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Interview: 2012 Must-Know - Tennis

Interview: 2012 Must-Know - Tennis

Tennis' debut album 'Cape Dory' was one of my absolute favourite records of last year - ask anyone that knows me and they'll tell you that the band's songs were staples of all my 2011 playlists and mix CD's.

This time round, the band have honed their sound on the follow-up album, 'Young & Old' - produced by The Black Keys' drummer Patrick Carney - which leaves me selfishly hoping that Tennis continue to release a new album every year.

COUP DE MAIN: For those that haven't heard your music before, how would you describe it?
TENNIS - ALAINA MOORE: I hate to start off this interview being unwieldy, but I don't think music should be described, but listened to. You can know in a matter of seconds upon hearing the same thing that could take an hour to say. 

CDM: Congratulations on your new album 'Young & Old'! It's already one of my favourite albums of 2012. What does the album title mean to you personally?
ALAINA: Thank you! The album title was taken from the Yeats' poem 'A Woman Young And Old'. I read this poem during a period of heavy writer's block. I hadn't been able to pen a tolerable lyric in weeks. I felt an instantaneous connection to this poem, and in a matter of minutes had written all of the lyrics to the song 'Origins'. Later on, I decided to loosely base the theme of the record on the idea of a woman reflecting on her life, from childhood to old age, and allowing her perspective to change as time progressed. This is the same technique used in the poem and I felt like it suited my purposes well. 

CDM: What do you feel are the main points of difference between your new album 'Young & Old' and your debut, 'Cape Dory'?
ALAINA: The first big change was that I started writing songs on the piano. Most everything on 'Cape Dory' was guitar-driven, but on this record, a couple of songs have no guitar at all and the piano is the main instrument. We were very interested in exploring this. I took a lot of inspiration from Todd Rundgren.

CDM: What was it like working with The Black Keys' Patrick Carney on the album and how did you land him for the job of producer?
ALAINA: We contacted Patrick Carney through mutual friends at Fat Possum [Records]. It was an honour to work with him. He really knows his way around a pop song, and it felt good to work with someone we were so confident in. Also, he had a lot of respect for our autonomy, and never made us feel like he would hijack a song, or change our style. We all knew what we wanted to accomplish and we worked together to make it happen.

CDM: What was your favourite part/song of 'Young & Old' to record?
ALAINA: 'My Better Self' was absolutely the most enjoyable experience. Some songs were frustrating, others mundane, but 'My Better Self' felt like we were tapping into the mysteries of the universe and channeling this song out of thin air. The whole song was tracked in a series of first takes.

CDM: Did you draw from any other literary influences for the album - or your songwriting in general - aside from the album's title?
ALAINA: That was the first time I drew from literature - but it won't be the last. I want to move away from writing about myself and my own experiences. I want to tell stories.

CDM: Lyrically, what's your favourite song that you've written so far and why?
ALAINA: I am particularly happy with the lyrics in 'My Better Self' and 'Never To Part'. Both are extremely personal, and do a lot of emotional work for me. 'My Better Self' is about the ambiguity of language and being misunderstood as a writer. In 'Never To Part', I reflect on the way sex was portrayed to me as a child using third-person narrative. They are probably the most controversial lyrics I've ever written. Weirdly, no-one seems to notice.

CDM: What was it like for you experimenting with your vocals while recording the new album, especially on songs like 'Petition'?
ALAINA: I actually wrote the vocal melody for 'Petition' after listening to The Black Keys' album 'Brothers' start to finish. I was so jealous of Dan [Auerbach]'s belt-y, soulful choruses. I really wanted a song where I experienced the same release. It was hard for me to sing initially, but I enjoy challenging my voice. I care more about melodies than my own ability I suppose. If I ever write a song that I can't sing, I'll just hire someone to sing it for me.

CDM: What does your song 'Origins' mean to you personally?
ALAINA: 'Origins' is actually a vague, and clearly disillusioned retelling of the biblical creation story. No-one knows this actually. I thought I would enjoy watching people interpret it in their own way, but I've started wishing they knew what I meant. So I'm telling you now. I am not very fond of the story of the garden of eden. The line "will you make my children bear the consequences everywhere" refers to the curse upon Eve's offspring. I don't mean to be irreverent, but it's something I wanted to write about.

CDM: Having had no touring experience prior to Tennis, has touring been quite a learning curve for the band?
ALAINA: Yes, yes and yes. Each experience was painfully new and unfamiliar. I've struggled with performance anxiety quite a bit over the past year. I actually fainted before one of our shows and we almost had to cancel it. Things have grown easier with time and I am actually beginning to enjoy playing our music live. We have grown close as a band, and the trust we have on-stage is incredible - unlike any relationship I've ever had.

CDM: I think you had a voice lesson with [Usher & Justin Bieber's vocal coach] Jan Smith last month - what advice did she give you?
ALAINA: I actually had a lesson with one of her protégées, Ebony Childs, as Jan Smith was booked up until after we were already on tour. It was an enlightening experience. I learned a lot about my own voice, what I do well, what my limits are, and bad habits I've developed over the years. The voice is an incredibly challenging instrument - you can't see it, it is extremely delicate. It takes time and finesse. I have a long way to go before I get to the level I want to be, but I enjoy the process.

CDM: If you were to make a mix-tape for New Zealanders currently in Summer, what would be on it and why?
ALAINA: I would put Fleetwood Mac's 'Mystified' on it. It's my favourite song at the moment - it's genius actually. I wish I wrote it!

CDM: Lastly, can we hope that you'll visit us in New Zealand one day?
ALAINA: I can almost guarantee that we will stay a band until we get the chance to come to New Zealand - although I have no idea when that will be. I feel like seeing New Zealand is every American's dream and I am no exception.

Tennis' new album 'Young And Old' is now out in New Zealand [on CD and vinyl]!

Watch Tennis' music video for 'Origins' below...

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