An hour of piano. An hour of guitar. An hour of reading. An hour of writing. Go on a walk. Repeat.
This strict schedule doesn't seem like a birthplace for creativity, but for Denver band Tennis, it helped overcome months of writer's block and an "existential tailspin" to write their third album, Ritual In Repeat.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Tennis' practice once again comes to a halt and Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley are both leaning over a red keyboard in their South Broadway practice space searching through different effects.
Moore and her husband Riley are meticulously test-driving material from their upcoming album in a little unfinished basement with a cobwebbed roof. They work through a particularly tough drum beat and a section that might end up with Moore switching from piano to guitar.
Even with the cheerfully ironic artwork on the wall, it's a practice session focused on diligent attention to the music rather than goofing off. They're focused — perfectionists, even. This disciplined practice on a Friday afternoon might be an echo of half a year living an austere agenda.
For six months, Moore and Riley locked themselves into a strict routine. They'd set their own personal schedules, blocking out hour-long slots every day for certain tasks.
Without deviating from these itineraries, the duo would grind through a 40-hour work week. And at the end of six months, they had an album, Ritual In Repeat, due out on Sept. 9.
"In order for us to write the album we had to take on a ritualistic format where we were sticking to these extreme guidelines, like a writing schedule," said Riley before the band's practice. "We repeated that over and over until time didn't really exist and we were just turning out creativity."
In the fall of 2012 the band hit what they call an "existential tailspin." Over the course of the previous year and a case of writer's block Tennis had only written four songs.
"I would be hitting these walls and I was internalizing it too much," Moore said. "We didn't even know what growth would sound like."
Then a friend recommended reading the book, "Daily Rituals," which outlines the way creative people structure their lives successfully.
"It was like unlocking the universe," Moore said.
From structure came creativity. And surprisingly, the result of this regimented writing lifestyle is Tennis' most risky album yet. Ritual In Repeat dabbles in everything from funk, a little soul to electro-pop on top of the band's surf-influenced, retro-pop sound.
Moore and Riley are feeling burnt out on the success of their 2011 track, "Marathon." It's a song that's unabashedly poppy, has more than 5 million plays on Spotify, and Moore calls it "almost moronically simple." They wanted to do something different.
So, they ended up with a number of bold demos, and would have ended up with an even riskier album if it hadn't been for the help of some big name producers: Patrick Carney (The Black Keys), Jim Eno (Spoon) and Richard Swift (The Shins).
With the help of pros on the final product, Ritual In Repeat — while still a bold album compared to Tennis' previous releases — has depth, complexity and is still quite accessible.
The writing and recording process all took place after Tennis moved from Denver to Nashville in early 2013. It's a move that, while short-lived, helped the band facilitate its six month regimen.
"It was like a forced reflection," Moore said. "It helped us create this rigorous schedule because we had no life."
While the move gave the band the space to write, it also gave them time to think about what they left behind in Denver. The music scene in Nashville was more business-focused, Moore and Riley said, whereas in Denver, artists are concerned with creating rather than moving up a ladder.
Back in Denver, they're once again surrounded by artist social circles, including Nathaniel Rateliff and Nate and Patrick Meese of the Centennial. And they don't plan on leaving that again.
Looking ahead, Tennis has quite a bit on its mind as the band gets ready to kick off a three month headlining tour in support of Ritual In Repeat.