Sea shanties

Chart a course for adventure: Tennis finds similarities between sailing and touring, drawing inspiration from the surf for their much-hyped debut.

Most people start a band by posting a "drummer wanted" ad on Craigslist, or by organizing a jam session with their musician friends. Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, the husband-and-wife-duo known as Tennis, went sailing.

On Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, Moore entered a post on the couple's blog, explaining "our decision to sell all of our things in exchange for a little boat, currently named 'Range' [to] facilitate our desire to live minimally, spontaneously, autonomously, and grandiosely. We are nostalgic for the simple, subsistence style of living. Hence we aspire towards developing ourselves in the fields of celestial navigation, deep-sea fishing, bartering/trading and maintaining an intimacy with the unknown." The post was meant to be the send off for a two-year boating adventure; after eight months the couple had to cut their trip short. To deal with the disappointment, they began to revisit their high seas adventures through a series of songs with titles like "Bimini Bay" and "Baltimore" for ports where they docked.

"The music was an overflow from our nostalgia of our experiences. It wasn't until after we'd recorded the whole album that we started to see the band Tennis and the music as a separate entity from the whole experience of becoming sailors and living on a boat," Moore tells Xpress.

A few early songs were recorded as 7-inches and circulated among music blogs. One of those landed in the hands of a Fat Possum Records associate; when Tennis performed in Oxford, Miss. (where Fat Possum is based), a representative came to the show and offered the duo a deal. The album, Cape Dory, was released in January.

Cape Dory is all surf guitars and '60s girls group vocals, infused with sunlight and salty breeze. Even the album's name commemorates the type of sailboat that Riley and Moore captained. But Moore doesn't think that nautical-themed music has to be Tennis' niche. "Now we're comfortable with the idea of being musicians, it doesn't have to be because we went sailing," she says.

Still, the time spent on the water is translating to time spent in a tour van. Moore (who has never performed publicly before this current stint of shows) says there are some similarities "only one is much more beautiful and closer to nature. The other one, you're never outdoors, never." The other frustration is that Riley and Moore, who learned from their months at sea that they were indeed, better together than apart (and subsequently tied the knot) are now always together but never alone together. "We're never off work when we're on the road," says Moore. "But that's the only hard thing. I couldn't do it without Patrick."

One thing that's keeping her grounded on the road is returning to the White Satin Gloves blog. "The things I really want to remember — our sense of adventure, our sense of fear, even our moments of self-doubt — those things have been really helpful for me to remember on tour," she says. The blog prompts her to throw herself into new situations, even when she feels out of her element.

Worth noting: Moore had never even been to the ocean before the couple embarked on their first sailing trip. Riley, on the other hand, had been planning the sailing adventure since age 12, and has played in other bands, including Tigers. For both, though, it's got to be a bit of a shock. What started as the sonic equivalent of a photo album quickly spun out to what music blog Backbeat calls "deafening insta-buzz," complete with a stop at South By Southwest. That kind of career trajectory would go to most band's heads. Not so much with Tennis.

"I see an expiration date," says Moore. "This is an amazing opportunity and something we'll look back on and learn a lot from, but it definitely won't last forever." She says that perspective keeps the experience authentic. For now, being a band feels right but "there are a lot of other things we love doing and if this were taken away, we'd quickly throw ourselves into the next thing."

For the time being, the next thing is a possible follow up to Cape Dory. (Expect at least a nod to the '60s surf-pop aesthetic because, says Moore, "We're reveling in the memories of our most cherished period of time that we shared together in the music form of our very favorite types of music, so I think that will always be there.") Tennis already has new songs that they'll be debuting at shows. And there are more high seas adventures planned, too. A month on the boat following SXSW and then a longer trip next winter.

"We'll always go sailing," says Moore.

— Alli Marshall can be reached at

who: Tennis (with La Sera and Holiday Shores)
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Tuesday, March 8 (8:30 p.m., $8 advance/$10 day of show.


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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