photo: John Sinclair
Whiting Tennis is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and fine artist known for his painting and sculpture. Whiting Tennis the musician is also an enigma. Try digging for information about the man and what you'll mostly find is his visual art, a field in which he has considerable talent and renown. It is not so easy to find anything having to do with his aural art. But we're fortunate to have personally experienced his song-storytelling gift, often on display at intimate house shows and the occasional club gig in and around our town.
While his music certainly can be filed under low-fi folk rock, these words seem too lazy a description. Tennis drops various musician's names as influences, clues that get us closer to what his music is like; Elliot Smith, Mark E. Smith, Nick Drake and Sparklehorse, to name a few. In Tennis' lyrics and music you can hear the dark, hard-soft and often ominous tones conjured by these artists, but the influence that is the most telling to us is Neil Young. Like Young, Tennis is driven by an unshakeable commitment to his musical aesthetic regardless of its commercial viability; a rough, loose, fuzzy, dense, electric-acoustic and at times seemingly unpracticed sound... music as outsider art. But also like Young, there is an unmistakable intentionality and purposefulness to Tennis' music.
Take, for example, the song Teenage Daughter from his gorgeous album Three Leaf Clover. The track begins with what sounds like a somnambulistic transmission from an alternate universe, before sucking the listener through some sort of vortex tube into the present, dropped in the middle of a band rehearsal or living room show; a quite pleasing sing-song vocal accompanied by strumming, lightly distorted guitar, opaque cello and relaxed bass and drums. The song has a looseness that at first listen might give the impression of a live performance, perhaps even a glimpse of a band learning a song, but with closer inspection it's clear that every note is well considered and played for a reason.