“We didn’t want to be lumped in with all the homogenized, auto-tuned pop-punk stuff,” says Ataris lead vocalist/songwriter Kristopher Roe. “We’d been around a lot longer than that… but that’s what happens when you do something that people kind of relate to and it catches on as part of a movement—you just kind of get written off as part of that.”
Artistically, Roe is never comfortable doing the same thing twice. The Ataris have gone through several lineup changes, and Roe has been the only constant throughout the years. Roe was essentially the band’s only founding member, as he first recorded homemade demos to pass out to potential bandmates. Therefore, in a sense, the original lineup remains intact.
The implications of his band’s complicated history are not lost on Roe. “On paper,” he says, “it looks like, ‘Man, this band is the most dysfunctional fucking unit ever.’” The artist admits to having had several bouts of personal and professional bad luck—a heroin-addicted drummer, temporary homelessness, members who “couldn’t hang with the touring lifestyle” and various other issues—but he’s never let it get in his way. “Basically,” he continues, “I was just always kind of forced to work with whatever situation I had.”
And deal he did. Despite all these hurdles, The Ataris amassed a huge underground following during their Kung-Fu Records years, releasing three decidedly punk albums from 1997 to 2001.
In 2003 the band suddenly found itself in the mainstream limelight. So Long Astoria went gold and produced hit singles, slick MTV music videos and plenty of fanfare. By commercial measures, the band’s attempt to make a “genre-less, straightforward rock album” that would reach a diverse audience was a success. However, Roe became frustrated with the band’s newfound place in the industry.
“I guess, because we’d built this really good momentum and grassroots following with our three independent albums, it was just kind of set to do that,” says Roe, “But the thing that I didn’t like was that when I tried to control the vision of what I wanted to do with the band, it started being harder and harder to steer it. There was so much that was just… fate.”
After So Long, Astoria, The Ataris’ four touring bandmembers had an artistic/professional split. “One of them was on the same wavelength as me,” says Roe, “and the other two wanted to be the biggest band in the world.” Therefore, guitarist John Collura and Roe decided to take a drastic turn with their 2007 release, Welcome the Night, an album wherein dark, modern rock sounds provide the backdrop for Roe’s uncharacteristically haunting vocals and poetic lyrics.
“We knew Ataris fans probably weren’t going to like it, but I didn’t feel sincere writing another So Long, Astoria… and it’s more punk rock, in essence, than writing another record you think people would want. I could never do that.”
The Ataris sold Welcome the Night to a label that folded three months after the album’s release. This greatly affected sales and nearly resigned the album to the annals of history.
“So, we regrouped,” says Roe, “and now, years later, I’m finally back to a place where I’m kind of content and happy, doing what I want to be doing… at this point in my life, this is just what feels honest.”
Roe took all of 2010 off to write, record and play solo acoustic shows all over the world. “This year’s all about the band,” he says. The Ataris plan to tour extensively and release their new album Graveyard of the Atlantic—a collection of “organic rock songs with kind of a middle piece between So Long, Astoria and Welcome the Night”—by mid-2012.
At 35, Roe is satisfied simply writing, performing and being as sincere as possible in his work. He’s benefited from following his own advice from So Long, Astoria’s single “In This Diary:” “The only thing that matters is just following your heart; and eventually, you’ll finally get it right.”
WHO: The Ataris, Karbomb, Burns Like Fire, Panic Manor
WHERE: Caledonia Lounge
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 4, 8:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $10