Last week we had the pleasure of meeting Seattle indie band Tennis Pro before they hopped on the Victoria Clipper to travel up to Victoria for a show at the Copper Owl. Before Tennis Pro left on their journey they explored our boat and I spoke with band members Sean Lowry (drums), Phillip Peterson (bass) and David Drury (guitar) about their music, their film Big in Japan as well as their future plans. Speaking of the future, if you want to see Tennis Pro yourself, you can fairly soon as Big in Japan will be playing at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) from February 20-26, with performances by the band on February 20 and 21.
Where are you from? How did you get into music? Had you recorded with other groups before forming Tennis Pro?
Sean: I’m a Western Washington native and I have been in Tennis Pro for 12 years. Phil and I played in some bands before Tennis Pro and I’ve always played music, I played music in elementary school, so I just kept doing it.
Phil: I’m a Northgate native, and I still live in Northgate in the same house. I have been doing music my whole life, I have played the cello since I was three and I’ve recorded with many, many other people locally and internationally. Nada Surf, Maroon 5, Pink, Owl City, as well as many local arts over a series of a couple of decades. Now Tennis Pro has been together for quite a while and we are continuing to make music.
David: I did grow up in Snohomish, but my family moved to California when I was a kid. I was a fan of one of the bands that these guys [Sean and Phil] were in and they had a guitarist that was leaving the band, so I made sure to get chance to jam with these guys, and instantly was the new thing after that. That was 12 years ago.
What are your musical inspirations for the sound of Tennis Pro
Phil: We get a lot of water here in Seattle, so I like to pretend that it is nice water that could be swam in or surfed in, so I think the environment, nature and definitely a coastal vibe [influence our music]. I like to influence other people’s music, I don’t usually like them to influence mine.
David: I think bands that we have liked to listen to and bands that people have liked to talk about when they talk about Tennis Pro are Weezer, the Pixies, Nirvana, They Might Be Giants and Fountains of Wayne.
Sean: Violent Femmes.
Phil: The Sonics are a local Seattle-Tacoma band. The Ventures and the Sonics I would say are a big influence.
David: So we like to have fun, and we like to play rock ‘n’ roll. Sometimes it is kind of surfy.
What song of yours are you most proud of?
David: I like “We Put the Punc in Punctuation.” I feel like that became sort of little of who we are and what we are about, so I’m proud of that.
Sean: I like a lot of our songs off of our last album “Shimokita is Dead?” because a lot of them were written and inspired by our touring of Japan. To me like the newest and coolest and kind of represents some of the funner times for us.
Phil: We have a song called “Dance Hit Number One,” which is about how much you want to dance to the song, so it is kind of like a funny, like dog chasing its own tail kind of concept.
Tennis Pro in the wheelhouse
Can you tell us a little bit about your movie, Big in Japan and what inspired you to make it?
Sean: I think we all felt like we wanted to go to Japan, I think we felt like maybe our music would resonate with the people in Japan better than here in Seattle. I think we had experienced a little bit of success locally and nationally our music always charted in the college charts but we had never really kind of broke out. I think we sort of hatched this desperate plan that if we could buy some plane tickets and get over there, maybe we could get them to notice us and have a camera on us. At probably 2009, Phil and I had done some very peripheral work with MTV for their web series, $5 Cover. On a drive to Portland to play a show, I was like “oh my god, we could get MTV to film us over there, unscripted trying to make it and everything.” Phil knew a producer and we told her the idea and really liked it, so she put me on the phone with MTV.
Phil: MTV gave us their blessing, saying to go forward with the project, and then we were able to procure John Jeffcoat, who did Outsourced, as our director. Then the MTV thing fell away as it was kind of seasonal a thing for MTV at the time anyway.
Sean: We pitched it to MTV as an unscripted reality series. So, when they walked away we were left with John Jeffcoat as a director and John was like “let’s make a movie” and we were like “okay” and that’s now it started. So it is a [scripted] narrative feature film. We advertise it as semi-fictitious, but it fairly closely follows reality. [However,] it is scripted so we are playing a caricature of ourselves.
Phil: With the exception of all of the music, which is real and not scripted per say.
Sean: All the musical performances in the movie are actual performance. In that way, it has a bit of a documentary element to it a little bit.
What part of creating the movie did you enjoy the most?
Sean: I think touring Japan, playing shows in Japan. I think, for me anyway, coming out of it with all our friends that we made over there and locally too. We made some friends for life, and I think all of us really miss being over there and miss all the people we got to know through this experience.
Phil: The culture of playing music in Japan is extremely attractive. All the bands, after the shows they all hang out. Here, everyone has their own gear and their own stuff so after the show you have to go find your vehicle, load out and sort of take care of your own thing. In Japan, everyone shares gear and most of it is owned by the club. So, after you have played your show, and shows tend to be a little an earlier too, then all the bands just go out and party out together. I think that was my favorite part, there is a lot of comradery that happened after the shows. You sort have all put your music out there and the crowd enjoyed it and just every night there is this sort of after party environment. There is something a little bit deeper having performed with these other bands than just an after party. There’s a connection there.
David: I think we fell in love with Japan and Tokyo more than maybe we thought we would and we felt like that was reciprocated, and our shows were really great and people really responded to the music. That was my favorite part was connecting on a bigger scale than we even thought that we were going to.
Phil tried his hand at captaining the vessel.
Do you have plans to go back to Japan or do more touring this year?
Sean: We don’t have immediate plans, but we are trying to procure distribution for the film right now in Japan. We have been in talks with some record labels in Japan as well, so if we were to get that record deal we have been talking about, then they would bring us over and hopefully that would be this year.
Phil: Short story, yes, we are working on it, but there is nothing definite yet.
Are you going to tour in the U.S.??
Sean: We have some potential management companies that might work with us, so if that happens, we would love to tour the U.S., or any country where we are well received. I think for us to just to plan our own tour in the U.S., you know geographically it is such a big space and so much of the time in the U.S. is spent driving between cities, it would have to be well planned and funded by people other than Tennis Pro.
Phil: It would have to be more of a professional type of tour, where the supply and the demand match each other. Not just going out, beating the streets and playing wherever, just hoping that something [would work out]. It would have to be something that was booked and seats sold.
David: We’ve all done our fair share of touring in vans and I think we decided we were going to do it a different way, which is spend a lot of time on the writing and the recording. That might be why we’re still together.
Phil: Not beating each other up in a van somewhere in Minnesota.
You guys have a show tonight up in Victoria, that’s why you’re here. Have you ever been up there before?
David: I lived in Canada for two years but I never went to Victoria, I was always in Vancouver.
Phil: I have been several times and I absolutely love it.
You guys have a show at the SIFF too right?
Sean: Starting February 20th for one week, Northwest Film Forum will be doing a theatrical run of Big in Japan. On Friday the 20th and Saturday the 21st, the film screens at 8:00PM and we will perform afterwards. The film can be seen from Friday to Thursday of that week. Hopefully the will extend the run, so it might play up to two weeks, but right now it is just guaranteed for a week.