"The whole time we were going through this experience, I was thinking 'the only silver lining to this is I'll have good subject matter when I try to write another record,'" says Alaina Moore, founding member and front woman of Denver-based pop act Tennis. Moore is speaking about a mid-tour incident in January 2018 during which she collapsed in a Whole Foods, affected by road fatigue and a viral infection.
This would have sent any band into immediate crisis, but Moore says the crisis had to wait—there was a job to do.
"So much of what I was considering at the time was just the pragmatic," she explains. "I was thinking we can't re-book this tour and about how many people we were letting down. I started making very morbid jokes like 'we're gonna make it to the show tomorrow night. Even if you have to mic my coffin, I'll be there.'"
Save the tears for when the tour's over, right?
Those tears would come, and Moore remarks how, post-tour, there were times when she was left questioning if an occurrence of this magnitude was a sign.
"I called Patrick Carney from The Black Keys, who has been a really good friend, and I asked him, 'Are we insane for being on tour? Is the universe trying to tell us to stop?' He said, 'What else are you going to do? Go sit in your living room and cry? This is why music is important. This is why we have it. Do you wanna get up on stage and play those fucking songs or do you want to go home and cry?'"
With a fresh set of ideas, Moore and bandmate/husband Patrick Riley returned to music and started writing their new album, Swimmer. The result is an album that expands on Tennis' heart-on-sleeve love affair with '70s and '80s pop and blue-eyed soul, but with enough twists to the formula to make a genuinely interesting piece of work. The sonic changes weren't intentional, but rather the organic result of a change in circumstance.
"We were finally able to work out of our own studio," Moore tells SFR. The changes of location combined with a dedicated space to call their own, she adds, allowed the duo to judge their work "more harshly and rewrite; we've never had that luxury."
Tennis has benefited from this newfound meticulousness. I find myself drawn to Swimmer, and I keep coming back to the album in a way that I simply don't with the band's previous efforts. There's something infectious about its positive retro vibe, but Moore and Riley never reach too far into the same bag of hazy production tricks and lo-fi worship that made so many other 2010s indie bands famous.
Fans of Tennis' prior material will still find plenty to enjoy, but songs sound riskier, which is refreshing—as it usually is when a band takes chances and plays with their sound. The song "Runner," for example, effortlessly alternates between a slow, funky verse and an unexpected double-time chorus that you can almost picture playing overtop a montage of Jennifer Beals flash dancing her way to fame. When Swimmer takes a turn toward the emotional, however, the music becomes decidedly more subdued while giving Moore's lyrics space to take center stage: "Such a good man, had a good job/I took up swimming for the patriarch," she sings on the record's eponymous track overtop a spacey guitar line that would make Beach House proud.
While a pretty lyric on its own, the real beauty comes from Moore's weaving a literal occurrence into metaphor throughout an entire song with universal resonance.
"That song mostly describes the day we scattered my father-in-law's ashes at sea," Moore recalls. "It was a very jarring experience. It was a beautiful summer day, we were off the coast of California, there were people surfing and swimming, and we were two miles out, pouring the remains of our loved one into the ocean. I thought 'I never learned how to swim.' and that moment stuck with me."
Tennis with Molly Burch:
7 pm Wednesday March 4. $18.
1352 Rufina Circle, 395-6369