Alaina Moore is the “wife” half of the husband-and-wife indie-pop duo, Tennis.
Their upcoming album, Swimmer, is slated to release tomorrow, Valentine’s Day.
In honor of the couple’s latest LP, Moore took the time to sit and talk with KCPR about Chili’s, feminism, and sailing. Oh, and Swimmer, their new album, of course. Read more down below:
Riana Butler: Thanks so much for letting me interview you today, I play you all the time on my show so I’m super excited.
Alaina Moore: That’s amazing, I love college radio. Stoked to support it.
RB: Being a band out of Denver, how would you describe the music scene there?
AM: I think the music scene here is incredibly nurturing and supportive, but it does tend to be a bit like an island in the middle of the ocean. Kind of isolated from the rest of the world, especially since touring is a big undertaking to start from here, especially when you’re a baby band starting out, you’ve got a long drive to get to the coast.
Weirdly, Denver and Colorado are mostly known for having huge, top 40 bands like The Lumineers or The Fray, or also Ryan Tedder, that huge producer. He’s from Colorado, and he produces Adele, Taylor Swift, whatever. He’s massive, so we have a lot of artists like that. But when it comes to just the classic indie scene, Denver’s still kind of finding its place in the world. It is a little bit unique living here, but it’s just our home and I like that nobody really cares about any scene things here. Everyone is just living their life and they’re not easily impressed. So it’s kind of more egoless, and it just feels like a really nice place to live when you get home from tour and you don’t really want to think about any of that shit anymore.
RB: That kind of answered my next question but have you ever thought about moving to a place like LA, New York, or Seattle that has a bigger music scene?
AM: Yeah, we tried moving to LA. I’m not normally very superstitious but a bunch of crazy, huge things went wrong to the point where it was terrifying and it’s like the universe was like, don’t live in LA. So we just pulled the plug on that and went back to Denver. We actually did move to Nashville for almost a year in maybe 2011 or 2012, I think. It was really awesome, living there, but just for our day-to-day life we both realized that we miss Colorado a lot.
I’ve never had a car in my life, I just ride a bike everywhere and I really couldn’t do that in Nashville, and it was bumming me out really hard, like I need to be free. I don’t want to have to be in a car anytime that I need to go half a mile. We come back to Denver and honestly, every day we think we should move somewhere else, but we’re just going to play it by ear and as long as we can make it work living outside of the industry, I’d rather do that now.
RB: I read that you get a lot of your creative ideas from your sailing trips. Can you tell me about the craziest experience you’ve had while out on sea?
AM: It’s basically like camping. A lot of people don’t understand quite what it’s like but basically there’s a whole subculture of people who live full time on boats, bartering and trading their labor, or they hustle up odd jobs from place to place. It’s just this very cool, weird, alternative lifestyle. We started doing that right when we graduated from college. The only thing we had was a really small boat, and we lived on that full time. It’s become very integral to every aspect of our lives, I feel like it lets us live closer to nature, it helps us disconnect from pressure to achieve, and it also turns off the need or the compulsion to buy anything in my day to day. Looking at Instagram or anything I just have to buy shit all the time. And when we live on the boat we will spend no money on anything except for food, and that’s all it costs, actually. You can anchor for free anywhere and that’s why we like to spend long periods of time doing that when we are trying to write, because then our whole day revolves around reading and writing and just kind of leaning into that creative instinct.
But, every once in a while something insane will happen, like a huge storm will pop up out of nowhere. Weather predictions are pretty good now, but it’s really hard to predict little local effect. Recently we were in hurricane force winds randomly, out of nowhere. It started at like four in the morning. We were in an anchorage in a very remote place in Mexico in the Sea of Cortez, and it was blowing like 60 knots of wind, which is like low grade hurricane, and it blew all of the fans out of the desert and off shore into the water and it was like a dust storm at sea. You couldn’t see the horizon and the wind was so loud. It sounded like a freight train running over you. It was deafeningly loud, and we basically spent eight or nine hours trying to keep our boat from dragging onto rocks. And my god it really did a number on my anxiety. It was fucking terrifying. But it just went away as suddenly as it came and we survived. A few other boats wrecked during the same wind, but we made it through.
But those experiences are usually really infrequent and very humbling and they just remind you that you’re just a really small, insignificant part of the world, and that the world isn’t all about you and I really like that feeling, honestly.
