LA transplants Tennis System have a reputation steeped in their livewire performances, introspective lyrics and sonic versatility. 2018 has seen the release of their EP ‘Pain’: an expansive and turbulent comeback after four-year period of inertia. Tennis System brought us a composite of alt-rock and shoegaze sensibilities, not adhering completely to either, but instead transforming both with a visceral flair. The distortion on ‘Pain’ gives a sense of displacement, but every track is ultimately weighted down with a blitz of vengeance in the instrumental.
The live dynamic of Tennis System is the stuff of legend, drawing droves of trans-Atlantic fans to see their shows. Since day one, the three-piece have gained notoriety for their performances being shut down. Two years on, how has that chemistry in their performance developed? “We want our live show to be separate from what our record is.” The band told us. Tennis System, though violent in sound, are vulnerable in their lyrics. “With our records, we want people to connect with them and feel something, but with our live performances, we want them loud, and full of energy.”
On an aesthetic level, Tennis System draw inspiration from an array of cultures: Japanese art and comics, as well as German art films, have had their influence over the band’s presentation. “We’re also inspired by the people we meet on tour,” they added, “it helps to shape our perception of the world. It’s like an extension of understanding ourselves by understanding our relationship with music and our fans’ relationship with it.”
By anyone’s definition, Tennis System are successful. For a band hailing from Washington DC, they have toured not only their own country, but the breadth of Europe, too. But how do they define success, and how do they match up to it? “Being able to pay your rent from the money you make from your music is something we see as success. To us, that’s “making it”. What we’re doing right now is a success. It has always been a dream to be able to tour the world; the fact that we’re here right now, having this conversation, is success.”
Tennis System identify as an LA band because they felt misunderstood by the DC music scene. For young artists and musicians trying to break out of their hometowns and find success on the scale of Tennis System, what advice would they give? “Don’t stop. Play as many shows as you can. Make your shows memorable. Be genuine: be honest with what your intentions are when it comes to making music. It gets rough sometimes – we’ve had our rough patches. Our latest record is all about those. I think the best piece of advice is to go with your gut. Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable when it comes to decisions being made about your music. I feel like we’re in an era where people fear being wrong and stupid. If you remove the music, we’re just a couple of idiots on stage, but it’s completely natural. It’s important for people to be able to express themselves in a way that they don’t really care what anyone thinks about them. That’s why we do what we do, and we want other people to do the same.”
‘Pain’ is a fitting title for Tennis System’s latest EP: without pain, it wouldn’t have come into being. The band are very vocal about their struggles, particularly in their lyrics. What challenges do the band face on a daily basis, and how do they overcome them? “The biggest challenge for us as a band is getting to play more shows and tour more. It doesn’t happen as easily as you think. There are obviously financial struggles, too. The music industry as a whole is a sort of struggle. Luckily, we’ve got a really solid team right now. You give up a lot in terms of relationships and a normal home life when you’re on tour – going home for three days feels almost wild. It’s a struggle that we enjoy enduring – it’s worth it in the end.”
Tennis System are rounding off this year with three more dates on their US tour with El Ten Eleven in California. But next year, we are promised a new record – and we can’t wait.
Words: Sophie Walker | Interview: Dom Smith