Tennis System discuss art and design, dream tours and staying true to their vision

Photo by Anthony Tran

LA indie rock band Tennis System are creating a buzz with their infectious music and live shows.  Although the band is based in LA currently, singer Matty Taylor started the band in Washington, DC in 2009.  Needing a fresh start after feeling musically misunderstood by the DC scene, Taylor moved to LA in 2011.  The move has proven fruitful for the band, who have since released 2011’s Teenagers and 2014’s Technicolour Blind to critical praise.  The band has been compared to Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, but have an ever-changing sound all their own.  The goal of the band is continue to grow and evolve as musicians, which will ultimately lead to a sound that grows and evolves, as well.  The band recently released their new EP entitled PAIN, which was the first album recorded with the current line up of Matty on guitar and vocals, Sam Glassberg on bass and Garren Orr on drums. Our staff writer, Emily May, recently interviewed the band in which they discussed the new EP, Matty’s love of art and design, bands they’d love to tour with and staying true to their vision.  You can stay up-to-date with the band and upcoming tour dates on Bandcamp here, Facebook here, Instagram here, and Twitter here.  You can stream their latest EP PAIN here and can also stream their music on Spotify.  Check out their latest video for “CLEARER” at the end of the interview!

EM: Tennis System released a new EP on April 27th, following an exclusive Record Store Day vinyl release on April 21st, entitled PAIN. I read that the name of the EP was inspired by the painful sacrifices you guys had to make in order to make the album and revolves around themes of the modern youthful dilemmas of isolation, longing, failure and persistence. Can you talk a bit about the making of the album and the inspiration behind the themes? Was it always your intention to release the album on Record Store Day?

Garren: To me, P A I N is the embodiment of what we three had been going through as a band at the time. It was right after our first tour with this lineup and the first time we were writing together so it was this new exercise of putting our feelings into something tangible and energetic. Everyone has their own relationship to pain; different triggers, different levels of intensity. I think it’s really important to explore what pain means to you in order to acknowledge where it comes from and how to harness its power. We’re lucky that we have the vehicle of Tennis System to explore our shared experiences with our listeners.

Sam: Beyond the lyrical and musical themes of pain, and beyond the sacrifices we’ve all made to make this record, I look at PAIN as something that was painful to make because it took us a long time to be able to make it on our terms, exactly how we wanted it. In the end, that pain helped the final product, and I could not be more thankful for the pain we endured to make something so uncompromising and so us.

Matty: It wasn’t always our intention to do a Record Store Day release, but has definitely always been personal a goal of mine. All of our releases have been exclusive in some way, and we definitely wanted to continue that tradition with this release. Being the massive audiophile I am, I’ve always fantasized about one day having a RSD release. It just so happened to line up with our timeline, so we went for it!

EM: The PAIN EP was recorded in Philadelphia with Jeff Zeigler (The War On Drugs, Kurt Vile) and in LA with Courtney Ballard (Anti-Flag, All Time Low). What led the band to record the album in 2 different studios and what influence did each producer bring to the recording process?

Sam: Working with two producers really gives some sonic depth to a release. Although we never planned to go in to make a record with two different people in two different places, I think the diversity of their respective catalogs as well as the diversity of where the songs were recorded really shapes the sound of the record. When you listen to Everybody and Lackluster, you can almost feel the LA sun, and with the other tracks you can hear the coldest winter in Philly since ‘94.

Garren: We’re influenced by so many different types of artists and albums that range from ultra grungy and washed out soundscapes to crisp and focused tones, and I think we wanted to be versatile in our approach to these new songs. Both of the producers are great at bringing those two sides out in us; Courtney pushed us to find the truffles in the dirt and Jeff is the master of creating a lush atmosphere.

EM: What prompted you guys to record each track of the PAIN EP live?

Sam: When we got in to work with Jeff, it was sort of a matter of working with a time frame, but it turned out for the best, as a sense of urgency really carried over to the final product. Also, at our heart we are a live band, and having that element recorded as well helps the sound stay more honest in my opinion.

EM: I read that when recording your 2014 album Technicolor Blind, that the band went to the studio in blocks. You would get as much done in the time you could pay for and then save up to go back and do another block. Do you feel that this changed the way you approach recording currently, in the sense of being more concise with your studio time?

Matty: Technicolour Blind was very scattered, but beautiful. It straddled cities, it straddled my 20s and some of the most formative experiences. It’s raw for a different reason. Now, it’s important to me that we’re all in the studio/session together. It creates this energy, this magic, that can’t be captured when you aren’t in the room consecutive days. You build a bond between the band and encourage each other throughout. I find myself in this mindset where everything else in the world is almost non-existent. You become engulfed in your work, pouring everything into it. So, no, I don’t feel it did. We’ve always been concise with our studio time and take it very seriously. Working out our songs to perfection before we take them into the studio has always been my approach.

EM: Your 2011 album Teenagers had a bit of a grittier sound, whereas your more recent material has been described as having a more “lo-fi shoegaze” and “nostalgic dream pop” sound. How much of an influence did living in LA, as opposed to DC, have on your music? I read that as a band you don’t want to be tied to one genre, so do you feel that the sound of the band would have changed a bit regardless?

