INTERVIEW: Alaina Moore of Tennis

I’ve been a huge fan of Tennis since my sophomore year of high school. The indie duo got me through my first serious relationship, subsequently, a bad breakup, a move across the country, and every little moment in between.

So naturally, when I was given the chance to interview the band’s vocalist, Alaina Moore, I was thrilled to accept. I had a nice chat on the phone with Moore, and I’m excited to share what I learned about her and Tennis on the whole with all of you!

How did you and Patrick first meet?

We met in college during my second senior year and his junior year. We met in an Analytic Philosophy class and he recognised me from my waitressing job, so we just struck up a conversation and it was like- instant friends. Initially our relationship was based on philosophy and literature, since that was how we met and we had that in common. Then, it turned into planning a sailing trip after college where we just lived on the boat and sailed around the world. When we got back, we had to start settling down and being adults. We tried painting together but both of us are really talentless painters, so we were like pawning things off all the time for money, and we realised like ‘hey, both of us play instruments. Why don’t we do that?’ And this was years into the relationship, but that’s how that started.

How did that lead into Tennis?

It never came that easily. I have beginner’s luck where the first time I try anything I’m weirdly good at it and then I’m horrible from then on. Fortunately we had- really, it felt like a sign- beginner’s luck with songwriting together and it was immediately so compelling. We felt like there was so much to it, so we stuck it out and that’s how we got into our career. So that’s how we started songwriting. It was really slow, like natural stumbling. It wasn’t like this huge goal that we had. So many people say how if you want a career in music, you have to want it more than anyone else, but I was the opposite. I didn’t really want it at all and it somehow worked out. To sustain it, obviously that’s different, like you do have to really want it. Sometimes I think that not wanting something makes it easier to have because you can be okay with letting go of it, and that was my experience with music.

Have you always been musically inclined?

Yeah, I’ve always loved music and it’s been a big part of my life, but not in some like monumental way. I grew up playing piano at home. I was homeschooled so I was staying in and playing piano all the time. I didn’t really write songs but I would just make up dumb things about things around the house or whatever, but nothing serious. Then I started singing in church, and I sang a bit in college. I was a music major for my first few years of college and I was actually flunking out, which was why I changed to Philosophy. I was a much better student in an academic setting. Music was just math, which I didn’t understand. So I’ve always loved music and it’s always been a part of my life, but no signs pointing to like ‘this will be my career.’

What drew you to performing?

Nothing, I actually don’t like performing. That’s just the necessary side component of being in a band- you have to play your songs live. Patrick had to beg me to ever play a show. He’s the one who wanted to go on tour and make the band real. I thought it was really cool that blogs were playing our stuff, and talking about our songs, and that people were streaming it, and I was so honoured, so I thought that was cool enough that anyone anywhere liked our music and was listening to it, and that was absolutely enough for me. Then he begged me to go on tour, and he said “let me book the whole tour, try it once, and if you absolutely hate it, we’ll never do it again.” He booked our very first tour with the help of some friends. We went on the tour and I hated it- absolutely hated it- it was like the most brutal thing psychologically, but by the time we were done, we had a record deal, so I just couldn’t get out of it. I felt like the whole world was conspiring to make our band work, even though I was miserable performing, but grinding it out for years and years and years on the road has finally made me more comfortable and confident to where I can actually enjoy myself playing music live but it has literally taken like 8 years to get to that point.

Along with that, are there any songs that you really love performing live?

It changes. I always prefer playing our newer songs because they’re new, but there are a few songs that I enjoy. I really really like ‘Ladies Don’t Play Guitar’ and ‘In the Morning I’ll Be Better’ is always fun for me to play. After like a year or a few of playing a song a lot, the shine starts to wear off, as it does with anything, but that’s the inherent motivation to go home and write more music- to reinvigorate our setlist.

How did you manage to put out both your album, Yours Conditionally, and the EP, We Can Die Happy, in less than a year?

It was a lot of work but we had two songs left over – ‘Diamond Rings’ and ‘I Miss That Feeling’ – at that point we only needed three more songs to have an EP, and we had one month at home during our tour with The Shins over the summer. We felt pretty confident that if I really committed and threw myself into it, we could get the EP done. I’m a really slow writer, but it came together and I’m really happy with it. I’m so proud of it. I’m glad that we pushed ourselves to get it done. It’s already made the fall and winter tour so much more fun. We’ll be playing ‘No Exit’, ‘I Miss That Feeling’ and ‘Diamond Rings’ on the next leg of the tour.

