Indie Pop Duo Tennis on using Audix Microphones in the Studio and Onstage

Tennis are husband-and-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, who got their start in the Denver music scene in 2010 before captivating the indie pop world with their earnest melodies and dreamy, retro-futuristic sound. Tennis draws inspiration from nostalgic timbres, meticulously crafting a warm, soft-focus ambiance reminiscent of classic recordings from the 1950s and '60s. Tennis’ seventh record, Pollen, is the band’s most fully realised yet, showcasing Moore’s wistful voice floating above an expansive mix of richly layered mix of psychedelic synths and throbbing bass lines, all punctuated by sweeping guitar riffs.

Influenced by their collaborations with producers Patrick Carney (The Black Keys), Jim Eno (Spoon), and Richard Swift (The Shins), Moore and Riley later turned to self-producing, recording Pollen in their home studio and releasing it on their label, Mutually Detrimental, in early 2023. We caught Moore and Riley on a break between tour dates to find out how they shape their distinctive sounds in the studio and onstage, with help from Audix OM5, OM6, D6, and A133 and ADX51 microphones.

We understand you met as philosophy majors after you both had dropped out of music programmes, only to discover a common musical inspiration later on.

Patrick Riley: We were both music majors. She was a vocal performance major, I was a recording major. And I had a few failed bands at the time, and a few music prospects that didn't work out, and that was enough. I was like, "I quit music.” I sold all my gear and I said, "I'm never playing guitar again." And then I switched my major to philosophy.

Alaina Moore: I was failing all my music classes, whereas I'd normally been a very good student. I had always sang and played piano, and then when I became a music major, I didn't realise how ‘mathy’ it was.

I truly hated it. I hated being graded on it, I hated every assignment, and my grades were plummeting. I ended up transferring schools, taking time off, and then was looking at the courses available for all of the liberal arts programs, and philosophy was very resonating with me. As soon as I found it, I was thriving in school.

Riley: Alaina and I, after dating for multiple years, we were randomly talking about music and how we wish bands were making things that had that sound from the ’50s and ’60s, or just took inspiration from the ’50s and ’60s.

Moore: We were out one night and a song by The Shirelles, “Baby It's You,” came on. I was marvelling at the drum tones, something I didn't even really have the language for yet. I wondered, "Why doesn't modern music have drums that sound like this?" Pat said, "Weirdly, I know how these drum tones were achieved because I was in audio engineering in my past." I didn't even know this about him at the time. And then I said, "I really wish someone would start a band that was based off this sonic palette and this type of recording." Pat said, "Well, we could do that. I know how to do that." So we started doing it, and little did we know that that was the cultural moment when lo-fi music and surf pop all started coalescing at once. And that's how our band was born.

When I sang through the Audix mics, I felt like they left the natural tonal qualities of my voice completely intact.

It sounds like you connected not just over music, but a sonic aesthetic.

Moore: That's always been our connection. Our entry point into music was the tones and recording choices. Engineering choices, I suppose you would say. And that has always been what we are most interested in when we make music.

Riley: Most of our gear is extremely old. It's either from the ’50s or the ’60s. Audix microphones are the only new microphones we have.

Moore: Obviously, live has a totally different set of demands. We usually like to use dynamic mics on my vocals live, whereas in the studio we would use a ribbon or a condenser.

You’ve collaborated with Richard Swift and Pat Carney in the studio, and then you transitioned into recording yourselves. What led you to taking over producing?

Riley: There were a lot of things. When we first started, I did engineer. And that's what got popular, the songs that we recorded ourselves.

Moore: We didn't realise how integral the engineering was to the music, especially in those early days when we were baby songwriters. We weren't matured yet, and our engineering really carried the music. But we felt like we needed to work with producers who had more experience to backfill the education we were missing.

Riley: I think we were really good at making things sound old, but then it was like when we wanted something to sound a little more modern, we had no idea how to do that. We knew how limited our knowledge was at that point.

Moore: Patrick would pay really close attention when we were in the studio, with anyone we were in the studio with. What kind of gear did they like, what kind of choices did they make, how did they use the gear? And we slowly started acquiring our own setup and returning to working on our own again. I do believe controlling the sonic palette by self-producing is 50 percent of what makes our band and the songs work. We actually really struggle to play TV and radio shows or stripped-down shows, because those production choices in a studio setting are so integral to the songs. It's really difficult to translate the songs without that element.

With sound being so fundamental to your music, how does your relationship with technology inform your writing and arranging?

