Tennis Break Down Their Sentimental “Swimmer” Track by Track
Alaina Moore talks through all nine songs on the duo’s fifth album, out today.
Plenty has happened to husband-wife sophisti-pop duo Tennis since their last record, 2017’s Yours Conditionally—commercial success, sold-out headlining sets, influenza, seizures, cancelled tours, the near-dissolution of Tennis, the death of a parent, medical issues afflicting the other parent, the emotional leveling-out of the duo, the writing and recording of a rejuvenated follow-up record, and, finally, the Valentine’s Day release of that LP: Swimmer.
Despite the lyrical content reflecting the roller-coastering emotions of the past few years of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley’s lives together as a family and as a band, Swimmer is as dreamy as ever, sedating ’80s dance-pop with the neo-psychedelic tints of Beach House and Johnathan Rado. Each track on the record is as full of unique instrumental flourishes as it is harrowing tales of pain and recovery, never sounding the least bit derailed or psychologically overwhelmed.
With the LP streaming in full today, grab a loved one and listen along as you read Moore’s detailed descriptions of each song’s origin and meaning. You can order a copy of Swimmer here, via Mutually Detrimental.
1. “I’ll Haunt You”
I wanted to open the album with the lines “As the sun slips over my shoulder, I can tell I’ve been getting older.” I had written them in my journal while on tour. They reminded me of Robert Frost’s poem “The Span of Life.” This album marks the end of a decade, mine and Patrick’s tenth anniversary, and my turning thirty-five. I’ve entered a new phase of life and this song reflects that.
2. “Need Your Love”
This song is an emotional purge, rooted in anger. I usually deny myself the emotion, but I had a lot to be angry about at the time. I was letting go of unhealthy relationships and trying to find healing without closure. We used sparse instrumentation and tempo changes to reflect the relentless spiraling of my mental state. Despite all the heaviness, writing this song was a joyful experience. The music was resilient enough to handle our wildest ideas, and we indulged every whim.
3. “How to Forgive”
This track was written immediately after finishing “Need Your Love.” I wanted a palate cleanser to get out of the headspace “NYL” occupied, so I titled a blank page “how to forgive” and got to work. My plan was to channel early Madonna. We tried varispeeding the mix to simulate the girlish timbre I was going for, but ended up re-tracking the song in the highest key I could sing it in. The result is the most difficult song I’ve written for myself. Comping it was a nightmare and I really agonized over my performance. I wanted it to sound effortless, but it wasn’t. I started crying between takes, convinced I wasn’t getting it right. Patrick re-comped my vocals while I stomped off to sulk. He used my first two takes, when I was still vulnerable, before I had gotten lost in my head. When he played back his edit, I loved it.
It took more than a year to turn our melodic ideas into a coherent song. The whole vibe felt epic, almost biblical. I drew a lot of inspiration from Judee Sill, who filled her songs with allusions to Christian spirituality and mysticism despite not being religious herself. I’ve spent a lot of time working through my own loss of faith in songs like “Origins” or “Late Night.” I am particularly happy with the way “Runner” came out.
“Echoes” describes the day I fainted from the flu and had to be hospitalized in the middle of tour. While unconscious, I had a non-epileptic seizure, which was quite dramatic and terrified Patrick. He thought I was dying. When I came to, we spent the whole day crying and holding each other. We almost cancelled the rest of tour over it. Instead we wrote a song.
This song describes the day Patrick and I scattered his father’s ashes at sea with his family. It was a perfect summer afternoon. People were swimming and surfing off the beach. It was an odd juxtaposition. For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I hadn’t learned to swim.
7. “Tender as a Tomb”
This is a companion piece to “Swimmer”—a manic and fractured love song, written in the immediate aftermath of losing a loved one.
8. “Late Night”
This song is about me taking my power back by reframing the way I conceive of myself as a woman.
9. “Matrimony II”
I wrote this song for our ten-year wedding anniversary. I wanted to describe the love that comes from deep-rooted companionship, where the spark of new love has been replaced by something less flashy but more profound—like a gravitational pull.