On the subject of No Exit, are you comfortable talking about the London Bridge terror attack?

Yeah, I do. It’s sort of an indirect relationship to that song, because I’d already started writing No Exit before we went to London. It was half done and I had a vision for it where I wanted to write like a dance song where you literally can’t have a good time dancing and you’re always worried, which is more of me because it’s really hard for me to be caught up in the moment and be truly happy and not anxious. I wanted to write a dance song for someone like me. I wanted to work on that and I had the idea for it, but we weren’t sure about it. Then, we spent that night in London. Our venue was actually on London Bridge but two blocks away from where the van hit a bunch of pedestrians, and another two blocks from the market area where people were being stabbed. Our venue was turned into a police cordon, and everyone was locked inside because they didn’t want 350 people pouring out into the streets right at the time of the attacks. So we were all locked inside which was really crazy because no one knew what was going on. It was a long, slow trickle of information, so no one was really scared, everyone was just confused. We had to learn what was going on through Twitter. There was like a palpable tension and discomfort in the room, so my bandmates started DJ’ing, which people were kind of enjoying as like a nice distraction. We ended up DJ’ing for like five hours through the panic and adrenaline of the night until it got so late that people just started falling asleep all over the venue, because we weren’t released until 5 in the morning. It was a really strange experience where I was trying to DJ through psychological terror, and I realised that that song I was trying to write was about trying to be carefree in a moment where you can’t let your fears go. Suddenly it became so literally true that it was crazy to me, so when we were all released and we flew home from London, I finished that song and I called it No Exit, obviously as a reference to the fact that the police literally chained and padlocked the doors. I ended up rewriting a bunch of the lyrics to be more in reference to my experience from that night.

Do you plan to return to London?

Oh absolutely! We don’t have anything on the books right now, but if anything, that was such an insane night it bonded me to everyone there. We danced together, people were falling asleep in the corners, we were all nervously listening to police updates together, and it was just such a surreal experience. I’ve heard from a few people through social media comments that the people who were in the venue that night know what No Exit is about and they appreciate it, but I don’t want to make it a huge point in like a press campaign because I don’t want people’s trauma to be my selling point. I don’t want to make the London Bridge terrorist attack my story. But I feel like now we have this deep bond with London, so we’ll definitely be going back.

And one last question… do you actually play tennis?

I don’t, but Patrick does, and that’s why we called it Tennis. It’s a very long story, but he’s actually a really really good tennis player, and his first childhood dream was to be a tennis pro. He worked so so hard, and he was really good, well-ranked, and he was pursuing his dreams, which were palpable and within reach. Then he suffered a string of injuries in high school, and had a few terrible losses at a couple tournaments, and it ruined his chances so he like lost his dreams. He came so close and then everything went away and it was really heartbreaking and really affecting him as a kid, and I thought it was such a compelling story because I’d never worked that hard or risked that much for anything in my life. So when we started to make music together I wanted to call it Tennis because music was working, weirdly, for us, so I wanted it to be the version of tennis where he succeeds, like you can’t be a tennis pro, but you can be in a rock band!

Tennis finished up the first leg of their winter tour on Dec. 2 in Vancouver. The second half starts in Denver, CO at the Ogden Theatre on Jan. 6 and will continue with the following dates and locations:

1/10: The Waiting Room- Omaha, NE
1/11: Fine Line Music Cafe- Minneapolis, MN
1/12: Turner Hall Ballroom- Milwaukee, WI
1/13: Metro- Chicago, IL
1/15: The HI-FI- Indianapolis, IN
1/16: Majestic Theatre- Detroit, MI
1/18: The Mod Club Theatre- Toronto, Canada
1/19: The Haunt- Ithaca, NY
1/20: Higher Ground Showcase Lounge- South Burlington, VT
1/21: Royale- Boston, MA
1/23: Brooklyn Steel- Brooklyn, NY (I’ll be there!)
1/24: 9:30 Club- Washington, DC
1/25: Union Transfer- Philadelphia, PA
1/27: Cat’s Cradle- Carrboro, NC
1/29: Terminal West @ King Plow Arts Center- Atlanta, GA
1/30: Mercy Lounge- Nashville, TN
2/1: Trees- Dallas, TX
2/2: Paper Tiger- San Antonio, TX
2/3: Emo’s Austin- Austin, TX
4/7: Corona Capital Guadalajara- Zapopan, Mexico

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