Capturing the Ocean Breeze: Tennis, August 18 at The Speakeasy Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 11 August 2010 14:46


If the husband-and-wife duo of Tennis disappears a year from now, it will remain a great story. Frugal living and romance led to a sailing trip that led to the band that captured their journey in evocative, lovely lo-fi songs. Another period of frugal living will let Tennis test the musical waters over the next year, and if it doesn't work out, Patrick Riley said he's okay with that.

In a phone interview last month, Riley said he and his wife have saved enough money at their day jobs over the past year to "buy ourselves another year of doing whatever. Since music has taken off, we're just going to try the music thing for a year. ... If we can sustain ourselves, we'll keep doing it. If we can't, we'll just turn it back into a hobby again."

The band will be part of an August 18 show at The Speakeasy in Rock Island, and this summer has been Tennis' coming-out party. Two seven-inch singles were released in July (on the Fire Talk and Underwater Peoples labels), and those five songs have built a serious buzz, with the band being featured at Pitchfork, Stereogum, and the New York Times' T Magazine Blog.

(Although Tennis is based in Colorado, Riley has Iowa connections: His grandfather was the Bill Riley in the Bill Riley Iowa State Fair Talent Search, and his uncle -- Bill Riley Jr. -- currently hosts the event.)

Fresh out of the University of Colorado, Riley and Alaina Moore began an East Coast sailing expedition in January 2009, fulfilling Riley's childhood dream. He'd saved his money for years to buy a sailboat, and he figured Moore would bail on their relationship when he told her about his plans. Instead, she began saving her money, too.

The genesis of Tennis, Riley said, was a stop in Marathon, Florida. "We were at a bar," he said. "We didn't go to bars often, because we didn't have the money. It was a really special night for us to go and share a beer." By this he means that they didn't share the experience of each having a beer; they literally shared a beer. A waiter played the Shirelles' 1961 single "Baby It's You," and Riley and Moore were enchanted.

"If I start a band, I want it to sound exactly like this," Riley said, and Moore agreed. "When we get back, let's save up money again and try and replicate that as much as possible with our own perspective."

The sailing trip was originally scheduled to last two years, but the pair could only afford eight months. They ended their journey in Baltimore, hoping to settle there, but they couldn't find jobs -- even of the coffee-shop variety. Riley said he was even rejected by Walmart. "We had spent so much time away from land that we hadn't realized that the economy was in shambles," he said.

So after two months of fruitless job searches, they headed back to Denver, returning to the jobs that they'd left to go sailing. And they began recording the songs they had conceived and worked out (with instruments meant for children) on the ocean.

Each of Tennis' five released songs is drawn from some element of the sailing trip, and although they're somewhat crude, they're charmingly crude. "Marathon" and "Baltimore" (both on the Underwater Peoples seven-inch) are particularly strong. Of "Marathon," Pitchfork wrote: "A bobbing organ buoys Moore's cooing vocals as she rhymes over clacking percussion about Coconut Grove, shifting winds, and even keels, while bright jangly guitars back a wordless chorus of self-harmonizing 'ooh's. Her own vocals eventually swell into wistful girl-groupy harmonies, the overall effect coming off like Dum Dum Girls playing a low-key set at a beach party." It described the band's songs as "effortlessly breezy."

But Riley said that Tennis' home-recorded, pieced-together tracks fall short of his lofty aims, with GarageBand drums and a general coarseness. "It's missing a lot of the overall essence I'm looking for in our songs," he said. "We really want the vocals to be embedded ... an integral link to the song, not resting on top of the song."

But it was important to get the music out, he said: "We hadn't listened to any new music since we were on the boat. I came back and realized that what we're trying to do is really popular right now. ... If we don't put it out there, we're going to miss the bandwagon."

And while he isn't fully satisfied with the results, the songs have a value, he said. "We were able to make those songs with limited means, and people can identify the aesthetic we want, and that's all we wanted to do," he said. "The next step is to do the full-length [scheduled to be recorded in September or October] and do it right, ... [to] actually master the aesthetic that we want rather than just be able to identify it."

Tennis will perform on Wednesday, August 18, at Circa '21's The Speakeasy (1818 Third Avenue in Rock Island). The bill also includes the Watson Twins, Ferraby Lionhart, and Idpyramid. Tickets to the 7 p.m. all-ages show are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. To order advance tickets, click here.

For more information on Tennis, visit

To read an interview with the Watson Twins, click here.

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