Over a decade-long career, Indiana cum California band The Ataris have seen nearly every up and down a band could experience, from naive pop punks on an independent label to one-hit wonders on a major label. With band members coming and going, lead singer and songwriter Kris Roe has been The Ataris's only constant. Rolling Stone once called the band "the embodiment of post-millenium punk rock," but some ten years after The Ataris's debut record, Roe returned in 2007 with an entirely new band and sound, almost unrecognizable from the sometimes "cookie cutter" pop-punk of The Ataris's early work.
As a teenager in Anderson, Indiana, Roe grew up listening to early 1980s punk bands like the Descendents and post-hardcore acts like Fugazi. In the late 1990s, a smattering of boys in their late teens were forming bands that blended the melodic punk of the 1980s with emotional and catchy pop choruses, forming a style called pop-punk/punk-pop. In 1997 Roe handed a self-recorded demo tape to the Vandals's drummer Joe Escalante, co-owner of the independent punk label Kung Fu Records. Escalante was so impressed by the tape, he figured Roe had a band and wanted to sign them.
Roe promptly went to Santa Barbara, California, to sign a deal with Kung Fu. Roe needed to form a band quickly and soon found some musical companions, initially including bassist Mike Davenport, guitarist Marco Pena, and drummer Chris Knapp. Dubbing his new band The Ataris, Kung Fu released Anywhere But Here, 20 tracks of exuberant pop-punk produced by the Vandals' guitarist Warren Fitzgerald. Fat Wreck Chords, another independent label capitalizing on the burgeoning pop-punk scene, released the band's six-song EP, Look Forward to Failure, in 1998. That EP included the soon-to-be classic song "San Dimas High School Football Rules," which was re-recorded from their 1999 Kung Fu album Blue Skies, Broken Hearts. Next 12 Exits.
The Ataris were building a healthy fan base playing headlining shows and going on tours with blink-182 and MXPX. On VirginMegaMagazine.com, writer Linda Koffman wrote that The Ataris had "a formula of relatable, emotive lyrics and hook-filled punk." The band's 2001 record End is Forever presented some subtle signs of musical maturity. "End is Forever casts the band in a new light, at least lyrically, with an overwhelming number of brokenhearted dissertations on the hazards of love," wrote Matt Schild on Aversion.com.
Deal with Columbia
The following year things really began to change for The Ataris. The group signed a deal with Columbia Records, and after going through a handful of guitarists they landed a new guitar player, John Collura (a former Ataris roadie). The band had spent a lot of hard time and work on the road, and although signing with a major label may have alienated some of their diehard fans, nearly five years after starting the band Roe felt it was a natural evolution for the band's music. In the two years after the release of End is Forever, Roe had stepped up his songwriting. His life, emotions and age had changed, and his music began to reflect his comfort in expanding both sonically and lyrically.
With the intention of making more of a rock-based album for their major-label debut, The Ataris called on veteran rock producer Lou Giordano. "We just wanted to make a really good solid rock album that spoke to a really wide audience," Roe told Undercover.com 's Tim Cashmere. "Lou definitely took us that extra mile and really encouraged us to write some good songs… and he really wanted us to dig deep into what we wanted to get across." In the spring of 2003 Columbia issued So Long, Astoria. "On their major-label debut, singer Kris Roe writes from the other side of adolescence—older, wiser, but still yearning for teenage innocence," wrote Joseph Patel in Blender. The record became hugely successful when the record's unexpected single "The Boys of Summer" became a radio and MTV smash hit. The fun remake of Don Henley's 1984 hit song "The Boys of Summer" was the follow-up single to "In This Diary," but reached a much bigger audience than the initial single.
