[From the Archives] From Baseline to Big in Japan – Tennis Pro, The Interview

17 Jun

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Originally published in 2015 on Vivascene
This interview I conducted has since disappeared.
Revised edition June 2019

Ask any musician, and you will hear that breaking into the music scene is tough. To get the recognition that matters is even harder. Seattle-based band, Tennis Pro, found that they had to take their act to another country because in the good ol’ United States of America, their local music scene was quite stagnant.

“I think that Seattle, after the 90’s explosion [with grunge music], has struggled to find its identity musically,” said drummer Sean Lowry. In his opinion, the city had fallen into a melancholy folk-rock wasteland.

They want to get people dancing just like that first time from the good old days, back when Elvis tore up the establishment. Tennis Pro wants to rile up the crowd. That’s something that bassist Philip Peterson believes is lost as a tradition. He said it’s one of the torches that Tennis Pro wants to carry proudly.

“As for Tennis Pro getting bigger,” continued Lowry, “I think that was our biggest obstacle. We weren’t necessarily representing what Seattle was doing in the last decade.”

To take their act on the road, especially to a new country, brings new meaning to the definition of East meets West. In this case, perhaps collisions can occur because they arrived not knowing the language, having very few contacts to help them find performance venues, getting lost along the way to a gig and being too damned tall. The spaces are not built for some the crew to fit into.

The idea of making a movie evolved from an idea originally pitched by the band to MTV. They wanted to make a television show. Plans fell through and when they met writer/director John Jeffcoat, he said let’s make it a film instead!

In what got chronicled as a rockumentary became Big in Japan. “About 75% of the narrative is real,” revealed guitarist/vocalist David Drury, “and the rest is fiction. We went there because we always assumed that we would love it there and people would like our music. And we were surprised that was actually true,” says Drury.

The trio performed nearly every night to earn their wage and they have a good following in the land of the rising sun. As for the question of which world is better, since this band found their home away from home in the district of Shimokitazawa, Tokyo, or who can hold on to their culture really depends. Peterson believes that they are the music identity of Seattle, but this city just doesn’t know it yet.

Collectively, the trio explained that their band name, Tennis Pro, represents the attitude that they have to emote at all times. “It’s present in our music, in what the band believes and in having a perspective of that high school kid who thinks he’s the coolest kid in school,” said Drury.

Their stage costumes in the movie did not vary until their normal clothes got dirty. What they wore were simply tennis outfits. Those whites and what they look like now look took years to establish. The trio created a shtick that blends punk rock and country club type of look for their act. In the promotional images for their film, perhaps a few people will wonder if AC/DC guitarist Agnus Young would approve in this variation of a theme, tennis shorts on stage.

With thanks to their movie as a vehicle for their brand, they have the confidence to move forward as performers. To gain that experience they have put into the album, Shimokita is Dead? showed that this band did find success in other ways.

“Creatively, we did come back from Japan with lots of ideas. We recorded that album based on our experiences while still shooting the film,” said Peterson.

With song titles like “Song Detergents” and “Places Unknown to Me,” the humour cannot go unnoticed. And keeping their costume clean was more than just a little difficult when the film took two trips, one in 2010 and another in 2012, to finish.

(Top to Bottom): David Drury, Phil Peterson, and Sean Lowry (right)

“You should watch how thick or thin Phil’s moustache gets,” laughed Lowry.

“To find the differences might make a fun drinking game, but you won’t necessarily notice it while watching the movie,” said Drury.

“There needed to be washing and sewing between trips. But mine have passed on,” added Peterson.

To see how this band have evolved means checking out their live show. They rocked the house on the night prior to the beginning of the 2015 Victoria Film Festival and their movie was part of the initial offerings on opening night, with another show a few days later.

This movie is available on VOD (Amazon link) to give this band the recognition they deserve. After its premiere some years ago to where this group is now, has it really helped? They are active and doing very well in the Seattle scene. They have five albums to date. All of which can be found on CD Baby. The official soundtrack is also available for purchase on Amazon.

“We have lots of supply as a band with 18 years under our belts. It would be nice to increase the demand to meet the supply we already have; we want to continue creating,” said Lowry.

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