Husband-and-wife duo Tennis recently debuted Yours Conditionally, their fourth full-length indie dream-pop masterpiece. The album was inspired by and written during the band's six-month sail in the Pacific Ocean last year.
Traveling a total of 1,500 miles along the coast, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley spent many days at a time offshore with nothing in sight but blue. The couple occasionally anchored somewhere safe (and exquisitely beautiful), where they could relax, slow down, and think about writing — no songs were composed onboard. "We were too busy trying not to die," Moore says.
The two are accomplished sailors, having sailed together since their first journey in 2009. But due to the business of being Tennis, it'd been too long since they'd managed a journey so epic. But, with an album to create, it seemed like the perfect time to escape.
"We felt like we needed to extricate ourselves from that world in order to reassess, and we wanted to make a lot of changes," Moore says. "We didn't even know what kind of album we wanted to make, or even if we could."
Writer's block had taken hold. Feeling uninspired, the couple still wrote but it felt forced, contrived. "That was extremely unpleasant, so we felt like we had done enough building a foundation with Tennis and that it was time to walk away for a little while — otherwise we wouldn't have felt comfortable going on a six-month sailing trip."
But they were still worried. "We thought, 'When we come back from this, if everyone's moved on from Tennis then that's how the world works.' You can't hold people's attention forever, and we realized that. And we just thought if we aren't happy and grounded, then I don't even want this, basically. So we just thought it was time — for better or worse — we needed to get away, so that's what we did."
The formula worked, but then again Moore and Riley had a hunch it might — it'd worked before. In fact, that's how Tennis became a band. When the couple, not yet married, graduated from college in Colorado, they set sail up the the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway. That was in 2009. By 2011, the sailing trip-inspired debut album Cape Dory was released and featured on NPR, with the first single (in 2010) being none other than "South Carolina."
The song is awash with spot-on coastal Carolina allusions — from Cypress and white pine and marsh references to an actual mention of no-see-ums. But the couple was taken aback not only by Southern imagery and quirky terminology for Lowcountry pests but by the kindness of everyone they met.
With only enough funds for canned food and fuel, the two survived fine, seeing most of the East Coast from the water. "We had a little rowboat, and we would anchor somewhere and we would row ashore trying to find a grocery store or a little market or something and someone would see us and they'd just be driving by and they'd pull over and they'd be like, 'Are you sailors?' 'Yes.' 'Do you need a grocery store?' 'Yes.' And they'd be like, 'Hop in, and we'll take you somewhere.' It was amazing. I've never experienced anything like that in my life until we traveled by boat, but in the South in particular people were extremely generous and helpful and made it easier for us poor college kids to bum around on a boat."
But what stuck with them the most was how many conservative Republicans they met in Carolina who lived by the same ideals as "we liberal millennials."
"Everything is shared, everything is community-oriented, and everyone takes care of each other," Moore muses. "So it's like this amazing juxtaposition of the values that I want, even though their vote might be different. It really softened my politics a little bit, because I realized that there's more of a disconnect between a vote and your life's values — I felt so cared for and I felt like anything that anybody had, if somebody needed it, you could have it. It was just extreme generosity, and I've never seen that anywhere else."