The ups and downs of a hit song, along with changes in the band and their personal lives, left The Ataris with more than a few battle scars. By 2005 Roe was divorced from his wife, the band had left Columbia Records, and both drummer Knapp and bassist Davenport were let go. Roe and Collura were ready for a fresh focus. "For a long time this band felt very limited with what we could do, with the confines of the four piece line-up that we had," Roe confided to MuchMusic.com. "John and I were always more into the indie-rock side of things and what we wanted to create, [and] we didn't feel we could create with that line-up." The pair found themselves playing with members of New York band Park Ranger. The musicians' personalities and creativity began to mesh. The Ataris's new line up now consisted of Roe, Collura, guitarist/vocalist Paul Carabello, bassist Sean Hansen, and drummer Shane Chikeles, and they were occasionally joined by cellist Angus Cooke and keyboardist Bob Hoag. "I'm now somewhere where I feel like I'm finally being honest in my life," Roe confessed to MTV.com's Chris Harris. "I'm playing music with people I love who are my true friends, and it feels like the first day this band started."
After living and recording together for months, The Ataris formed their own record label, Isola Recordings, to release their new record. Isola teamed up with Sanctuary Records Group for the February 2007 release of Welcome the Night. "The Ataris in 2007 are a seven-piece outfit with keyboards and cello bolstering the guitar attack to create a dense, textured sonic blanket that has more in common with Radiohead and the Cure than it does with the Warped tour," wrote Gary Graff in Billboard.
As Roe matures, he is confident that his music will tell him where to go. "I've never gone wrong if I've just listened to that little voice inside of my heart," Roe told MuchMusic.com. "If I can find such intense inspiration as I've found in these last couple of years, such a beautiful muse and outlet, and be able to feel like I wrote something so full of life as what I did, then I haven't failed yet. If we can continue to build upon that and have this friendship blossom that the band has had, and create music as a unit, then I've achieved every goal and more than I've ever set."
For the Record …
Members include: Paul Carabello , guitar, vocals; Shane Chickeles , drums; John Collura , guitar; Angus Cooke , cello; Sean Hansen bass; Bob Hoag , keyboards; Kris Roe , lead vocals, guitar.
Group formed in Anderson, IN, c. 1997; group signed to Kung Fu Records, released Anywhere But Here, 1997; signed to Fat Wreck Chords, released the EP Look Forward to Failure, 1998; on Kung Fu Records, released Blue Skies, Broken Hearts. Next 12 Exits, 1999, Let it Burn, 2000, and End is Forever, 2001; signed to Columbia Records, released So Long Astoria, 2003, and Live at the Metro, 2004; left Columbia, 2006; released Welcome the Night, on the band's label Isola Recordings/Sanctuary, 2007.
Addresses: Record company-Sanctuary Records Group, 369 Lexington Ave., 6th Flr., New York, NY 10017. Website-The Ataris Official Website: http://www.theataris.com.
Anywhere But Here, Kung Fu Records, 1997.
Look Forward to Failure, Fat Wreck Chords, 1998.
Blue Skies, Broken Hearts. Next 12 Exits, Kung Fu Records, 1999.
Let it Burn, Kung Fu Records, 2000.
End Is Forever, Kung Fu Records, 2001.
So Long Astoria, Columbia, 2003.
Live at the Metro, Columbia, 2004.
Welcome the Night, Isola Records/Sanctuary Records Group, 2007.
Billboard, February 24, 2007, p. 63.
Rolling Stone, March 4, 2003.
"The Ataris: The MuchMusic.com Interview," MuchMusic.com, http://www.muchmusic.com/insidemuch/interviews/theataris (July 28, 2007).
"The Ataris—No End in Sight," Virgin Mega Magazine,http://www.virginmegamagazine.com/default.asp?aid=549 (July 28, 2007).
The Ataris Official Website, http://www.theataris.com.
"The Ataris, So Long Indie Life," Undercover,http://www.undercover.com/au/idol/ataris.html (July 28, 2007).
Aversion.com, http://www.aversion.com/bands/reviews.cfm?f_id=416 (July 28, 2007).
Blender,http://www.blender.com/guide/reviews.aspx?id-138 (July 28, 2007).
"Don't Expect to Hear ‘Boys of Summer’ On The Ataris' Next Tour," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1515068/20051128/ataris.jhtml (July 28, 2007).
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