Tennis sails back to the Bay area

Tennis founding member Patrick Riley spent just over six years saving up for the sailboat that carried him and wife/vocalist-keyboardist Aliana Moore on the seven-month journey that's sonically documented in the retro pop duo's debut LP, Cape Dory.

"It's not hard to raise a bunch of money if you forgo having a car, Internet, cell phone, etc.," Riley told CL in a recent interview. Trading the complexities of the modern world for the simplicity of life on a boat worked perfectly for the Denver-based twosome, yielding an album full of shimmery guitar, dreamy vocals, and the kind of rolling rhythms that can only be inspired by long days and nights spent bobbing up and down on the surface of the sea.

And it all started in St. Pete.

Riley said he bought the boat at St. Petersburg's Municipal Marina, where he and Moore spent a month fixing it up before sailing to the Keys. They didn't organize the voyage with music-making in mind — until they heard The Shirelles' hit "Baby It's You" playing on the house speakers at the Key Fisheries Bar in Marathon. At that moment, with the sunny harmonies and simplicity of the 1961 Bell Studios track in the background, the pair decided to form Tennis and use music to document their time on the boat.

"We wanted a connection to our experiences that could not otherwise be expressed in a landlocked state like Denver," said Riley. "We instantly became obsessed."

That obsession spurred Cape Dory, one of 2011's early frontrunners for album of the year, with a tracklist full of titles like "Long Boat Pass," "Marathon" and "Bimini Bay." The 30-minute LP supplies listeners with all of the romance they might expect from a 2,500-nautical-mile cruise to the Bahamas. But the everyday realities of life on a sailboat also get mentions.

Riley admitted he spent a third of his time on the trip just studying charts and listening to weather reports, and despite dutifully preparing for the trek by reading every sailing book he could get his hands on, he and Moore couldn't avoid a few dangerous situations along the way, like those described in "Marathon": "Coconut Grove is a very small cove / separated from the sea / by a shifting shoal," Moore sings. "We didn't realize that we had arrived at high tide / barely made it out alive."

Making it out alive seems part of the new Tennis mindset as the couple adjusts to their current landlubber lifestyle. While Riley never imagined that the band would blossom into what it is now, he and Moore — along with drummer James Barone — recently wrapped up a European tour and are doing everything they can to sustain their success. "We are new to this," he said, "[but] we are getting into a nice routine."

Tennis is now signed to Fat Possum — the label formerly home to The Black Keys — and while they've been categorically lumped in with other up-and-coming "buzz" bands like labelmates Smith Westerns and Wavves, Riley isn't worried about being "the sailing band" forever. "I'm glad that 'buzz' is not eternal," he commented. "We like the idea of shaping Tennis into what we want."

So does their label. Fat Possum green-lighted Riley and Moore's request to amend their contract and allow the sales of albums on tape, resulting in the labels' first cassette release in more than a decade. The pair isn't really feeling the pressure of the sophomore slump just yet, and after being initially worried that they may have exhausted their creativity, Riley said the band recently wrote a trio of tunes they're really excited about. "Fat Possum has got to be the most unrestricted label," he said. "They wouldn't care if we released 7"-ers for the rest of our career."

In the meantime, Tennis is on the road promoting Cape Dory and stops in town in support of the Dum Dum Girls. They plan on getting nostalgic on their return to the Sunshine State; visiting friends and their favorite beaches is already on the agenda, but Riley and Moore are definitely headed back to Marathon and the Key Fisheries bar, where it all began with a Shirelles track. "We're making it a point to thank the bartender for that night."

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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