Riley: I think we’re Luddites, deep down inside. We don't have a huge list of fancy plug-ins to repair stuff. Most of our choices come from trying to make the audio sound exactly the way we want it before it even touches a computer. Most of the stuff when we're writing, if we use outboard effects or EQ or compression or anything, until we hear it coming back from the speakers and it makes us excited, we won't hit Record. We don't record safe takes of things. And that has been a problem in the past where we'll be like, "Oh, sh*t. We used too much compression on the lead vocal."

Moore: In which case I just redo the lead vocals. But we really like to commit to choices as we work.

Riley: When we were starting out, we did a lot of stuff on four-track cassette. And we thought we were really cool, but at the end of the day, we were like, "This is slowing everything down."

You could say your recording approach mirrors the approaches used to capture those vintage sounds that have inspired you.

Moore: Exactly.

Riley: We're still so fascinated by those recordings in the RCA Studios in the ’50s where you see the one ribbon mic and then the lead singer standing in front of an orchestra. They recorded something that sounds absolutely incredible with one microphone and no EQ and no compressor.

Are you recording everything in your home studio?

Moore: I think it's important to change up your environment pretty regularly, get out of your comfort zone. We have a really minimal home studio that's quite small, but has gear that we like. The fact that we can do the tedious aspects of building out a song from home and not feel like we're on the clock paying a studio fee is really nice.

Riley: We have a Studer 269 console. It's a 20-channel, fully discrete console. We've been using that for the last few records. And then we have all the usual compressor choices, but we have a few fun ones, too. We have a compressor called the Department of Commerce that was made by Maxson in the 1950s.We’re pretty keyboard heavy at this point, too.

It doesn't need a ton of EQ or anything like that. It's really hard to mess up.

One fun thing we do setup-wise in our studio, and anywhere we work out of, is that we always set up all the effects that we want on the console, so that we can blend them in while tracking. So we're actually committing to reverb and delay and chorus or whatever it is, as we're going in. So one aux channel on the console will have the Eventide. Another will have tape delay. Another will have digital delay. Another will have digital reverb, and another one, spring reverb. That way, while we're working, we can very quickly decide, "Do we want this? No. Do we want this? No. Do we want this? Yes." And then just go.

So you’ve dialled in a process that enables you to flow and commit, without over-editing or second-guessing things later on.

Moore: We feel like if we're getting excited about a sound, then we just go with it immediately, and just shape the song around it. I feel like it's so hard to write a good song that whatever strategy works for you to get you there is perfect for you.

Riley: Our way is certainly not correct, but it works for us.

Let’s talk microphones. How did you connect with Audix?

Riley: We did a really big vocal mic shootout for our tour, where we either asked for demos or just straight-up bought every dynamic vocal microphone that you could buy. We tried them all out in a venue and just went nuts editing them and recorded it all, and did a really healthy test of feedback rejection and asking, does it sound natural? How much EQ do we need to put on? It was nuts.

Moore: It was Trevor Spencer, the sound guy for Father John Misty, who recommended Audix. Live, I'm a fairly quiet singer, and we were just really struggling to find something that would be directional and let me cut through the mix.

Riley: But also not sound too modern, because some of those directional mics are so bright and so hard.

Moore: I felt like they cut out the frequencies of my voice that make it sound like my voice, and I would sound like a different singer. My timbre would be so changed, I didn't like it. But when I sang through the Audix mics—of all the ones that we demoed—I felt like they left the natural tonal qualities of my voice most intact.

Which Audix mics do you use onstage?

Riley: On stage, we use the OM5. That's for vocals, obviously. We use the A133 on guitar. And then for kick drum, we use the D6. We don't use very many overhead mics because we're just not cymbal heavy. Because Alaina is a quiet singer, the cymbals come through no matter what.

Moore: It sounds good. It sounds like me.

Riley: It doesn't need a ton of EQ or anything like that. It's really hard to mess up.

Are you using Audix mics in the studio as well?

Riley: We do. I have been using Audix overhead mics and the kick drum mic. It's such a nice blend to have for kick drum, especially if you're using ribbon overhead mics; you want something more modern that'll get it to sit in its place. Because the ribbon mics, they're so murky. The Audix D6 kick drum mic is modern and tight. We never use a ported kick drum, so the Audix mic brings tons of high-end clarity to it, which for us is really important. And then we've been tracking with the ADX51 small-diaphragm condenser. We've been using that on acoustic guitar a lot too, and it's been awesome.

Moore: It's really been incredible for me how much control I have performing live with the OM5. I feel like you need a little bit of experience using a mic like this, because if you come off of it at all your voice dips dramatically in volume. But if you're really used to staying on a mic, I do feel very in control of what everybody is hearing, and I can just reorient my body and cut something out of the mix that I don't want from the stage, which has given me a lot more control, live.