Why leave the safety and comfort of an established label to go it alone? We weren’t able to write that often but whenever we could, I would sit down and songs would happen. I really hope I don’t have to do that all the time — have a near-death experience to write. What were you expecting to happen out there? Patrick and I started talking about signing letters “Yours Conditionally” rather than “Yours Forever.” The idea was that you wouldn’t want love at any cost. The band has played with a long line of Denver musicians (namely drummers) since its rocky start here, a scene Moore and Riley now consider their true home. Are these sailing sessions crucial to your process, or just something that music writers have latched on to? It’s also extremely dangerous. When we were sailing, the more real fear was dying at sea.
You and Patrick took to the boat again before writing the album, spending five months off the coast of California in the Sea of Cortez. This merits laying bare. It’s a lot more work and it’s convoluted. I don’t mean to speak gloom and doom over labels that have done a lot for us, but Patrick and I have got to a point where if you don’t need the advance out of the gate, there’s no reason to have the label anymore. It wasn’t intentional, but I’m relieved to see others exorcising those thoughts as I’m confronting my own philosophical struggles. We can only do it every four or five years. Even the fans, who I don’t know, but need. I didn’t even understand that’s what her album was about at first. By all accounts, the scene resented them for it. “It’s taken a long time to feel a part of anything, but I really deeply do now,” Moore said. It was an extremely comfortable and joyful experience. No matter what, you’re always owing the label. There’s an inherent network of relationships that constructs my life. It’s exactly the experience I wanted in a studio, but it was a beautiful home in the woods instead of underground in some basement. I think it’s really fortuitous that it’s all coming up at once. I don’t want the message to be that you have to do something that’s almost impossible to have a fulfilled life. (Photo provided by the band)
Tennis is a Denver band. I don’t miss studios. They’re even using Rateliff’s trailer to help haul gear on their current tour, which pulls into Denver’s Bluebird Theater on March 4. To make matters worse, Moore grew up home-schooled in Aurora, shrinking her pool of familiar faces around town to near zero. “Every time I do a Denver interview, people are like, ‘Are you really from here?’ ” Alaina Moore, the band’s 31-year-old frontwoman, laughed gingerly. We sailed 1,000 miles offshore to an uninhabited port. Like its latest album, “Yours Conditionally,” might hint, the city hasn’t historically been a port in the storm of the music industry. We spoke with Alaina Moore about “Yours Conditionally,” why they created their own label to release it and why Moore and Riley continue to find themselves at sea. The city has come around: The show sold out on Monday. It eclipsed my fear of writing bad songs. It was all about establishing a relationship based on need and fulfillment — to the work, to the industry and our marriage. Writing this record, I was considering classic love songs that speak to total dependence on the level that identity is built on. It could have been camping or biking; it could have been raising dogs. Moore: It made us laugh when we first thought of it. We’ve had way more negativity in Denver than anywhere else,” Moore said in a 2010 Denver Post feature.)
But that was seven years ago. Tennis recorded its new album, “Yours Conditionally,” in a cabin in Fraser, Colo. (Provided by the band)
Q: Your new album is called “Yours Conditionally.” There’s a gobsmacking realism to that title. In light of experience, Denver’s scene has matured. How much am I willing to belong to them? I didn’t feel like I was making music in a dungeon, which is what many recording studios feel like. Deer and moose and foxes wandering through the yard. It’s weird being a feminist and being a monogamist in a relationship. Is this Tennis’ answer to Beyonce’s “Lemonade”? For one, nothing about the band would suggest it. Denver’s Tennis (Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore) will return home to give a sold-out Bluebird Theater a taste of its new album, “Yours Conditionally,” on March 4. We just figured we could do more with less money if we do it on our own. You recorded the album in a cabin in Fraser last summer. (Moore has been on vocal rest all week after falling ill the first day of the band’s latest tour. But we’ve worked hard to integrate sailing into our lives because it’s made our lives better. The husband-and-wife duo of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley’s charming indie rock twinkles like a vibraphone from a mid-century lounge act — a world apart from the ramshackle grit that cakes the rest of Denver’s rock scene. The next stage in music we knew would come later, naturally. Sailing is something (Patrick and I) bonded over, but it could have been anything. “Use me, abuse me, I’m still your girl” — that was essentially the tone of those songs. The direct-to-consumer model is the future. To protect her voice, she’s been using a text-to-speech app on her phone to communicate, save for our 20-minute phone call.) “We keep a low profile.”
And then there’s the fact that Tennis hasn’t really been a part of the Denver music scene until recently. For this last trip, we had to move out of our apartment and rent it out and save up a bunch of money. (“I hate our shows in Denver. But then we thought of how true it was to our experience. “Yours Conditionally” is the first album on Mutually Detrimental, Tennis’ very own label. I don’t understand these indentured servitude slavery deals. From songs like “Modern Woman” to “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar,” there’s a strong feminist undercurrent here that’s seated in both marriage and the music industry. Far from the world tours they’re currently enduring, The Lumineers and Nathaniel Rateliff at that time were still grinding it out at the Meadowlark’s open mic night. It’s so unromantic. I was noticing that at home, I was so afraid of what I’ll make, that I’ll hate it, and I can barely bring myself to write. The band’s one-sheet origin story — Moore and Riley sold all their stuff and embarked on a year-long sailboat trip along the Eastern Seaboard to write their first album, “Cape Dory” — has been hammered home so early and often that it’s by and large replaced any semblance of a Colorado narrative for the band, like their meet-cute in a University of Colorado philosophy class in 2008. We wanted to be jarred into something new. We called it that because we jokingly said it was the model for those (artist and label) relationships: Everyone gets hurt. I don’t know if I’ll ever use one again. That was the first iteration. But it contextualizes my fears. Tennis hit it big with national buzz blogs just months after releasing its first singles, well before it took hold locally. But we wanted that to be the backdrop of our life.