RB: Did you ever think “I’m dying, we’re going down”?
AM: I never felt like we would die when we’re at anchor. I can’t really swim, but there’s sure close enough that if my life was at risk, I could get there. I’ve had a few close calls on offshore sailing trips when we’re at sea, on a passage. The longest we’ve been at sea was eight days straight at sea. And there’s a few instances where I’ll get into my own head and think if the smallest thing happened and our boat started sinking we would definitely die, and no one could get to us and that is really hard to think about. But then I remember that it’s safer than driving your car down the highway. So, you know, it’s more psychologically terrifying than it is truly dangerous.
RB: Do you usually plan these trips with the intent to make an album out of the experience, or you happen to just get inspired while onboard, and it eventually falls into place as an album?
AM: Well, it’s a little bit of both. We can only really go sailing when we don’t have to tour (we basically tour for a living). So we’ll tour for maybe one or two years on an album cycle and then when things kind of come to a break and it seems like a good point to stop living on the road, that’s usually around the time that you should make a new record. So it kind of lines up where the time when we’re supposed to be writing is the time we have free from tour to go beyond our boat again. And usually after spending a year straight going from city to city to city, venue to venue to venue, I really want to be in the wilderness. So it’s more just a really amazing way of combining two lifestyles that wouldn’t normally fit together. We’ve worked really hard to make them fit together so that we can have both and I think it keeps us sane.
And you know, Justin Vernon lives and writes in a cabin in like Wisconsin. This is just our equivalent of that, but the cabin happens to be floating.
RB: Going into your new album, Swimmer, first off congrats! I’m super excited for it to come out. What do you want people to feel when they listen to Swimmer?
AM: I actually have never thought about that. I think the best thing that could be said is, if someone feels understood that would mean a lot to me. Whether it’s some really obscure emotion or experience that they’ve had where they maybe feel like nobody else has shared that feeling, then, I think that would be what I want people to get out of it.
RB: I’ve really been loving all of the singles you’ve released so far. I read that “Need Your Love” is Patrick’s and your favorite song you’ve written. Is there a reason for that?
AM: Well, it’s actually my favorite song. Patrick’s favorite is “Runner.” But for me, it’s my favorite because I compose on piano, and I kind of have a love-hate relationship with piano playing. I feel like it’s just inherently less cool than guitar and I wish I played guitar, but I don’t really. So whenever I can do something with piano that feels fresh and interesting and exciting and really expresses me, then I feel like I’ve really done something, and I really love the way Need Your Love came out. It’s like part ballad part assertive, like almost R&B-ish. I just feel like it does a lot in just a few minutes and I’m really proud of it.
RB: Is it supposed to be about 0 points scored in a game of tennis?
AM: That’s so funny, I don’t even know how tennis scoring works. So, no idea. It’s just me venting about a really frustrating relationship that I had where I was basically cutting out someone from my life. I normally don’t like to feel anger and I usually work hard to avoid it but I decided to lean into it on this one. The lyrics are completely literal, I’m singing to a person that I’m really angry at.
RB: Can you talk about the time change? Because it’s not often that I hear that in indie music.
AM: Yeah, I had written each part of the song separately and I was really attached to the chorus. I loved the vocal melody and the style of the delivery of those lyrics. When I tried to combine it with the verse, it didn’t work when I had it at the same speed as the verse I really wanted to slow down. And at first I was really stumped, like, “Oh god, I need to just rewrite everything because these parts don’t fit together.” And then I was listening to a Laura Nyro song later that day, and she does a lot of really sudden and spontaneous time changes, or just tempo adjustments, and it’s usually very wild and jarring but it feels really natural because she performs straight into it. I thought we should try doing it that way, so Patrick recorded me live just going straight from the verse into the chorus with the huge tempo change, but without queuing it at all, and we recorded it and listened back and we thought it was really dope, and that was it. Song solved.
RB: I was looking at the tracklist, I noticed all three of the singles you released are back to back. Is the album meant to be listened to front-to-back or is there specific meaning about that?
AM: It doesn’t need to be, although the ordering of the album is very intentional. We worked really hard on that. I actually love love love the back half of the record so much I wish I could release all the songs as a single, but it was really just a flow thing and it’s kind of a coincidence. All of the songs we’ve released are right in a row, at the top.
