We asked Alaina from Tennis to write a biography of the band’s new album, Yours Conditionally, in advance of it being our Record of the Month. Here’s what she sent us:
Six years ago, Patrick and I wrote an album under the moniker Tennis as a way of documenting our experiences living aboard a small sailboat. Music came at the perfect time: later in life and suddenly, without warning. I couldn’t have written a song before I lived on Swift Ranger. I knew little of the world and had less to say about it. I also knew that I couldn’t sequester myself in the hull of a thirty-foot time capsule without offering the world something in return. It had to be in this order: sail then write. Isolation then immersion. Soon after its inception, our work as Tennis surprised me by out-sizing and supplanting our dreams of life at sea.
Three full lengths and one EP marked our transition from tenuous creative endeavor into something grounded and lasting. But just as Tennis cohered into realness, our connection to it dissolved. Years of touring had made me a taught nerve, our writing forced and unproductive. We needed to revisit our past to salvage the present.
I traded a sea of faces for a faceless sea. Perfect opposites that somehow manage to exert the same psychically leveling force. We sailed south from San Diego for the Cape of San Lucas. For ten days we luxuriated along the wind-sheered coast of Baja, moving at hull speed over submerged mountain ranges in impossibly deep water. After the last winter gale, we tacked upwind into the Sea of Cortez, which would be our home for the next four months.
“Lyrically, it is a consideration of my relation to the world as a woman, as an artist whose work is transformed by another’s experience of it, and the conflicting needs that arise from these intersections. How much am I willing to belong to the ones I love?”
I assumed that prolonged exposure to a blue abyss would elicit feelings of dread and solipsism, but mostly I wrote love songs. I was gripped by sentimentality that I would have dismissed in any other context. Alone with my spouse in a classically romantic setting, I evaluated the idea of love songs: their merits, their ubiquity, their cheapness. An honest assessment of myself highlighted the fact of my actively living out romantic cliches despite my disdain for them. I was literally crossing oceans and climbing mountains for the one I loved. In the midst of a grandiose gesture, it was impossible to ignore the way love had become a singularly motivating force. Leaving this out of my songwriting felt false, but focusing on it troubled my feminism. I needed to know: where are the limits of my devotion?
Yours Conditionally was written on land and at sea, in equal parts. Lyrically, it is a consideration of my relation to the world as a woman, as an artist whose work is transformed by another’s experience of it, and the conflicting needs that arise from these intersections. How much am I willing to belong to the ones I love? How much am I wiling to belong to an audience that I don’t know but need? How much am I willing to belong to you? I only know that I am yours conditionally.