A year after becoming one of indie rock's biggest buzz bands, Tennis has what it feels is a proper album out and is touring behind the record.
That's not to say that the Denver band, which is led by the husband/wife duo of Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, hasn't been on the road before. After all, Tennis caught plenty of ears with Cape Dory, the group's 2011 debut.
But that record, which detailed the six months the couple spent living on a sailboat, originally wasn't intended to be heard by anyone else. Young & Old — which was produced by Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and released last February — definitely was.
"This was the first time we've written an album with the intention of playing it live and having other people hear it," says Riley. "With Cape Dory, there wasn't intent about anything. It was documenting our experience. It was an album of what was going on in our lives. But with Young & Old, we wanted it to be a more serious album and confront listeners with things that are more applicable to their lives. Not too many people saved their money for six years, sold their possessions and lived on an old sailboat for six months."
Riley and Moore met as philosophy majors at the University of Colorado Boulder and decided to move to the East Coast and live on a boat after school. When they came back to Colorado after six months on the water, they wrote the songs that became Cape Dory and recorded them cheaply in home studios, with no intention of releasing them anywhere.
But friends in Boulder persuaded Riley and Moore to put out the songs on a pair of 7-inch vinyl records. Shortly thereafter, the songs got out on the web, Tennis became a buzz band, signed with Fat Possum and, last year, released the unintended record.
"Cape Dory wasn't really an album," Riley says. "It wasn't really supposed to be heard. Alaina and I wrote those songs a long time ago as a kind of a diary. We weren't planning on showing them to anyone."
Even so, the album connected, as did the band's well-received tour. That was enough to convince Riley and Moore to give music a real shot.
"We decided we'd take it a little more seriously, that this could be a career for us," he says. "I think we love it now. It's a good place."
Musically, Young & Old adds some old-school soul to Tennis's pop mix of garage rock, girl-group, and laid-back surf that's carried by Moore's straightforward vocals. On "Origins," there's a bouncing bass line and layered background vocals that bring Motown to mind. The rattling "Traveling" injects some soul into spare pop, and "Petition" is full of spacious drums and lush, rich voices and guitars.
But most critics seemed not to have noticed the soul sounds when they wrote about the record.
"For some reason, everyone is still stuck on surf and beach music," Riley says. "There's a real Motown influence on it. That's what we were going for."
Critical perceptions notwithstanding, Riley is happy with where Tennis is and particularly with Young & Old.
"We listen to it and go, 'Who would have thought we could have done this?' WE sure as hell didn't."