Tennis System Break Down “Lovesick” Track by Track
The melodic shoegaze trio detail the making of their new record.
While there’s plenty of evidence to support the notion that shoegaze is the new hardcore, Tennis System arrived on the scene to suggest the reverb-heavy genre has plenty of business intermingling with the melodic punk of early-aughts garage rock acts like Wavves and Male Bonding as well. Such influence can be heard on their new album Lovesick in the surfy vocals of driving tracks like “Alone,” “Deserve,” and “Third Time,” while many of the slower—and often times more chaotic—tracks resemble the shift bands like Nothing and recent tourmates Hundredth have made from more abrasive projects.
As guitarist/vocalist Matty Taylor notes, the record is reflective of the journey the shapeshifting band has taken since their 2011 debut—chronicling everything from their turbulent start to their most recent period of confident reinvention. “[Lovesick] starts more frustrated/bitter but ultimately comes to the positive resolution of finding why we love doing what we do in the first place,” Taylor explains. “This is our specific relationship with the term “lovesick,” but it’s a universal theme that can be interpreted a multitude of ways.”
Bassist Sam Glassberg cites the recording of the album as a rejuvenating experience after the tiresome touring of their P A I N EP in 2018. “Personally, it made me fall out of love with playing music,” he says, “which was hard to come to terms with. It wasn’t until about half way through the process of writing Lovesick that it actually all clicked back in for me. I just wanted to write songs that were 100 percent Tennis System.”
With drummer Garren Orr rounding out the trio, we had all three members of the band walk us through each track on Lovesick, which drops today on Graveface Records. “[We] gave it our all, straight to tape, one or two takes for each song,” Orr concludes. “No studio tricks, no filler.” Glassberg matches his confidence: “As a whole band we took a lot of risks on this record, but ultimately, it came together as a finished product that made me fall back in love with what I’m doing.”
Lovesick is out today via Graveface Records. You can order it here.
1. “Shelf Life”
Matty: It’s about coming to conclusions, when that moment hits when you know things are over. That being said, knowing that things are over and actually ending things are two totally separate but equally challenging matters, and the lyrics follow that journey of realization, denial, and finally acting upon things. The way the song flows mirrors the relief and catharsis of getting out of a shitty situation by exploding into a chaotically beautiful outro.
Sam: “Shelf Life” was so much fun to record. Going into the studio, we knew it needed an extra little melodic push in lieu of vocals on the chorus, but we didn’t have anything concrete down. Garren and I figured out the lead melody on piano and then we all kind of sat around the studio for an afternoon trying out different synth tones to no avail, so we decided to look to guitar. I played mostly guitar before I was in Tennis System, and figuring out this part and the tone for it was one of the highlights of making the record for me. Also, we didn’t expect this to be the first single when we went into the studio, but the way the track came together with the lead line just pushed it to the next level and by the time our whole team heard it, everybody knew this was the best way to not only kick off the record, but to kick off the release cycle. It’s so humbling to write a six minute song and know people are connecting with every second of it.
Garren: A statement to open the album; big, bold, beautiful.
Matty: This song can be about anybody being cast aside for who they are, what they identify as, or what they do. In everybody’s day-to-day life, somebody is always being made to feel less valuable or less themselves to appease some sort of machine. “Cut” is not only about the pain these situations cause, but cutting yourself free from those oppressive powers.
Garren: After such a lush journey through “Shelf Life,” we wanted to punch through with a gritty, pummeling track.
Sam: I think this was written at kind of a low point, and the song reflects a lot of what was going on for the band, both lyrically and in the dark, brooding tone of the instruments. Would love to get more specific, but will bite my tongue.
Matty: Sort of a Stockholm Syndrome–y thing. When you get so deep into something so negative, but you feel such an intense desire to make something positive of it, sort of losing sight of what is actually important and fighting for something bad/evil. Even if you’re surrounded by people or influences, if they aren’t in line with what you want for yourself, you are truly alone.
Garren: One of the first songs we wrote for the record, and probably the most poppy one, but definitely has the angry and frantic energy of our live show.
Sam: One of the earlier tracks we wrote for the record. This is a great example of lovesickness in music actually! While we were writing this song we got set up on what was essentially a song writing date. We’ve always written our own music (and always will) so we were already apprehensive going into the session. Not going to name any names, but it was some high level people, and it was a disaster! They took the bones of this song and legit ruined it! Matty and I were sitting on either sides of the studio that day and were like, “What the fuck is going on?” the entire time. It really kind of poisoned the well on this song, but we stuck with it and made it the best it could be on our own. This was also the first Lovesick specific song we started playing live while we were out with The Black Queen in the UK and EU, and the response was really solid across the board.
Matty: Whether it’s a day job, a difficult relationship, or any number of situations, we all get to that point where we acknowledge our situation and get in a sort of should-I-stay-or-should-I-go mentality. You can either stay and suck it up, or go out into the unknown, regardless of how frightening that may be. Taking your destiny into your own hands is harder than it sounds, and the future may be uncertain, but the liberation from taking back control is more valuable than fear.
Sam: Another recording highlight for the record. Garren’s piano on the bridge is so subtle but so beautiful. Get some good headphones and listen to that bridge with the fullest attention.
Matty: A double-edged sword. On one hand, when you love something/someone so much you wonder how/why you’re so lucky. But on the other, if you want something you can’t have and try so hard to obtain it, you question why you try so hard to reach it but can’t grasp it. The song structure reflects that, with both tender moments and heavier, more frustrated tones.
