This article originally appeared on Noisey US.
A short while ago, if you'd asked Alaina Moore, one half of husband-and-wife indie pop duo Tennis, if they'd make another record, she might have said no.
"[Before this album] we took a year off," Moore explains over breakfast near New York's Columbus Circle, where we've convened to talk about the band's fourth album, Yours Conditionally. "We didn't even know if we would make another record. We would just go back to our old jobs. Well, not me. Before we started our band, I worked at American Apparel, which is now out of business," Alaina laughs, shaking her strawberry blonde curls, motioning to her bandmate and husband, Patrick Riley, across the table. "I had a triumphant moment recently where I told Pat, if you'd asked me seven years ago, what do you think is going to be around today, American Apparel or Tennis? I would have chosen American Apparel—and I think everyone would have agreed with that statement. That's the definition of a buzz band. You're here for a hot minute, and then everyone forgets about it. So we're defying the odds."
Moore's right, when Tennis first appeared on the scene, they were the definition of a buzz band, bolstered in part by their almost impossibly charming origin story: back in 2008, Moore and Riley met in philosophy class at the University of Colorado in Denver, they fell in love, married in 2009, and, after graduation, embarked on a year-long sailing trip together. They wrote music inspired by their trip as a casual stress-relieving activity, and released the collection, called Cape Dory, in 2011. Their sparkling, intelligent retro-pop earned them rave reviews and suddenly, they were a thing.
"Once we cohered into a real band," Moore says, "It was really overwhelming. Like, 'Oh my God, we're touring and making an album and I'm totally unprepared for all the things that come with that.' Only now, on this album cycle, do I feel like I understand all the things that you have to do to be a band and have a record… now, we feel comfortable because we took a huge break. We went sailing, again, for six months. And we made a commitment: if we aren't doing this for ourselves, we don't want to do it for someone else. I'm kind of a people-pleaser, and I would be like, 'Oh, the label wants this, the manager wants this, the people want this'—this amorphous thing! So I was like, it's for us or it's for no one. I don't care. Not like we're trying to be off-putting—I only want to write pop music, so our songs won't ruin anybody's day, I hope—but it was almost like a fuck you. Like, I hope you don't like it! I am the only one who needs to like it!"
The above Tennis short film was created by Vinyl Me, Please and Yours, Truly.
In some ways, Yours Conditionally is a shout out to Cape Dory: a sailing trip preceded both records, both were self-produced; in others ways, Yours Conditionally is a total evolution. If Cape Dory was a "travel diary," as Moore describes it, which catapulted them into the spotlight almost by accident, Yours Conditionally is wholly intentional, a singular, autonomous vision (the duo even started their own label, Mutually Detrimental, to release the record). Perhaps it's no surprise then that their dreamy pop is laced with lyrical bite and Alaina's using the constrictive stereotypes and expectations around gender and marriage as her grist. The album's standout—"Ladies Don't Play Guitar"—is an apt example. Over a mid-tempo groove and bright bass line, Moore begins with her soft soprano: "Ladies don't play guitar / Ladies don't get down, down to the sound of it / Maybe we can play pretend / Baby, I can go down deep, just to be what you're needing."
The idea for the track struck Moore in a small moment: "Pat was writing something on guitar," she says, "And I kept hearing this amazing solo—I was trying to sing it to him and get him to play it and I was so mad that I couldn't just play it and show him. Obviously, I'm capable of it—not soloing, but I can play rhythm guitar. I could have become a good guitar player. I take full responsibility, but [when I was a kid] no one was like, 'Here was your electric guitar and your amp!' For a girl, it's like, 'Here's your acoustic guitar. Here's your piano.' It's these little nuances. And I just thought, inside, I'm a shredder. That's my true calling, and I never achieved it—it's not anyone's fault, but it's more like [a commentary on] these social norms."
For Moore, these norms—that women aren't raised to shred, or to play hard in any way—evoke her college days. Before transferring to the University of Colorado, she attended Colorado Christian University, majoring in vocal performance. "I sang on the Worship Team," she explains. "Basically, every girl on campus wanted to be the backup singer. Which was, by the way, the only thing any girl did on the Worship Team, because no girls were encouraged to play instruments. This my huge theory—and it's actually why I swore off music [at the time]: I discovered feminism, and I was like, 'Oh, there's a reason why every girl here is just a vocal performance major, and no one [majors in] like, jazz drums.' Because no one is like, 'Oh, develop a skill that's not innate!' It's like, 'Oh, this [voice] comes out of my body!' It's the same as being pretty. It's the most reductive ability you could have. You just sing or you don't."
The duo's willingness to examine the conventions that've shaped them extends to their marriage too. In "Ten Minutes Ten Years," Moore ruminates on the idea of 'til death do us part—that it's equal parts romantic and precarious: "You could have me for ten minutes / You could have me for ten years / I could lose you in the hours / I could lose you in the tears," she croons, before proclaiming, "The feeling's lost without you, oh my baby, without you."
The song sums up the duo's feelings about their own union: "For us, the point of our marriage is not about the duration," Moore says. "You don't win at marriage because you didn't get a divorce. You win at marriage because it was good, healthy. I'd rather it be one year but amazing, than until you die and you're miserable. We wrote our own vows, and we basically only said that I will always help you become the person you want to be, and I will never be an obstacle to that. There was no forever or anything. We want it to be forever, but we aren't going to put that on each other. [We want it to be] a healthy conception of what two people are capable of."
Because Moore and Riley are spouses as well as creative collaborators, managing expectations while maintaining their separate identities is paramount to their success—as a band and a couple. For Moore, it's a lofty but worthwhile goal: "As a feminist that's in a heteronormative marriage—we're straight, monogamous, white, all the things—it's like, how do I reconcile those things? I always ask myself, where are the limits to my devotion? And where is it healthy for me to be just me and him to be just him? [We want] to have it be like an active joint companionship, and not like a loss of ourselves."
Both Moore and Riley are realistic about hitting snags, but funnily enough, after seven years of Tennis and a bout of burnout, they've made a record that will help them weather any storm moving forward. Moore says the album's breezy opener, "In the Morning I'll Be Better," is their mantra: "The song is about our way of getting through a struggle," she says. "I think we're really hard on ourselves. We fill our lives with a lot of challenges and obstacles. I feel like fear is our compass—like we end up seeking out things that are going to make us rise to the occasion, whether it's a huge sailing trip or starting a label and putting out another record even though we had burnout before. Just pushing ourselves into the next place. The song is like, 'Whenever I can't handle the thing that I'm putting myself through, there's tomorrow and I can start again.'"
Avery Stone is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.