Two captains, one ship

The egalitarian marriage that makes Tennis’ new album pertinent

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Alaina Moore And Patrick Riley met at the University of Denver in a philosophy class. Now they sail the world and make indie pop music together.
Luca Venter

On the morning of the Women’s March in January, Tennis lead singer Alaina Moore was at the airport on her way to rehearsal. Slightly frustrated she couldn’t attend the demonstration with her sisters, brother and thousands of other Coloradans in her hometown of Denver, she marched through the terminal wearing her “The future is female” T-Shirt, catching glimpses of massive crowds gathered in multiple cities around the country on the TVs at different flight gates. As she passed other women, she exchanged what she says were looks of encouragement and acknowledgement — if any of them weren’t traveling, they’d be marching.

“It was this amazing experience of camaraderie with strangers in the airport, and it felt very powerful,” Moore says. “I was in tears, so moved to see such a powerful expression and coming together.”

The timing couldn’t be more perfect to release Tennis’ fourth album — Yours Conditionally, out March 10 — with Moore’s husband and bandmate Patrick Riley. Written half on land and half while sailing together in the Sea of Cortez, the album is part long-term-monogamous-love story, part feminist manifesto, encapsulated in the band’s signature indie pop, lo-fi sound.

“We’re just riding a wave of a lot of other things socially and culturally that we couldn’t have predicted,” Moore says. “Social constructs were very convenient and well-timed and not super planned.”

The duo wrote the new album just prior to and during a four-month sailing expedition around Baja California in the winter of 2015, unaware (like most of us) that the bubbling pot of sexism and inequality in the U.S. was about to boil over. The 2016 election just applied the appropriate heat.

“The story we were told growing up was that everything is resolved now, everyone has equal rights, everything’s done. We did it, we’re great,” Moore says. “And then you grow up and you’re like, ‘Yes, everything is better, we’re on this continuum but it’s not over.’ And we were sweeping things under the rug, and it’s not true that everyone has equal rights and we’re not actually there yet.”

Keila Anne
Alaina Moore, lead singer of Tennis

In many ways, Moore has grown up as Tennis has blossomed. The duo wrote their first album, Cape Dory, as newlyweds, just returned from a sailing venture after graduating from the University of Denver where they met in a philosophy class. Although skeptical at first, Moore eventually adopted Riley’s dream to sail around the world.

“I was drawn to it not just because we were in love, but I was drawn to it for the sake of it being so antithetical, so polar opposite to anything that I had known; desert plain, mountainous region, landlocked my whole life never having been on a boat,” she says.

While the couple spent that first trip “learning how not to die,” Moore says, they also discovered a dynamic in their relationship no one had ever taught them was possible.

“We [are] the only people we’ve ever met that has a two captains, one ship philosophy,” Moore says, going against prevailing sailing logic. “It’s completely egalitarian. And it’s not that we have a panel discussion between every major decision. It’s just that we truly know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we default to the person who has more expertise in an area.”

It’s a form of companionship they apply to every area of their shared life, from sailing to marriage to the band. While Moore writes lyrics, Riley puts them to music. While he does the accounting, she’s the spokesperson. And it’s a system that Moore hopes to communicate through the love songs on Yours Conditionally.

“It feels like a tacit knowledge that I made explicit; Something you already knew and lived by but you didn’t even know that you knew it,” she says. “I always knew that I wanted partnership that had no hierarchy but deep respect for each others’ abilities. … No one ever told me that was a system that existed. We’re lucky that we found it for ourselves and that it works.”

Moore is a pop artist at heart, and she has sometimes felt limited by a genre that prioritizes melodies over poetics and love songs over philosophical diatribes. In many ways, this caused the duo to take break from writing after their last release 2014’s Ritual in Repeat.

But analyzing the complexity of modern feminism, at times in the context of her marriage, reinspired Moore for the fourth album.

“I felt very much interested in the different aspects of my identity within womanhood,” Moore says about songs like “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” and “My Emotions Are Blinding.”

“I was able to do some work sorting out the ways in which I felt restricted or shaped by gender almost against my will, especially in a performative aspect.”

What started as a sailing expedition between college and graduate school has landed Moore on a path of self discovery publically shared through the moniker Tennis. It’s been a process of discovery she’s faced head on, as a pop artist, a wife and a woman in the world.

On the Bill: Tennis with South of France. 7 p.m. Saturday, March 4, Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-377-1666.