Yours Conditionally

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.1 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.2 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 EP3 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.4

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 Conditionally5 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.

1 Formed by Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore in 2010. Cape Dory was released by Fat Possum in 2011.

2 A thirty-foot cutter manufactured by Cape Dory Yachts in 1980.

3 Cape Dory, Young & Old (Fat Possum, 2012), Small Sound EP (Communion Records, 2013), Ritual In Repeat
(Communion Records 2014).

4 From January 13 to May 1, 2015, total distance sailed 1500 nautical miles.

5 Self-produced and recorded in August 2016, released by Mutually Detrimental on March 10, 2017.

On Land:

These songs were written prior to our voyage. We were still transitioning out of Ritual In Repeat’s album cycle and our writing reflects our post-tour headspace. 

Ladies Don’t Play Guitar and My Emotions Are Blinding address the way I feel constricted or shaped by gender, like an invisible hand that guides the way I work and carry myself, especially within the music industry. Real or imagined, I feel governed by archetypes and expectations—projections of how a female artist should be. It’s always with me when I work, but writing directly about it is a way of pulling myself up by my bootstraps. 

Modern Woman, and Baby Don’t Believe deal with relationships lost. Island Music indulges in the numbness I frequently experience in the face of tour’s highs and lows.

At Sea: 

I wrote the lyrics to Fields of Blue during an offshore passage. It’s the only song taken directly from my ship’s log. Patrick put it to music a couple of weeks later once we entered the Sea Of Cortez. 

MatrimonyPlease Don’t Ruin This For Me, and 10 Minutes 10 Years came out of a ten day writing session in San Juanico. It was the first weather-proof anchorage we found that allowed us to privilege music over the constant needs of the ship. We also put the finishing touches on In The Morning I’ll Be Better, which we had started on land but left incomplete. 

In the studio:

Our writing breakdown is very nearly 50/50, but Patrick’s real mark is in the production and recording of our music. I am the voice, he is the sound. It is as important as any instrument played. He engineered this record himself and it’s what makes Tennis sound like Tennis. At my request, we rented a cabin in Fraser, CO. Proper studios always feel a bit like a man-cave to me. I wanted to work in a more neutral space. We brought our own gear and gave ourselves two weeks to work. Our experience working with producers in the past gave us the confidence and understanding we needed to take the project on ourselves.       

For more information, please contact Joe Cohen, Samantha Tillman or Carla Sacks at Sacks & Co., 212.741.1000.