Husband and wife duo Tennis first appeared on our radar with the release of their sailing trip-inspired debut Cape Dory. Now back with a new album, Young & Old, Rhian Daly headed to Hoxton to catch up with the couple and get the lowdown on the ins and outs of the record.
How does it feel to have the album out?
Alaina: It’s not really hit us yet. It’s weird, there’s so much anticipation.
Patrick: It’s out today but I think that just means it’s out on the Internet.
A: It feels good but it’ll feel really good to… I feel like the biggest change will be when we continue playing shows with this new record and people really know the songs. That’ll be a nice change because as it stands people are kind of just listening so it’ll be really nice when they’re like ‘oh I’ve heard that song!’ I do feel like its really weird playing songs that people don’t know. It’s almost like they can’t take it in. It’s like too hard to experience a new song in a live setting. It has to be at home on your stereo.
Yeah, I think people’s instinct when they hear a new song live is to try and kind of absorb it. There’s a really obvious difference in their reactions compared to with songs they know. Do you find that too?
A: Yeah very. And it’s not like they don’t like it or anything, you can just tell that there’s no connection. And after playing a new song that we’re really excited about, people will be really quiet but then we’ll play an old song that we’re really bored of and they’ll be like ‘oh yay!’
So you wrote this album in three weeks – did you expect the songs to come that quickly and easily?
P: I think we thought we had exhausted our creativity, the first album was going to be a fluke or something. We had written it completely in isolation without the intention of ever being a band or ever playing a show really so we thought that now we’re a proper band and had been touring and were somewhat established, if we went to write another album it would all fall apart since the intention had changed. In fact, I think it came easier and I think we’re just proving to ourselves that we’re becoming better songwriters. That sounds very arrogant…
A: It was very comforting to be like ‘oh good we’ve got a little bit more music left in us.’
Was there ever the possibility that you wouldn’t make another album?
A: There’s always that possibility. There’s that possibility now, which is why we’re always surprised by things. We try not to have very strong expectations. We work really hard and we try to move fast but we don’t ever try to see into the future. This was just a crazy opportunity that fell into our lap but we don’t hold it too tightly.
You said the first album was written in isolation. What was the kind of environment you wrote Young and Old in?
P: Both albums were written in our apartment. But what I mean by isolation is the first album was written… We never planned on being a band so we weren’t writing with our finger on the pulse of where music was going.
A: We wrote with very little concern or regard for what was going on in music or with any concept of an audience, we never showed any songs to anyone. We recorded it all in our bedroom.
P: In all honesty, we had just gotten back from our sailing trip and we’d just started working again. Because we were so poor and we were working long hours our social lives had fallen apart.
A: Yeah we had just moved back so we didn’t have many friends at the time and it really was this period where we felt very isolated.
P: So Young & Old wasn’t in this isolation.
A: We wrote it at home but by then we already had James as a fully integrated band member and we’d been playing live and planned on releasing the record so we were in a pretty different place mentally.
It sounds like the whole thing came pretty easy to you but were there any hitches along the way, anything you struggled to get how you wanted?
P: I think we did on the first song we wrote. I think once we wrote that song we proved to ourselves that we could write more songs. But that first one was so stressful. It was ‘High Road’ or ‘Robin’ I think. No, definitely ‘Robin’.
A: That song in my opinion sounds the most like Cape Dory. It was like a slow change from what we knew how to do.
You’ve described the record as Stevie Nicks going through a Motown phase – does that reflect the kind of things you were listening to when you were writing it the album?
A: Yeah definitely. I discovered Stevie Nicks during writing it.
P: We were listening to old Motown records too, yeah. Not necessarily for song structures but more for recording techniques. We loved how they sounded and that’s something we wanted to take into the album.
Have you had much opportunity to play the new record live yet?
P: At this point we have. This’ll be our 15th show. 15 is enough to get to understand how they translate live.
How does it feel to have a whole new set to play?
A: It’s so fun. A lot of these songs we wrote because we thought it would be fun to play them live and they really are. It’s nice to break up the set and have songs to look forward to.
Are you getting bored of playing the old songs then?
A: I was, very much so. Not that I don’t love them but you can only listen to the same song so many times before you’re over it. It’s actually funny, now we think about this. Bands with huge hits have to play them at every show they play forever.
P: Every time we meet a bigger band who’s been around for 10 or 15 years and have a big hit, every time we talk to them they’ll be like ‘oh we have to add that song’ and just shake their head.
Do you have any favourite tracks on the album?
A: Yeah, I think my favourite is ‘My Better Self’. From beginning to end, from like its inception as a little idea I had lyrically to the recording studio where Patrick spontaneously wrote this amazing bassline… every step of the way was a really rewarding experience. Everything was just how it needed to be whereas a lot of songs feel like a fight to figure out. That one just happened. It was so great.
How does it feel now you’re actually a proper band and not just singing for yourselves?
A: It’s a weird change. Your priorities inevitably change a little bit.
P: I don’t think it’s necessarily better. I’d actually probably argue that it’s worse. I think we try and trick ourselves into thinking things are the same.
A: I think that’s what every artist does when they start to make money from what they want to do. I don’t believe in the expression selling out, I don’t think that’s relevant any more. I think it’s important to be able to make a living and be productive and creative. And it’s ok if you get paid to do that but it will inevitably change some of your priorities and the way you go into that and manipulate your own talent.
Why did you call the album Young & Old?
A: I actually took the title from a Yeats poem, A Woman Young And Old. I’m not a huge fan of poetry – I never read much, I never really enjoyed it but I was struggling tremendously with the lyrics on this record. It was hard for me not having a straightforward story to tell like how I did on Cape Dory. I started reading a lot of poetry to try and find some direction and I came across this poem and it actually ended up loosely inspiring me for a theme that I kind of kept in mind with every song that I wrote, lyrically. I guess it’s also like a reference to how we’ve transformed a lot as individuals in the last year and a half.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing Tennis now?
A: I think I would hopefully be in grad school right now.
P: We were actually talking about this not too long ago. I think I would be doing a lot of odd jobs, just working with my hands. I worked in art installation before this and I really loved just working with my hands. Sometimes with music, I feel like you stop doing that and working more with a computer and I feel like that’s slowly where we’re going. I’m trying to reverse it.
What’s the future for Tennis? Does it depend how you feel when you come to write a third album?
A: Yeah, that’s exactly how it is. We like to leave things open-ended and take them as they come.
P: We have written quite a few songs for the third album already, we have quite a few demos. But we’ve kept them quite open so later in the year or next year, we can look back at them with a fresh perspective and just address where they’re going.
Young & Old is available now via ATP Recordings.