Sam: This has been a live favorite for a good while and we actually demoed it for P A I N. We did a lot of overdubs and weird studio stuff on P A I N, which was cool and a lot of fun to experiment with, but in the case of “Deserve” it just didn’t connect. It’s a raw song, and the less-is-more approach we took to recording it really worked in the song’s favor. Besides doubling guitars, I think the only overdub we did was adding Bass VI to the bridge. [Engineer Jack Shirley] was big on letting little mistakes slide and end up on the finished record, and the more I listen to “Deserve” the more I think there’s one here. The Bass VI has way too many switches, essentially the same setup as a Fender Jaguar. While I was recording my part, I’m pretty sure I hit the switches, and you can hear the tone change to a brighter sound because of that about halfway through the bridge.
Garren: Sam’s bass part in the bridge and outro may be my favorite on the album. He’s truly a dextrous genius.
Matty: It’s about falling so in love with anything, putting in the effort, but realizing you’re the only person trying.
Garren: A bit of reflection and calm after an intense burst of energy. Sort of a moment of meditation for Matty.
Sam: Originally a full song that we wrote for the record but it just didn’t have a place. When we were messing around with “Cologne” for the record as an interlude, we thought it might be cool to do another interlude on the A-side of the record and this was the result. It was just Matty in the live room with an unplugged electric guitar and a room mic, and the vibe is so cool/creepy.
7. “Third Time”
Matty: Works on two levels. One in the “fool me once, shame on you” kinda vibe, and then “third time’s a charm” as well. For us, we were lied to and told so many false promises, but we were fighting for our livelihood. We told ourselves, “OK, we’ve been burned once, but there’s no way this could happen again”—but it happens again, and again, and again.
Sam: Another super fun one to write and record, we actually were playing a very rough version of it on tour with Hundredth, but something about the song in that form just never connected with me, and certainly didn’t connect with the other songs on Lovesick. We ripped the song apart and this final version is so solid. When we demoed the record we all did takes of the guitar solo to see who could do worse (my money was on Garren) but we all did a really awful job and the vibe of having three different Sonic Youth–esque anti-solos was so cool that we upped it to four on the record, and mixed it in the craziest way we could think of. One track is panned left, one is panned right, one is centered, and the other goes back and forth between left and right.
8. “Rotting Out”
Matty: “When you feel it rotting out / Sour tastes that fill your mouth / I know it’s wrong so what should I do” probably sums up the song the best. Like “Shelf Life,” “Rotting Out” focuses on realizing a situation is bad, but being unable or unwilling to get out of it. This was the last song we wrote for the record. I’m pretty sure it was the week before we went into the studio.
Sam: I came to practice with the verse bass line and then the rest of the song sort of wrote itself. By this point, I was so excited to go make this record that writing one more really solid song right before we went to record boosted my mood even more.
Garren: Definitely the most groove-oriented track on the album; nicely sandwiched in between two intense and dense tracks.
Matty: Acknowledging a sense of emptiness when something that once brought you joy brings nothing but pain. Literally the turning point, where you realize that what you love is hurting you more than helping you. This is the first song we wrote after P A I N, and was a literal turning point for the band in terms of creative output and general positivity, and really kickstarted the direction/tone of the record.
Sam: Awhile back, Fender hooked me up with a Bass VI, which is basically a six string bass tuned E-E like a guitar, but a whole octave down like a bass. This was the first song I wrote on it, and my favorite song on the record. It actually started as two separate songs if I recall correctly. I had the verse part and Matty had the chorus part, and when we realized the two parts clicked together so well it all moved pretty quickly from there.
Garren: The outro is one of my favorite moods of the album; hard, woozy, smoldering.
Matty: No lyrics to talk about here, but it came from a soundcheck on tour in Europe; Cologne, Germany to be specific. It was a reminder of how easy music is for the three of us. It may be simple, but it’s pure enjoyment and inspiration.
Sam: This song is more of a feeling/mood than any other song on the record to me. I’ll always think about being on unfamiliar stages in unfamiliar parts of the world, writing and rewriting and jamming this track during soundcheck.
Garren: The counterpart to “Fall;” a moment of meditation for all of us.
11. “Come Undone”
Matty: Where everything falls apart, and you have to pick everything back up and put it together. But that journey isn’t the same for everybody, we all pick and choose the way we need to restart/rebuild. The bridge of the song exemplifies that, as we’ve got so many things happening in different time signatures. It’s impossible to focus on everything at once and give each element of the song your full attention, but at the end, everything comes together. The end result is the same regardless of what path you follow, and it all resolves itself in the end. I really love this song and how it turned out. I had to push the dudes hard for this one to make the record.
Garren: I really wanted to fit in some weird rhythmic feeling onto the album because I don’t hear much of that in our genre. I wanted the bridge to make you feel seasick and unsure of when you should be banging your head before blasting it straight out at the end.
Sam: What a headache to write! When Garren came up with the polyrhythm idea I could not get my head around it. I think my part on this song is probably the easiest to play, but getting the timing locked in was so hard for me at first. I would stand right in front of the kick drum to feel the beat of the song. I remember leaving rehearsal that day and feeling physically sick from it.
Matty: The most somber track on the album. This is a reminder of feeling what it’s like to be in love. You can always look back to the first time, and remember why you make the sacrifices you do, knowing that it’s difficult, but knowing that all that hardship and struggle is worth it. The piano line that comes in during the chaotic outro is symbolic of that, and at the end when all the harshness and brutality fades away, you’re left with a very simple reminder of what it felt like the first time.
Sam: We were all in agreement about having this song fade out with piano or synth or something that wasn’t a part of the rest of the song, but didn’t have anything written specifically for it when we got to the studio. We wheeled the piano into the live room and I think within a few minutes of messing around, Garren had this part and we all knew it was the one. Such a nice note to end the record on, and I think a very unexpected but earned moment for Tennis System.