Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, Tennis‘s core married duo, have created some distance between themselves and the seafaring origin story that inspired their debut, Cape Dory. The breezy, Brill Building retro-pop that forms the band’s Patrick Carney-produced sophomore release, Young And Old (named after a Yeats poem that chronicles similar themes of personal evolution), spent some time at the top of CMJ’s college radio charts, recently earned the indie milestone of performances on both Leno and Letterman and now keeps the four-piece band busy on an ever-expanding U.S./European tour. We sat down with singer/keyboardist Moore in a wood-paneled dressing room at a last-minute Brooklyn Bowl gig following Tennis’s Letterman appearance in New York.
Young and Old has been out for just about two months now. Have you noticed a shift in the way people write about you or interact with you at shows?
When the record first came out people were taking really wishy-washy, ambiguous positions with us instead of saying, “I don’t like it,” or, “I like it.” They weren’t sure about us in the way people aren’t sure about most buzz bands, and that was really frustrating at first. But in the last couple of weeks we’ve played the Tonight Show and the Late Show, and we’ve been No. 1 on CMJ college charts, and all of a sudden things have just been happening out of nowhere. And I truly cannot tell you what changed [laughs]. I’m happy for it, and it’s kind of a rewarding change. I don’t want anything to come easy for us. I want to work for it.
Is that the same mentality that inspired your sea voyage?
Yeah, I guess that method of shaping my own life, of putting myself in trying experiences that will maybe bring out something new or refine a character quality that needs to be challenged, that existed long before our music career existed. We sailed out for similar reasons.
Do you have any new adventures planned yet?
The tour is our adventure for right now. Me, I can only handle one adventure at a time. Patrick, on the other hand, that’s what makes him tick…that’s really cheesy, but that’s what really truly motivates him. So he’s always planning our next sea voyage, and I’m always telling him, “Wait! We’ll conquer this tour now. We’ll conquer the ocean later.”
Your video for “Origins” looked like an adventure in itself. Why did you decide to go with a ski chase?
Patrick grew up in the mountains, and so did James (Barone), our drummer. We really wanted to make a video for “Origins” that wasn’t this really heavy, literal depiction of the lyrics. So we thought it would be awesome to emulate these ridiculous James Bond ski chase scenes from The Spy Who Loved Me. Our first idea was to have James be the villain and have him chasing Patrick, but we quickly discovered that James cannot ski—at all. We ended up using Patrick’s 60-year-old father as his stunt double. Patrick’s dad is a much better skier, and we had him wear this black villain mask and this black leather outfit and pull a fake, plastic toy-looking pistol and chase Patrick down the mountain with it. He was totally game.
We caught your Bowery Ballroom set last month. Have you noticed how crazy excited the audience gets when you step away from the keyboard for a dance break?
Yes, and we’re trying to write to that. There were a couple of months where we were touring this new record and I had a double-tiered, two-keyboard setup, and for like five different songs I was playing one hand on each keyboard and doing everything myself. It was very fun and very rewarding, but I had trouble engaging the crowd as a frontperson because I was multitasking so much, so we just decided to hire a fourth member to lighten my load. It’s much easier for me to connect with the crowd when I’m looking at them.
Have you thought about a keytar?
People say that! And, you know, I could try to bust it out, but either people would find it so gimmicky or else it would come off like I’m ahead of a trend. But I have a feeling that wouldn’t be the case.
Another thing we noticed at Bowery: Is that a giraffe in a space helmet tattooed on your arm?
It is! These are my anthropomorphized animals [pulls up her right sleeve]. There’s also a squirrel at a control console on the bottom here.
What’s the story behind your cosmonaut creatures?
When I first met Patrick in college he would draw these comic sketches of this giraffe doing human activities like discovering the pyramids or being in outer space. I saved some of the drawings, and later on when we were married I had one tattooed. I told Patrick he had to get something of mine if I was getting something of his, out of fairness. So he got a picture that I drew of a stuffed panda bear drinking a cup of tea on his forearm. Our only rule was that we wanted it to look horrible and hand-drawn like a little kid in a notebook, so we told our tattoo artist to freehand it.
That’s pretty cute. Did you know that Brooklyn Bowl’s promo site about this show describes Tennis with the tagline, “They’re cute, they’re married, and they make super nice music”?
I did not know that.
Does that summation bother you?
Totally! I mean, there’s way, way, way worse ways that they could describe someone, and I won’t get in anyone’s face about it, but I would rather the fact that we’re married not even be considered. That is irrelevant to everything, and it’s really personal. It’s weird. People talk about that as if it’s a quality definitive of our music, but it’s not. Or the fact that marriage is “cute.” That’s not the word I’d use. Not that we have a hideous marriage, but it’s not cute either. It’s real. It’s hard. It’s normal, like any other marriage.
If you could write your own tagline for Tennis, what would it say?
Two marginally talented—but very diligent—people, devoted to unlocking the mysteries of pop music.
That would look good on a T-shirt.
I am characteristically verbose. Of course my tagline would be a run-on sentence.