It didn't take long for Tennis' indie origin story to catch on: in 2010, Alaina Moore and her husband, Patrick Riley, bought a boat, sailed down the East Coast and posted online the quirky, catchy pop songs they wrote about the journey. Blogs loved the tracks, so the couple recorded a whole album, gained label support and became a real live band (with drummer James Barone). Tennis seemingly appeared out of nowhere; an A.V. Club headline even asked, "Who's this Tennis band that everybody keeps talking about?"
The story matched the music-released by Fat Possum, 2011's "Cape Dory" was warm, naive and bright.
Video: "Deep In The Woods," Tennis
Calling from her Colorado apartment, Moore is a bit more frank about her band: "We got home today to discover that our toilet is leaking, and spent all morning trying to fix it. Romance, adventure and toilet leaks. That's us."
Just 13 months after "Cape Dory," Tennis will release "Young and Old" on Feb. 14 on Fat Possum. Lyrically, the album's wider in scope; musically, it's tighter and more muscular, largely thanks to producer Patrick Carney of The Black Keys. It's Tennis' second album, but its first written with an audience in mind, and it finds Moore trying to break out of the cute-kitschy image Tennis earned with "Cape Dory."
Creating "Young and Old," then, was the first time Moore was able to make sense of the new life she was suddenly living.
"A record deal didn't make us feel like a real band; our first tour didn't," she says. "I was this aimless college graduate with no idea of what I was capable of [on "Cape Dory"]. But writing this new album and realizing that "Cape Dory" wasn't a fluke-that made it real. If we were writing songs that sucked, we would've been the first to say, 'That's it. We were just a hype band. We rode a cultural wave and now it's over.'"
Tennis began writing new songs last summer. "We'd already outgrown "Cape Dory." The parts were way too simple," Moore says. "They were no longer a reflection of who we were." By August, Tennis was in the studio with Carney.
Connected by Fat Possum founder Matthew Johnson, Carney and Tennis first met in Carney's home, where the band was "really intimidated," Moore admits. "Do we shake hands? Wave? Hug? Nothing? There wasn't chemistry quite yet, but when we set to work in the studio, all that melted away."
In nine days, Tennis laid down the 10 tracks of "Young and Old" at Nashville's Haptown Studio. The band held blunt discussions about music-theirs and others-with Carney jokingly called "Real Talk With Pat Carney." "The songs wouldn't be what they are without him," Moore says.
The result isn't the work of a band writing just for kicks. The record builds on "Cape Dory's" looseness with thick doo-wop harmonies, heavier guitars, dance-shuffle drums and effervescent piano, all crisp and clear. "'Cape Dory' wasn't solid the whole way through like 'Young and Old' is, and it was still a heck of a debut," Johnson says. "They made the first record and then figured out how to be a band."
Whereas the lead-up to Cape Dory included a few songs released as 7-inches, Young and Old is preceded by a more focused campaign. Tennis' covers of The Zombies and Broadcast kept the band in blogs through the fall. First single "Origins" hit the Internet in late 2011, and a video for "Origins" B-side "Deep in the Woods" kept fans engaged in December.
It's a new band to Moore this time around: "We're one step closer to finding our voice, our strength. And I want to keep going."