ABOVE: TENNIS’ PATRICK RILEY (LEFT) AND ALAINA MOORE
The wanderlust of husband-and-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, who record music together as Tennis, is well documented. The couple wasn’t a band until taking an eye-opening seven-month sailing trip in 2009, which spawned their 2011 studio debut Cape Dory, a series of songs Moore and Riley wrote about their experiences at sea. “We never tried to make music before, but it came out so easily and we started sharing it with friends online. And then they started circulating, making their rounds on music blogs and before we knew it we were playing shows and one thing lead to another,” Moore explains. “And we ultimately became a band afterwards.”
Last year came a second full-length, Young and Old, again inspired by travel, from Europe to Moscow to the American South. With today’s release of the free-spirited Small Sound, a five-song EP that collects five pretty, breezy tracks, it’s not surprising to learn what Moore is most excited about: after taking a year off touring, she and Riley are ready to get back on the road.
JULIJA KASELYTE: Have you been vocally trained?
ALAINA MOORE: No, not really. I grew up singing in church and I sang a little bit in college, but it was nothing super serious or very formal. Since we’ve been touring every time I need a particular voice, especially a female singer. I always pick their brain about their rituals, and maybe the habits they use to apply, because it’s so different singing live on tour every night than it is when you’re in your bedroom writing a song here or there.
KASELYTE: Songwriting can be hard—do you write lyrics or music first?
MOORE: It depends. I think the best album, to me, has songs that were written both ways. Sometimes, it’ll be lyrics first, something I’m really touched to, and I write a melody around that. Then for Patrick sometimes it would be music that he and I wrote first that we feel has a lot of potential, working on lyrics and melodies to go with that. But you’re right. It can be really hard, and actually we are writing music right now, and it has been really hard. But it’s definitely the most rewarding thing. I think it gets harder with time; I don’t think it gets easier. The first album we wrote was so easy, we were so un-self-critical, and didn’t have any plans, it just happened almost spontaneously and now, of course, everything is a huge labor.
KASELYTE: Let’s talk about Small Sound. Was it you or Patrick who brought more ideas into this record?
MOORE: I would say with our newest music, it’s been a real joint effort. In the past, Patrick wrote most of the music and often was the source of most of the songs. But I think with this EP in particular, some of the songs are a little bit more personal to me, and I’ve gotten more involved with time.
KASELYTE: Did you and Patrick have any arguments about the music or lyrics while making the album?
MOORE: Patrick and I? Oh, yes! We were literally just talking about it this morning over coffee, how much it’s changed. I think the more experience and awareness you gain, the more invested you are, and the more concrete your vision is for every little part. You get so much more attached to an idea or a part and it gets harder and harder to always share the ideas or feel you can make compromises. But I think what’s so great about working with Patrick is that whenever ideas are really divergent about how strong they can go, I know that it’s going to take us somewhere really new some place that neither of us could have achieved on our own. That’s why it’s so worth it to work together, but it’s definitely a delicate balance making music with a significant other. Sometimes it’s just like, “Okay, this is just a song and you are the person I love, so I’m trying to pick you over the music right now,” and I think that’s really important to function.
KASELYTE: What’s the story behind the title?
MOORE: Actually, Patrick thought of that early on in our stages of writing. He really liked the way it sounded when you say it, aesthetically. But also there was something kind of fitting about it. I feel it is kind of modest, but it’s not self-deprecating. I thought it was an interesting way to refer to our music. “Small sound,” I like it, it feels good.
KASELYTE: What is your favorite track?
MOORE: I think my favorite song to play is “Mean Streets,” the first single we just released.
KASELYTE: I absolutely love that song.
MOORE: I’m so glad. It’s about Laura Nyro, this singer and songwriter from the ’70s who I really love. She has a unique voice and was such a singular talent, I think, in a lot of ways. She was always very uncomfortable with the scene, but I identified with her in a lot of personal ways, so I wanted to write a song about her. That one is probably is one of my favorites. And then the next song would be “Timothy.” I know that is Patrick’s favorite song.
KASELYTE: Tell me about the cover art of Small Sound. What was the idea behind it, and whom did you work with?
MOORE: We worked with two really amazing guys. Norman Nelson took that photo of me once while he was visiting us in Nashville and manipulated it in such a way. And then he gave it to his friend, Mark Reigelman, who actually did all the design with the text and everything. They were amazing. We found out we needed artwork in like three days, and it was a surprise deadline, and they worked so hard with me and Patrick. It was something we really liked. They were so amazingly helpful; they literally just dreamed this up for us. It was really great.
KASELYTE: You are going to play quite a lot shows in the States. Are you going to focus on the new material?
MOORE: We will be playing a lot of older songs, mostly because we haven’t been on tour for about a year, and I think it’s really nice to ease people into your new music. I know for me and the boys in the band, we all just want to play all the new music. But we are going to try to go slow and I know when you see your favorite band live you want to hear your favorites, so we’re going to try to do both.
KASELYTE: What is the most exciting for you about touring? What do you hope people gain from your music?
MOORE: I think one of the most important things about playing live is allowing people to attach human faces to the sounds that they hear. And for me, the most rewarding thing that I get out of it is first of all being able to see firsthand how people react to the songs; sometimes I’m so surprised which songs seem to connect with people. Maybe the one that I underestimated or least expected. So that’s always meaningful. Also, the songs really evolve when you play them live with a band night after night, instead of alone in the studio. They really start to transform, and you start to hear new things. It is always really fun to hear a song change after a few weeks playing it.