RB: And I have to ask. Have you thought about recreating your make out scene with Patrick from the Runner music video during your upcoming shows?
AM: Do you think we should?
AM: Okay, then we should.
RB: I’ll be at the April 4th show in LA, so…
AM: Alright, well at very least I know that you’ll be waiting for it. It might be hard to figure out since both of us are usually having to play an instrument the whole time, but if we can find a point where neither of us are playing an instrument, then we’ll make out.
RB: Perfect. Now, a lot of your music is laced with underlying meanings of feminism. As a woman in the music industry, how do you overcome those times when you are mistreated or treated differently from the men surrounding you?
AM: Well, in all honesty, I rarely ever am because I have the privilege of being in a straight, monogamous relationship so it’s one of those fucked up things where because I have a husband, it sort of makes me more immune to those things (at least in the music industry). So I really am sheltered from a lot of the things that other women have to face. The only thing that I’ve ever encountered, I think it’s just like assumptions or the person didn’t do very much research, but when we get album reviews a lot of my ideas will be attributed to Patrick, and that annoys me.
There’s definitely sexism playing into it. People will assume that he wrote a drum beat or a baseline or the whole song. I’m involved in every stage of the writing and very rarely do people assume that about me, whereas they will assume that Patrick did everything. So that kind of bums me out sometimes. Also, I notice that people talk a lot about my hair or my look in reviews instead of my lyrics, and that also annoys me but I also have worked really hard to curate a very defined aesthetic that is recognizable for our band so if somebody focuses on that, I can’t really blame them because I’ve worked really hard to cultivate it. But I would like to be valued for my ideas and my contributions as a writer, over and above my haircut or my husband. That’s usually my biggest frustration, as a woman.
RB: I just have a few more questions, but I read that you used to work at Chili’s. What’s your favorite dish?
AM: Oh my gosh. Well, when I worked at Chili’s I was really basic, so I think I just ate chicken tenders all the time, which I still eat. And I mean basic, I’m really owning it. Not to insult anyone who goes to Chili’s and eats chicken tenders, because they’re really good. But that was a very unique time in my life — I worked at Chili’s for maybe six or eight years through college and one of my friends, an old colleague, texted me a few years ago and was like, “You’re on the Chilis playlist. We hear Tennis every day at work,” and I was like, okay, that feels really good.
AM: I still say “corner” when I’m in a venue. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, but that’s something you say when you’re walking fast around a corner and you can’t see. Everyone always yells “CORNER” so you don’t crash into someone carrying a bunch of plates. And I still do that backstage at venues. Out of habit when I’m walking I’ll just be like “CORNER” and every once in a while someone at the venue will laugh because they also used to be a waiter.
RB: And thoughts on Serena Williams?
AM: Oh my God. Serena Williams is one of probably the greatest of all time. We actually got to watch her win the US Open in 2013, I think, and the match was over in like 45 minutes. She just dominated, it was crazy to see her in real life. She’s just pure power. But I think it’s a really inspiring time to be a woman or a teenage girl. I often think if I could be a teenage girl now, I feel like I would grow up with so much more self esteem because we have incredible female athletes.
Music is being more and more permeated by female artists and producers. Also, I feel like pop music has gotten way more interesting for women, instead of just being like, shiny sex symbols we have dark, gothy, angry, nuanced, incredible humans like Lorde or Billie Eilish or even Lykke Li and I just think back, I grew up with Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, which of course they’re amazing but I would have related so much more to what’s happening today.
It just makes me feel really optimistic for the future because I feel like the world’s becoming a better place for women.
RB: For sure. And what is your favorite tennis shoe?
AM: I actually don’t wear sneakers really ever. I don’t I don’t do leisure wear or athletic wear or anything and I don’t like to work out…
AM: …at all. I just got a pair of white tennis shoes from Everlane but I’ve never worn them except for in the “Need Your Love” video.
RB: Alright! Thank you so much for your time, and I’ll be seeing you at your LA show. Keep that make out scene in mind!
AM: I will. It’ll be hard to pitch to Patrick because he gets really insecure about that, but I will do my best to motivate him to make out with me on stage.
Riana Butler is a Cal Poly Journalism senior and a KCPR staff member. Featured image credit to Tennis.