Tennis had big plans for me. We were supposed to hop on a bunch of bikes and ride down the South Platte River that snakes through the center of Denver and into the suburbs. Apparently Denver’s known for having sun 350 days a year. Not when we were there. The downpour had Judgement Day vibes, so we took shelter in the husband/wife duo’s apartment in the city, where the band were on a brief pit stop midway through a tour with Haim. But the world or the world’s weather system clearly did not want us to talk because halfway through our chat—which was of course being filmed for our Made In Denver episode—I noticed director Lance Bangs and all the camera people talking among themselves and gawping at their phones. Rude. Turns out they’d all received a simultaneous tornado warning on their cellphones. No sooner did Alaina say, “There is no chance of a tornado here,” than the city’s tornado sirens start blaring and we were all being evacuated down to the parking garage to avoid getting Dorothy-ed up in the air.
Let’s just say that as well as talk of their upcoming second album and the Denver music scene, fiercesome weather conditions loomed large in our conversation. We also discussed the effect of marijuana legalization on Colorado and how growing up homeschooled and relatively isolated from pop culture affected their sound.
When we were eventually released from the subterranean shelter Tennis took me to meet their drummer and collaborator James, at their favorite animal-bedecked bar Forest Room 5 (see them pictured there above). It’s easily one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to. Just look at the shit they were selling in the vending machine! I’ll take a copy of The Shining and that teddy bear too.
Tennis – “Cured of Youth”
So let’s talk Denver. A lot of the artists I’ve been talking to actually migrated here to make music, but you guys have been living here since you were kids. What was it like growing up here, what kind of music were you exposed to?
Patrick: I think you’re able to see a lot of music here in Denver because of the location that it’s in. All the bands that are coming from New York end up passing through Denver, all the bands that are coming from the West Coast pass through Denver and I was exposed to a lot of music, but you had a completely different situation.
Alaina: I grew up homeschooled and never leaving my house basically so my experience of the scene was nonexistent which would explain why when we started making music we didn’t really know about the local scene so we started going on tour and going to places that we knew really supported independent music like New York. Then in so doing that we finally made all the connections with people who genuinely live like three blocks away from us, but we had never met before.
Patrick: Well there’s also a big dark, folk scene, or we call it goth-folk. And obviously our band isn’t of that genre. When we were first writing songs there were other bands in town that were kind of doing the same thing, like Sauna and Moontides. And there’s this guy here who’s the cornerstone of the Denver scene to us called Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and he’s kind of like our mentor and helped us find our spot here.
Alaina: Yeah, I think when we were first starting to make music there was a really huge scene with a huge pool of talent, but it was really narrow in its scope. Inn the last few years that’s completely changed.
Patrick: Some of the artists we’ve been talking to are more electronic based and they come from like a jam band background.
Alaina: There’s definitely a lot of that. Not the coolest of genres.
Patrick: Or maybe it is the coolest genre!
Alaina: I mean everything circles back so for all I know in like two more years that will be the absolute coolest thing.
If you were homeschooled and you weren’t exposed to music, when did you first start hearing stuff and what were you listening to and how did it come about?
Alaina: I listened to classical music and I play piano very boring classically. I seriously had the most isolated, non-formed music taste possible until I met Patrick in college. This was almost then years ago. The first thing he did when we met was burn me an illegally downloaded copy of an Animal Collective record.
Patrick: I bought it later! That was the thing that you did back then.
Alaina: It was Strawberry Jam. Patrick really helped put me on a path. Then I looked through his closet and saw he had an electric guitar, and I was like, “Oh, that’s cool, we should get that out sometime.”
Patrick: Our band is kind of just made up from us having completely different and almost opposing tastes in music. Like where I come from is like totally different than where Alaina comes from and because of that she’s able to see things in our music that I don’t see and vice versa.
It must have been exciting for you when you guys first started hanging out to introduce Alaina to so much music. I would have been like, “Listen to this and this and this!”
