Like brand-new tennis balls, songs by Denver indie-poppers Tennis are as bright and bouncy as they are fuzzy. After a seven-month sailing trip, lovebirds and cofounders Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley penned some sea-themed tunes inspired by a Shirelles song from the 1960s. When the couple's first mp3s began circulating in the blogosphere, NPR's World Cafe took notice and featured their debut LP, Cape Dory. This exposure transformed their musical hobby into a full-blown career.
I spoke with Riley about sailing the Eastern Seaboard and making Young & Old, a comparatively rocking sophomore album produced by Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney.
What prompted you to buy a sailboat?
My dad took me sailing in San Diego when I was 12.… My memories of that trip grew into this huge dream. I started saving for [a sailboat] when I was a freshman in high school.… I met Alaina my junior year of college and told her about this dream. … After graduation, we got a boat and headed to the Atlantic Ocean.
Are the rewards and challenges of boat travel similar to those of a national concert tour?
They're quite different. When you're sailing, you base your entire schedule on what the weather and water are like that day. The ocean doesn't care about you. When you're touring, you're defined by other people's opinion of you.
How would you describe your approach to making Young & Old?
We wrote Cape Dory's songs for ourselves, with no intention of playing them live or becoming a band. For Young & Old, we wrote with the intention of performing the songs live. We also tried to make the lyrics easier to relate to.
What's your favorite story from the recording process?
When we were recording "My Better Self," Patrick [Carney] insisted on adding an R&B element. He told James [Barone], our drummer, to play a Stevie Wonder beat, but James didn't know what that was. I don't think he ever figured it out, but what he did play ended up working really well. It's like he had this intuitive sense of what was needed.