The band Tennis is living a fantasy. But it doesn't stop with touring and making music for a living, which they do. No, there is another, more Thoreauvian element of the duo's story that inevitably spurs a sense of wanderlust, too: the quiet and romantic months they spent at sea in 2009 — months that, in hindsight, tell us everything we need to know about the band's balmy, '60s-inflected sound.
Before forming Tennis, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley sold their possessions, disconnected from the trappings of modern life and set sail for eight months along the Eastern Seaboard. Between them, they had $1,600 and a nautical education cobbled together from the how-to books and videos they consumed in the days and months before they departed their landlocked hometown of Denver intent on realizing their idea of utopia, and fulfilling the kind of long-held dream that too many of us fail to believe is even possible.
None of it would have been possible without a firm commitment to fiscal restraint. So for more than a year before the trip was to commence, the two former philosophy students, fresh out of the University of Colorado-Denver, altogether quit attending shows, buying records or patronizing bars, which, as we all know, is the highest-form of fasting for the musician-philosopher. Frugality was key, since aside from needing to budget for food and fuel, neither of the would-be shipmates owned a boat.
Eventually the couple's austerity measures paid off. By December of 2008, Moore and Riley were under contract for a vessel called Range, a 33-foot CSY cutter that would require some "sweat equity" — re-varnishing the boat's wood elements and painting the deck were just a few of the necessary tasks immediately demanding the couple's attention — before the boat could "facilitate [their] desire to live minimally, spontaneously, autonomously, and grandiosely," according to the inaugural post on their blog, White Satin Gloves. The missive was drafted with the sort-of wide-eyed marvel that would've made Christopher McCandless proud had he not passed too soon on his own grand adventure among Alaska's mythic environs.
All the dreaming, saving and hard work of making the boat seaworthy came to fruition when, eight days and an intensive sailing class later, Moore and Riley set off for the Bahamas. It would be the first of many stops on a voyage that would both affirm and challenge their perspectives on life, art and, perhaps most importantly, each other.
Interestingly, it was not until they'd set sail that the newly married Moore-Rileys realized they were both musicians. In fact, each of them had, in his or her own way, laid such aspirations to rest, going so far as to sell every piece of gear they owned to help fund the Atlantic odyssey. As the story goes, however, The Shirelles' "Baby It's You" changed all that.
In between cheap drinks and conversation with the cultural outliers they encountered in a Key West bar, "Baby It's You," a hit for both the girl group and The Beatles in the early '60s, transfixed the couple with its simple but profound beauty — a theme that dovetailed nicely with their nascent travels. What Riley appreciated about this music, he told NPR earlier this year, was that it didn't have to be analyzed. The feelings it telegraphed were paramount.
Released in January, Tennis' debut LP, Cape Dory, is the sound of two young loves far more intent on recapturing the spirit of their voyage than the attention of the rock crit cognoscenti. The whole affair is pure and unadorned, all jangly, reverb-drenched guitars, warm synths, waltz-pop rhythms and layers of Moore singing sweetly of the salty breezes, coves, storms and port cities that imbued in them an "intimacy with the unknown." A touch too precious? Possibly. But you've got to admire their approach.
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