Alaina: He literally got to show me everything for the first time, like Todd Rungren, Janis Joplin I’d never listened to. I get to fall in love purely; it’s as new to me as if it came out this year. I get to experience what would be a dated history of rock ‘n’ roll in a completely fresh way. I’m actually super thankful to my parents for sheltering me so much that everything gets to be new when I’m like 26 years old.
At this point we receive the tornado warning…
Alaina: There is no chance of a tornado here. Oh, there’s the siren…
Patrick: It’s OK, we’ve driven through a tornado—we’re really experienced with tornados…
We then decamp to the bowels of their building…
Alaina: I grew up in the suburbs of Colorado and we used to have tornado warnings like all season long, all the time but I’ve never heard one in the city.
Tell me about the close encounter you had with a tornado on tour.
Patrick: Not long ago, just six months ago we were driving from St Louis to Chicago.
Alaina: And we saw one touch down like maybe 100 miles away. We’re all like taking pictures and as we’re driving we glance over and it’s like maybe 30 miles away. Then we glance over and it’s like 10 miles away, glance over and it’s like less than a mile away and it’s enormous: we’re all dead silent, no one is talking in the van anymore.
Patrick: We barely got under an overpass. By the time we got under the overpass it kind of like went over us and then flipped a semi in front of us and we’re just in the van all like, “We’re dead.”
Alaina: It was unearthly silence. There are six of us in the van and no one was talking. Right now, we’re fine, there’s never been one downtown building affected by a tornado in my lifetime.
It seems crazy to talk about the Denver music scene when we’re in the middle of a tornado but…
Alaina: We have really weird luck with this though, the last time we were in New York we were staying in Brooklyn and there was a Tornado in Queens.
Crazy weather systems follow you around. So the thing about Denver that seems to be coming up is that there’s just good music everywhere, every single day of the week at all the venues…
Patrick: We have great, great venues and we have really supportive venue owners too. This place where we started off playing called the High Dive, we know the owners really well, they booked us our first show there and they’ve just been really supportive ever since. Like anytime we want to play they’re the first people to stand behind us and really push our music forward.
What are these rumors about underneath the Denver airport there being some…
Patrick: Native American burial ground?
Yeah, or like some laboratory, I don’t know, some Illuminati stuff.
Patrick: With Colorado there’s always something underneath the surface. Like we have Cheyenne mountain in Colorado Springs which is supposedly one of the largest top secret CIA bunkers. It’s buried in the mountain and you have to take a train inside the mountain and there’s supposedly bunkers in there.
Alaina: There’s also the secret tunnels under the Brown Palace which is a fancy hotel in Denver where the presidents would stay, so that’s what they’re for. It’s like to hide important people.
Patrick: Also there’s a brothel across the street and they would secretly take the tunnels underneath and go to the brothel. Denver’s kind of known for that, the subculture of everything…
Alaina: It hides its dark side like underneath.
It also seems to be known for a lot of hippies and patchouli and pot.
Alaina: That’s just a real stereotype.
Patrick: And it really is changing this new recreational marijuana thing that passed through. We don’t even really smoke weed and we see it helping the city.
Alaina: For people who don’t know, because I feel like people have this perception that it’s like chaos now and people are just like smoking up and down the streets and everyone has dreadlocks. In fact nothing has changed except the market is bigger, our schools have more funding now and people no longer go to jail for smoking pot. That’s it. It’s a great thing. We thought about taking you to a dispensary for a classic Colorado experience but it’s not really our vibe.
So you guys are married. Do you have to stop yourselves from arguing about middle eights and chord progressions right before you go to bed?
Patrick: Yeah actually. Because our taste differs so much: we come from very different places, we see the music so much differently, so anytime there’s a dispute we almost need to bring a third person into it, and we usually do.
Alaina: Yeah, I’m like thinking about Beyonce or Judy Garland and he’s think about Genesis and we were really coming at a song from very different directions. It’s what makes anything we do come out original, is having to funnel through our insanely different tastes and find that middle point.
So for the first record you went away on a massive sailboat trip and you came back and wrote the record. Was this second album was also kind of influenced by your travels in Moscow and Europe?
Patrick: I think we tried to stay away from that on the second album because we felt like we were just getting pigeonholed as like a yacht rock band.
