Analogue Music | Tennis System

Tennis System

By Matt Conner

Not much is said about the health of a rock band, perhaps a contributing factor to the short lifespan of most such outfits.

For Matty Taylor, front man for the band Tennis System, health is a foremost consideration most days. From his days studying kinesiology in college to his current vegan status, Taylor says he and his bandmates are often focused on all aspects of health and wellness—not only because life for a touring rock band is typically the opposite but also because he knows how much it affects all aspect of their craft.

The language around Tennis System's new album, Lovesick, is all about health. It's an album that speaks to the tension of creating art in today's marketplace and protecting your creative instincts from outside pressures. It's also the story of a band trusting their instincts and leaning into their influences, and the end result is a beautifully heavy shoegaze release.

Working with Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Creative Adult), Taylor and company—Sam Glassberg (bass) and Garren Orr (drums)—found the perfect producing partner to help them chart course on a set of songs written out of a love for the craft. It's even in the title, Lovesick, and it's how we found Taylor when we talked to him.

Here's the story of a band trying to be well in an oft-ill industry, driven by a rarely found integrity to the craft that continues to draw them.

Analogue: The language around this album was so much around the sifting process, of whether art is worth making and how to focus on what's most important despite the noise. How is that state of the band right now? And how does the music help that?

Matty Taylor: We're in a good place now, but it's always a difficult thing with social media beacuse you're forced fed these things. For us, it's the kind of thing where we see festival lineups come up or these other things happening and you wonder why we weren't picked for that this year. Then you see other tours and think, 'Fuck, that would have been a great tour.' That's when it gets really difficult because we work really hard at what we do and we know what we're capable of when in the position to do it. It's frustrating to work as hard as we do and not get to reap the benefits of touring or playing festivals.

A lot of what happens in the music industry today isn't necessarily based on your talent. It's about numbers and streams and how many followers you get. It just opens a new frustration of sorts, for lack of a better word. This thing that isn't even real is what is being used to determine everything. It can make or break you. It's frustrating because I don't necessarily want everyone knowing everything about me. The more that you post and give people your personal life, the more successful you seem to get.

It's crazy how everyone is so willing to just put all of that on the line, to put it out there in the open. What happened to our privacy?

I have a hard time getting behind that because I like my privacy. [Laughs] Don't get me wrong. I love to do what we do and it's awesome, but I like the idea of separation between work and not work. Art is work, you know? It's a lot of work, not in the sense of financial gains, but in the sense that it is my outlet. I put everything into that, so there are certain things that I like to separate from it. I like my family time or time with friends.

It's crazy how everyone is so willing to just put all of that on the line, to put it out there in the open. What happened to our privacy? In the past if you were different and you were good, that had enough merit. Now you have to go out and do all of this crazy shit or act like an asshole on social media to get attention. I don't know. It all just seems like a backwards way to live.

We don't necessarily strive to do those things, but we do notice the difference it makes when we're on tour and we're posting because we have things to talk about. We see an increase in everything. Obviously on the road you see an increase because you're meeting new people and such, but it's this weird dynamic between the two. If you're not social media oriented and active constantly then you notice a dip in everything. It's all a weird way to live and it can affect everything. It's hard to not acknowledge that.

Analogue: How successful were you at keeping these pressures and voices at bay when recording this latest set of songs?

Matty: We basically got to the point where we don't acknowledge it. I feel like if you listen to what is popular today, everything sounds pretty much the same. There's a formula and a lot of people don't even write their own music. I don't understand that, but that's my thing. Whatever. For us, it's always been the kind of thing where we do what we want to do. We make music that we like. We push ourselves to be the best band we can possibly be, not focusing on those things.

Before, we had people telling us that we needed to do that and we trusted in them that it was the right thing, even though we didn't feel comfortable doing that. It almost broke the band. I'm glad that we were able to see through it and push past it and get to where we got with Lovesick and those songs. We didn't have any shows or tours so we were just locked in our space writing and writing. The result is Lovesick.

Tennis System Lovesick
Tennis System Lovesick

Analogue: Where did that title song come from?

Matty: Lyrically it has a lot to do with being in a place where you love something so much that it destroys you. In this instance, a lot of the album is what we were going through personally. We love this thing so much and we want it to be ours. I wanted to feel the love that I felt when I first heard music. That's always been a goal of ours as a band to be able to have that impact on people. It's not that we're out here writing songs in the sense like, 'We gotta get people to love us.' But maybe you can hear a song that isn't written directly toward you, but it totally connects with how you're feeling. When you can do that for someone, it's really special and that's the kind of thing I was searching for myself. I wanted that feeling again. It's been a really long time since I felt that way about music, and I wanted to put that out there in a way that wasn't so direct.

That song is funny because it's one that I'd written parts for it. We almost didn't put it on the record. It got to the point where we needed to shape it into a proper song and we spent a couple days on it and got it to where it is now. The more we worked on it, the more we felt what it was. It was a really awesome experience writing it and getting it to where it is.

Analogue: What are you most proud of on this set of songs?

Matty: I love that every one of these songs was written by us as a whole. It ended up being the kind of thing where one of us would bring in a song and we'd sit down and work on every single song. We made every single of them our songs.

In the past, I'd come in with what I had written and then I'd say, 'If you could do this here.' That was the format to Tennis System. Whereas on this one, if someone brought something in, we would write on it and build and make the song. Then after we'd make the song, I'd sit and write lyrics and send them to the guys and we'd all take notes. If there was a melody or something they didn't like, I would go back and rework. It wasn't just me doing something. We all contributed. That makes it really awesome and more valuable for everyone.

The production quality is also something that we were really striving for. Jack [Shirley] killed it. A common thing that people say to us is that we sound so much differnet live than on our album. We'd always wanted to capture that energy and Jack really did that.

Going into it, we're so used to working with producers who want us to beef up the tracks. 'Let's add some strings underneath here. We'll add this other guitar part.' For me, I like experimenting and adding things to make the song bigger, but at the same time, Jack saw these songs as big as they were. We didn't have to add anything to it. When you add so much, when you go to play it live, you can't do that unless you have 10 other people on stage with you. Or you have to have a laptop, which god forbid is ever a thing we do. That's a whole other conversation. [Laughs] But we wanted to steer away from that. We wanted to make sure that everything you hear is something we can play live. There's nothing that is on that record that you don't hear live and that was extremely important to us.

Analogue: By the way, how did that connection with Jack happen in the first place?

Matty: This is so crazy. We were in Europe and we were trying to figure out who to do the new album with. There were a couple options, one of which I had wanted to work with for a while. We'd reached out and his manager wrote us back and said the dates worked but then when we told him our budget, we never heard back from him. That was a weird thing, but mind you, we'd written Jack and this person at the same time. Jack wrote us back and said, 'Hey this sounds great. I think we could do something really awesome here.'

It's funny because when we were in Europe, we were talking about producers and we were on tour with The Black Queen at the time. Their guitar player Steve [Alexander] came in to our green room and said, "You guys should totally do your next record with this guy." We were like, 'What the fuck? We were literally just saying that.' [Laughs] It was this really weird moment where we realized we had to make it happen. It all fell into place perfectly, and I think all of that shows on the album. He really believed in the songs.

It's one thing to take on a project to make money. It's another thing where you can tell the person cares not only about the music but everything that goes into it. It was an awesome experience.

VISIT: Tennis System