An hour of piano. An hour of guitar. An hour of reading. An hour of writing. Go on a walk. Repeat.
This strict schedule doesn’t seem like a birthplace for creativity, but for Denver band Tennis, it helped overcome months of writer’s block and an “existential tailspin” to write their third album, “Ritual In Repeat.”
On a recent Friday afternoon, Tennis’ practice once again comes to a halt and Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley are both leaning over a red keyboard in their South Broadway practice space searching through different effects.
“We need to make this piano less cute-sounding,” says Moore as the band tinkers with some new tracks.
Moore and her husband Riley are meticulously test-driving material from their upcoming album in a little unfinished basement with a cobwebbed roof. They work through a particularly tough drum beat and a section that might end up with Moore switching from piano to guitar.
Even with the cheerfully ironic artwork on the wall, it’s a practice session focused on diligent attention to the music rather than goofing off. They’re focused — perfectionists, even. This disciplined practice on a Friday afternoon might be an echo of half a year living an austere agenda.
For six months, Moore and Riley locked themselves into a strict routine. They’d set their own personal schedules, blocking out hour-long slots every day for certain tasks.
Without deviating from these itineraries, the duo would grind through a 40-hour work week. And at the end of six months, they had an album, “Ritual In Repeat,” due out on Sept. 9.
“In order for us to write the album we had to take on a ritualistic format where we were sticking to these extreme guidelines, like a writing schedule,” said Riley before the band’s practice. “We repeated that over and over until time didn’t really exist and we were just turning out creativity.”
In the fall of 2012 the band hit what they call an “existential tailspin.” Over the course of the previous year and a case of writer’s block Tennis had only written four songs.
“I would be hitting these walls and I was internalizing it too much,” Moore said. “We didn’t even know what growth would sound like.”
Then a friend recommended reading the book, “Daily Rituals,” which outlines the way creative people structure their lives successfully.
“It was like unlocking the universe,” Moore said.
From structure came creativity. And surprisingly, the result of this regimented writing lifestyle is Tennis’ most risky album yet. “Ritual In Repeat” dabbles in everything from funk, a little soul to electro-pop on top of the band’s surf-influenced, retro-pop sound.
Thirty-five seconds into “Night Vision,” the opening track on “Ritual In Repeat,” a low growling synth patch bubbles from beneath Moore’s glowing vocals. For fans of Tennis’ previous work, this might be a shock. For Tennis, it’s a statement.
Moore and Riley are feeling burnt out on the success of their 2011 track, “Marathon.” It’s a song that’s unabashedly poppy, has more than 5 million plays on Spotify, and Moore calls it “almost moronically simple.” They wanted to do something different.
So, they ended up with a number of bold demos, and would have ended up with an even riskier album if it hadn’t been for the help of some big name producers: Patrick Carney (The Black Keys), Jim Eno (Spoon) and Richard Swift (The Shins).
“A producer’s job in music is just to reel you in a little bit and make the ideas more actualized and communicable,” Riley said.
The duo brought specific songs to each producer: Songs they wanted to be more powerful went to Carney, the tracks that needed some rock looseness they took to Swift, the songs that needed a more detailed arrangement went to Eno.