Matty: I don’t ever want to be put in a “genre box.” Our sound changes as we grow. I see Tennis System as it’s own thing. Do we like shoegaze and dream pop? Sure. But we also love Hip-hop, hardcore, metal, and punk. When writing, the goal isn’t to make a “lo-fi shoegaze” or “nostalgic dream pop” song. It’s to write the best fucking song or songs we can. Tennis System has always stayed in the same lane, just growing. Writing stronger songs, writing better albums. The goal is always for the next records to better than the last.

EM: As the band has been growing and reshaping, downsizing to a 3-piece band and moving from the east coast to the west coast over the years, you have managed to stay true to your vision for the band. What kinds of challenges did you face, if any, in staying true to your vision?

Matty: I have definitely faced challenges here in LA. Being poor is a major factor. We’re experiencing a class crisis in America. I have a college degree and am living paycheck-to-paycheck. My fucking student loans are literally suffocating me. When I first moved here [LA], I found myself working everyday just to be able to pay my rent. That created zero time to create. In the last two years I’ve made it a point to devote two to three days a week to creating. Be it music, drawing, graphic design, or screen printing.

When meeting with people to work with, on the industry side, a common response has always been “Your music is great, we just don’t know what to do with it.” That’s a hard pill to swallow. People suggested changing our sound a bit to be more like A. or B. but I refuse to do that. Too many people make music to be cool. It’s a hobby. My music is my art.

We are the Mother Fvcking Tennis System. A loud, intense, in your fucking face band. That’s what we will always be.

EM: Rather than relying on direction from label professionals, you have a passion for art and hand pick the people who work on the band’s videos and visuals. Did you grow up loving art? What are some of your favorite art spots in LA (or elsewhere), such as museums, murals and/or galleries. I read that all of the band’s merch is handmade. How much of a hand do you have in designing the merch?

I have always loved art. Creating it and seeing it has been a very important part of my life. As a kid, my older brother and I used to have collage, drawing and painting sessions. He’d also take me to DC to see the museums. I fell in love with, not only the works in the spaces, but the spaces themselves. DC is filled with some of the most beautiful architecture, monuments and parks in the country. I love the art of fashion as well. So much, that I do vintage clothing for work.

Some of my favorite spots are The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Malcolm X Park, The Lincoln Memorial, The Guggenheim, The MoMA, The Rothko Chapel, The Broad and the Geffen.

I’m big into graphic designing and screen printing. When designing our merch, I’ll create a graphic and send it over to the band. We then discuss the piece, suggest tweaks and/or additional ideas and come to an agreement on the piece. The end result is what you see on a shirt, a single cover or an album cover. Printing the shirts is a process that has become quite meditative for us.

EM: What was the inspiration behind the video for CLEARER? Matty-I read that you worked out the concept for the video with director Logan Rice. Do you usually approach the making of videos in that way or do you sometimes have a clear idea of the concept going into it? How do you go about choosing directors?

Matty: I’ve usually got a visual in mind that I discuss with the director and we try to achieve that as best as possible. We typically work closely with our friends. It’s important to put people on when you’re in a position to do so. Luckily we’ve got friends who are extremely talented and willing to work within our budget, which is $0.00. I typically trade an expensive vintage shirt for a video.

EM: Tennis System has played with some amazing bands over the years. Are there any bands going forward that you would love to tour and/or collaborate with? Who are some bands that you are listening to right now?

Garren: Been listening to the new Voidz album Virtue; some wild stuff on that. Everything’s Fine by Jean Grae and Quelle Chris is great too. Fearing’s Black Sand is really cool. Excited for new MBV. Shame put on a great show; would love to play with them. And I’m constantly in awe at Yonotan Gat’s performances; he and whatever iteration of a lineup he has always impresses.

Matty: I’d love to work with Kim Gordon, Kevin Shields, Robert Smith and Kendrick Lamar. On separate occasions, haha. These are people who have strongly influenced my creative process and I really feel, together, we could create something amazing.

Touring wise, my top 5 I’d like to be on the road with are SHAME, Touché Amoré, Culture Abuse, Kendrick Lamar and Turnstile.

Right now I’m listening to Launder, Blonde Redhead, Touché Amoré, Culture Abuse, and Frank Ocean.

Sam: Touché Amoré would be a dream band to go out with. Their live show is fucking nuts and their music is phenomenal. Stage Four is one of the most important records released in recent years. Also, Matty and I just saw Turnstile and that was wild, would love to play with them. I want people moshing at our shows more, so going out with a hardcore band would be a good way to get that started. Right now I’m only really listening to a lot of music from Asia, especially a Japanese band called Luby Sparks and a Koran band called Say Sue Me. There’s a lot of amazing music over there that really needs more exposure in the West.

EM: What’s next for the band?

Matty: Global Domination

Garren: Piercing more eardrums.

Sam: Playing faster and louder in your town soon

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