Alaina: But it’s not like our travels don’t affect us as people because they totally do. We aren’t trying to channel it specifically but we definitely notice the way we’ve changed as people.
I’m into the Small Sound EP, in particular, “Mean Streets.” To me it felt like you were combining 70s girl folk influence with this R&B lilt.
Patrick: That’s her. You grew up listening to good stuff.
Alaina: My school that I grew up going to was really diverse, after I stopped homeschooling I went to a real high school and it was very diverse and everyone was obsessed with Usher primarily and Carmelo Anthony, the basketball player. That creeps in and I love it, it’s fun to write.
Patrick: Our music is like a mix of Carmelo Anthony and like a young Jodi Foster.
What are you guys up to now? What’s happening with the new album?
Patrick: We got the news today that everything was approved and is moving forward today so this record is done. We can go to Forest Room Five and toast that it’s behind us and we can move forward. Yeah, let’s do that.
Alaina: We’ll toast that we survived the tornado. We have a lot to toast. Oh my God FEMA is here, holy shit!
From here we decamped with the band to Forest Room 5 to meet James.
James, Alaina, and Patrick at Forest Room 5.
So this is your favorite bar in the city?
James: It’s just natural for us to come back from a tour and have a recap and talk about ridiculous experiences we had over the last month. This is our Cheers.
Patrick: It’s a living room away from our living room. It’s like a scary Disneyland or something.
I haven’t seen any places in Denver like this.
James: It’s definitely influenced by Pacific Northwest, but it’s definitively taken its own route and ended up in some hodge-podge of like a thrift store.
Alaina: It’s so special though that while we’re gone we read the Yelp reviews because we miss it! The reviews range anywhere from raving because they love the atmosphere and the food and everything here is amazing, to the people who feel alienated by a cool, hipster crowd.
Patrick: The negative reviews are really entertaining to read.
Alaina: Yeah, they’re so funny and they’re usually about our best friends…
James: One specifically is my current roommate now. It said, “Love this place, but the bartender who looks like a young Jodi Foster has to go.”
What do you think is unique about the Denver music scene?
Alaina: I definitively think that everybody here collaborates and pools resources because Denver is kind of like an island that’s landlocked and a ten hour drive from the nearest city. We all work really hard to share what we have, share knowledge, share experience, share gear. We’ve had two moving away parties here. Once we moved to Nashville, once was to go away on our sailing trip, and then we always end up back here one year later and we’re like, “Hey, we didn’t actually move.”
Denver always draws you back in.
Patrick: It’s a vortex, we’ve never been able to get out of the vortex. We will always be pulled back in.
Alaina: Vortex definitely sounds negative, but we actually mean it in a really positive way.
So what happened when you went to Nashville? Why didn’t it work out?
Alaina: Grocery stores were not open late enough and
Patrick: No hot sauce.
James: I had to ship them hot sauce.
Alaina: There are also a lot of stray dogs.Nashville is actually like super, super cool, we just missed our friends. We were there for eight months.
Patrick: And we missed riding our bikes actually. We haven’t had a car for like a long time, there was a period in our lives where all we did was ride our bikes everywhere, and it was a very beautiful time. In Denver there’s a really big biking culture and you can actually bike anywhere, no problem. Safely too. Whereas in Nashville the second time I took my bike out I got ran off the road and almost crashed really bad. And I’m so neurotic about if I break a finger, I won’t be able to play guitar anymore and it will ruin our band. But yeah, those small details that we missed so dearly drew us back.
Alaina: The friends, the cycling, the food.
Denver’s food culture is apparently getting really rich. You guys keep bandying about the word “tis.” Explain.
Alaina: It’s short for artisanal, which is what you really want when you’re rolling into a city or a place that you don’t really know and you’re starving and you don’t have a lot of time. You know the place with a tiny, Edison light bulb, just one, over a wood counter.
Patrick: You have someone really judgmental serving you.
Alaina: [with a wry smile] And then you know you’re getting the best!
Kim is an editor at Noisey and she's eating her way across the America this summer. Follow her on Twitter - @theKTB.