Q&A: Tennis's Alaina Moore Talks Backstage Beauty

Ever done your makeup on a mirror graffitied with penises? Alaina Moore has.
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Ever done your makeup on a mirror graffitied with penises? Alaina Moore has.

I first heard the band Tennis in 2011, when they released their debut three-track demo. That was around the same time that my band, Chalk and Numbers, had released our first EP, with much comparison to Tennis (amongst other indie pop boy-girl duos). 

Who is this Tennis, I'd thought? Who names a band after a sport I am bad at? And why can't music journalists assess a band without comparing it to some other band? Turns out they made damn good tunes, and with each release I liked them more and more. 

Then, at a last-minute booking for an open slot at Brooklyn Bowl, I met Alaina Moore, one-half of Tennis. That my band was randomly sought out was a big highlight in my personal music career. (The booker said he found us by Googling local NYC acts similar to Tennis.)

Aside from being an approachable, friendly, and genuine human being, Alaina is an awesome person to share hummus and southern comfort food with backstage. Brooklyn Bowl has great food, btw.

We’ve kept in touch a bit on social media, and I saw Tennis at another New York show this May. We played catch-up and Alaina graciously allowed me to paw through her makeup bag. And since she's a fan of xoVain, I didn't have to twist her arm to get her to talk to me about how she keeps her beauty game tight while touring. 

Ah, load-in. Only slightly better than loading out. 

Ah, load-in. Only slightly better than loading out. 

You mentioned that you grew up in Colorado as an au naturel granola girl. At what point, if there was one, in your musical career were you like, “Okay, I need to step up my face game?” Not that there is anything wrong with your face game.

About a year into touring our first record we had the chance to play some dates with Dum Dum Girls. I am a HUGE fan and was so excited to get to know them. Our first show together, my crew rolled up in basically workout clothes--my hair a frizz halo, with no attention to my appearance whatsoever. The girls were sound checking and it was hours from showtime, but even then they looked PERFECT. They looked like sex + rock and roll. All of them. I looked at my dumpy crew and felt seriously out of my element. None of my clothes were right, and I didn't even have any makeup! 

I looked at some live photos from our time on the road and realized how much my naturalness didn't translate in dimly lit, urine-soaked clubs. You need to counter that shit with some serious glamour. 

That was the beginning of my personal revolution and I am still figuring it out. My favorite makeup techniques don't suit my features. My favorite colors make me look ill. My favorite haircuts are too finicky and time consuming on the road. Styles that I think best suit me don't translate on stage unless they are perfectly lit, etcetera, etcetera. So yeah, I've stepped up my game, but I haven't nailed it yet.

Living on a tour bus, or perhaps the standard issue tour Sprinter, what’s the most difficult part of getting ready? What’s the dressing room situation like on tour? 

My living situation on the road has everything to do with what style/beauty routine I adopt. I want to express myself, and I want my style to make me feel confident and powerful so that I can make the transition from a long, exhausting travel day to the stage each night. Backstage is usually a garbage dump. Also, more greenrooms than you'd ever think don't have mirrors! The only thing I ask for in our rider [editor's note: a rider is a set of requests or demands that an act sets as criteria for performance.] is water and a mirror in the greenroom. Even then, half the time I walk into a greenroom stocked with a case of PBR but no water or a mirror. It drives me crazy. But I've learned to be creative and establish a relatively unfussy routine.

A.) I only wash my hair once a week. I learned about this after reading an interview with Annie Clark [of St. Vincent] who said something like, 'My hair is best on the eleventh day of not washing it' and I was like, OH MY GOD, YOU GENIUS. So I bought some dry shampoo and threw away my flatiron. 

B.) I can't do full-face makeup because I usually can't see my face in the dim light and mirror covered in drawings of penises. I am not even kidding--there are penises everywhere.  Also, foundation makes me break out. Fortunately, I can fake good skin with these miracle face wipes by Dr. Dennis Gross called Alpha Beta Glow Pad. It's a self tanner but you can really control the application. It comes out looking subtle and lasts for days. It makes my skin better and hides redness. Now all I have to do is eye makeup and a bit of powder, which can be applied blindly!

Denim-on-denim selfie

Denim-on-denim selfie

You were wearing a white muscle tee (I think there was a unicorn on it, but my mind might be making that up) with, like, some really chic mom jeans and white platforms the first time I met you. Then the next time we saw each other you were wearing an all body-con outfit with these big Botticelli-esque curls. How do you plan your outfits?

Wow, you have a good memory! I remember we had the same Coach backpack in different colors, and I knew I liked you right away. I dress to my mood first and environment second . . . Sometimes, when I'm really nervous, I like to dress down. It helps me feel more relaxed, like I'm going to rehearsal and being on stage is not a big deal, even if it is. Also, I'm still experimenting with my style. I want to develop more of a tour uniform so that I can bring a really small suitcase and never think about it, but I'm not there yet.

Do you have any musician style inspiration? Ever play a show and think, “What would Stevie wear?” You've totally got the hair for that.

I usually think, "What would Patti Smith wear?" because we both have awkward boyish bodies. And I feel more comfortable in the ambiguous realm of androgyny. She really embraced the uniqueness of her body and features, and I want to do the same. Rather than strive for conventional beauty, I want to embrace my true self.

Are there any beauty looks that are uncomfortable for civilian life, but perfect for performing? 

Clumpy eyelashes like Twiggy, smudgy drug-addict-style eyeliner, and HUGE hair. Those things would draw too much attention to me in Denver, but on stage it feels great.

Photography by Luca Venter

Photography by Luca Venter

Any fun beauty finds from being on the road? What types of things do you always buy on tour rather than pack?

I never buy anything on tour except for Neti Pots, because I'm always losing mine. Our schedule is so packed that I don't get to explore or try new things. While I'm home I do a lot of research on beauty and style blogs [to try and] find the next thing to revolutionize my look. So far, my best discoveries have been keratin treatments--to minimize frizz--and the Alpha Beta Pads. Consistently healthy looking hair and skin are more important to me than any other beauty product.

Speaking of, since I’m tactlessly nosy, what is in your touring beauty bag?

Boscia oil-based makeup remover--so gentle on my skin but gets everything off; Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pads; Thayer's Witch Hazel and Rose Water tonic--refreshes and hydrates tired looking skin; Nars eye shadow in Bali for my brows . . .  and Stila All Day Liquid Eye Liner--the best thing ever. I change up mascara, shadow, and lip color all the time. For color, I stick to MAC or Nars--they have the best selection--but for mascara I have no loyalties. I'm still looking for the perfect one.

Getting grosser, what’s the longest you’ve gone sans shower on tour? 

Every once in a while I'll skip a day, but only because I feel like I'm showering too often and drying myself out. No matter how crazy our schedule is, I make time for that, otherwise my skin will hate me. That being said I will go entire tours without shaving, which is probably pretty gross to most people. 

I think armpit hair is sexy, although I try to keep it in check. Leg hair is not so attractive to me, but I just don't feel like shaving half the time. 

On tour with Haim!

On tour with Haim!

Lastly, if you had to choose between two extreme looks, would you rather have a shaved head or a face tattoo?

Shaved head! Every girl should shave her head at some point in her life. It's an incredible feeling. I've done it once before, in college, obviously. I love tattoos, but a face tattoo scares me. I'm sure I would regret that at some point.  

And with that, I leave you with this cool, vaguely David Lynch-ian video of one of my favorite Tennis songs