourselves not looking for a career in the music industry in any respect. It fell into our lap in a really interesting way and we took it.

 

Origins by tennisinc

Could you explain the inspiration behind "Origins"?

"Origins" was one of the first songs we wrote on the album, and I think that song is very representational of our band right now. We are a lot more confident in our songwriting, song structures, tones, and all that good stuff, so I think that song really captures a lot of that. Lyrically, that's one of the first songs that [Alaina] decided to explore new territories just with lyrics. Cape Dory was a one sided album, it was meant to portray an experience that Alaina and I had shared and it wasn't really for anyone else. The new album is really trying to deal with greater problems that some people deal with. I think that first song really represents that.

Will you include either The Zombies or Brenda Lee covers on the new album, or are those web-only?

Those are just for free. We were about to go on tour with this band called The Vaccines, and they canceled on us at the very last minute. We had a bunch of free time on our hands. We were like, "Let's just start recording a few different covers and giving them away since we have nothing else to do." We just recorded a Broadcast cover. It's one of our favorite songs from that band called "Tears in the Typing Pool" and we'll be giving that way like next week.

Tell Her No by tennisinc

Do you have any plans to play those songs live on this tour?

Maybe. That Zombies cover is a little tough. I don't know if you've ever heard the original, how many layers of vocals there are. It's very much a harmony-driven song. I think we might try to play "Tears in the Typing Pool" by Broadcast. It's fairly simplistic, which works for us because we try and keep everything as simple as we can with as few people we have in the group.

My original question was if touring has placed a strain on your relationship, but then I read a bunch of articles about you guys going to sea for a few months. How long were you at sea, and how have you dealt with the struggles you faced as a newlywed couple?

We saved up all this money and bought this boat, [and] we really didn't have much money after we purchased the boat. We ended up living off of $100 a month for basically seven months. We were essentially homeless for seven months just eating rice and beans and oatmeal for breakfast everyday. We really learned about ourselves, we learned lot about our needs and desires and learned to live without things.

It definitely strained our relationship a lot, but I don't think either of us were expecting the hardship of that trip. Of course, touring is a lot easier than living on a sailboat because you can stay in a hotel, you can have a shower, and you can go to grocery stores and stuff like that, but a lot of times on the boat, we found ourselves hundreds of miles away from the nearest grocery store. We'd just be stuck with barely any water or barely any food. It was definitely a hard experience, but one that changed us forever.

 

Would you guys do another trip like that?

Yeah, I think it will be a little bit better than the last one just because we were so fucking poor when we did that trip. I think this next time, if we go on a trip, now that we got the big purchase out of the way, which was the sailboat. I'm hoping that on the next trip we'll have a little bit of money on our hands, so we can at least go out to eat every once in awhile or take a shower every once in awhile, and eat fairly good food. We're planning one for roughly next year if our schedule permits it, but Tennis has definitely taken over our desires. I think we're really falling in love with this occupation and right now it's taking up all of our life.

Sounds like a good thing to do to prepare for your third album.

Yeah, why not. I think that would be a nice little change of pace at this point.

What have you been listening to lately?

We've been listening to a lot of older stuff like Harry Nilsson. For some reason, we really just like his songwriting. It's really quirky and sometimes cheesy, but cheesy in a good way. We've been listening to a lot of Kate Bush and Julee Cruise. Julee Cruise is...do you know Twin Peaks?

Yeah, the movie or the series?

The soundtrack for Twin Peaks. Her albums are so weird, and in all honesty, I hope our third album sounds like Julee Cruise. We want to start using weird horns and stuff like that. We're trying to convince our friend Julian Lynch, who's this artist out of Madison, Wisconsin to play horns with us on our third album. I don't know what's going to happen. I just figured we'd throw something weird into the mix and try to deal with it. I hope it doesn't come off like ska or something. I don't think it will.

Those are all the questions I had, is there anything you'd like to add?

No...did you grow up in Arizona?

Yes.

Where did you go to high school at?

Moon Valley. It's on the north side of town. Do you have some sort of tie to Phoenix?

The fourth member we're playing with on this tour, his name's Nathan, and he coincidentally grew up in Arizona, and I grew up in Arizona. All of our family is from there. It's kind of funny.

Really? Where did you go to high school, then?

We actually ended up moving to Colorado right before I went to high school. I went to Laguna Elementary. Our show in Phoenix will definitely be a family show. There's going to be a lot of grandmas there.

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