Seattle band Tennis Pro has flown just below the national radar for more than a decade, consistently churning out smart, catchy pop/punk records and performing high energy live shows to venues that should have been far fuller.
I caught up with the band recently to chat about their longevity and their budding movie careers.
NadaMucho.com: So, like, what have you guys been up to since I last interviewed you in May of 2003? 6000 words or less, please.
David: We have made between five and 10,000 records. We have made three trips to Japan. We have killed three tour vans. We have lived through 11 earthquakes. We once slept on a church staircase. We also made a feature film called Big in Japan.
Phil: We also played SXSW, CMJ, and many shows and house parties, mostly in Seattle and Portland, some in California.
Sean: In addition to all of that stuff, we’ve all cut out carbs and started selling Pampered Chef products. Did you know you can dice an onion in less than three seconds with their food chopper?
NM: Good to know. Your song “Mixed Tape” holds up as one of my favorite Seattle singles of all time. Why did you decide to make a new video for it to coincide with the moving coming out?
Phil: We asked ourselves “If a band makes music and it isn’t on YouTube, does it exist? So it was the first of hopefully many, many videos to come.
David: “Mixed Tape” is one of John Jeffcoat’s (our director) favorite songs, and also one that wasn’t used in the movie. The location for that shoot was his basement, and the props were his posters and records. He wanted to make some videos unrelated to the movie to raise our visibility apart from the movie.
Sean: I love the song too, but wasn’t particularly interested in making a video for it. My vote was to make a more family friendly version of NIN’s “Closer” video. You know, the one about bestiality. Looking back, I realize that would’ve been a poor use of John Jeffcoat’s talents. And his basement.
NM: Speaking of the film, it was great to be there for the debut at SXSW this year. It’s incredibly sweet and authentic and I love that Phil was playing his cello as folks were seated. How did it feel to become an actor?
Phil: I liked playing the cello before the film, because most of the audience didn’t know I was in the film they were about to see. It pretty much only really felt like acting when we saw it on screen. Mostly, it was just us trying to convey a fictionalized story portraying a very real circumstance. John Jeffcoat is such a great director; he has a very Zen way of pulling what he wants from the person on camera. There was one scene where I go from euphoric to confused to hurt to pissed off, which is fine, but doing multiple takes was very strange to snap back from one to the other and then do it all over again.
David: In the first few scenes it felt really awesome to be become an actor, because “becoming an actor” meant drinking a lot of Suntory Whiskey.
NM: It seemed like the premiere got a good reaction. It’s hard for me to judge since I watched you guys as a band for so long and was destined to enjoy it. How has the response been from new Tennis Pro fans?
Phil: The main reaction I get is: “When and how can I share this with my friends and everyone I know?” to which my answer is: “I soooo want that, and hope that is possible soon.” I think it’s a very relatable narrative for anyone who is creative. I’m also not surprised that people would appreciate John Jeffcoat’s amazing work. This project is tantamount to Tennis Pro choosing to be the masters of our own destiny, as opposed to waiting around for people to care, or for success to just happen to us.
Sean: It’s been pretty great. You just can’t beat that new Tennis Pro fan smell.
NM: Are you seeing a tangible increase in digital royalties or merch sales?
David: If by “tangible increase” you mean “more than zero” then yes.
Sean: I’m kind of old fashion when it comes to talking about money in as much as I think it’s generally taboo to discuss. But let’s just say if they made a game show called “Who Wants to Marry a TwoThousandaire?” Tennis Pro could play the role of the bachelor!
NM: Ha! Congratulations on that.
Phil: I think a lot of the people who saw the film already had our records. We will not be retiring off of our current digital sales, which is good news for people who want us to make more records.
M: So I guess that’s the two thousand dollar question, then. What’s next for Tennis Pro? New albums? Tours?
Phil: We just finished a brand new EP called Girl of the Golden West and are several songs into the writing process for a new album.
Sean: We also have some travel in support of the film as it plays in different festivals around the country. For several of the screenings, Tennis Pro will be performing before or after. So, yes. Albums, tours, scandals. Three lives intertwined, tucked neatly into a hand basket bound for…well, you know.
NM: It’s great to see that you’re on the Capitol Hill Block Party lineup . Have you played it before?
David: We did play it once before, many years ago. I closed the show by playing a ripping guitar solo using a woman’s ass instead of human hands, which may or may not have been why it took a while for them to invite us back.
Sean: We played it in 2006 and were flanked by a group of girls who referred to themselves as the “Tennis Pro Hos.” They’d dance around on stage in short skirts. Now we make our hos play stringed instruments and horns.
NM: Will you be bringing the same Hos as in 2006 or have you acquired new ones? Also, do you still don the tennis outfits?
Sean: The 2006 Hoes ultimately couldn’t withstand the rigors or working with such incredible narcissists. I imagine getting spanked night after night with a tennis racquet lost its luster after a while as they all traded in their skirts for respectable positions in society. Our new hoes are required to be classically trained music phenoms. Also, we added some male hoes. It is 2014 after all.
NM: Which other bands are you guys looking forward to seeing at CHBP?
Sean: I’m pumped about the local music scene right now and am happy to have so many talented friends playing the CHBP. On Friday, the day we play, I’m looking to catch Dust Moth, Duke Evers, and of course Shaprece! Have we mentioned that our own Phil Peterson plays with Shaprece? Saturday has a lot to choose from, but I’m looking forward to seeing our friends Country Lips and Blood Drugs.
Phil: I’m deliberately going to try to check out bands that I haven’t heard of this year.
NM: That’s part of the magic of CHBP, Phil! Do you guys think you’ll get a chance to talk to ASAP Rocky about a collaboration?
Phil: I actually played on the ASAP Rocky record, on the song with Florence and The Machine, but I’m not sure if there will be another collaboration soon. I’ll have my people talk to his people.
NM: What’s the word on the latest album people should check out? Have you assembled a “Tennis Pro Starter Kit” for people who look for your music after seeing the movie?
David: We have a movie soundtrack available at CDBaby.com and a digital-only release called Small Basement Encore available on iTunes.
Sean: The soundtrack to Big in Japan is pretty exhaustive. However, if you don’t have two hours to kill, Shimokita is Dead? is my favorite owing to its Japanese inspiration.
(Tennis Pro play the CHBP Neumos Stage on Friday, July 25 at 4:30 p.m.)