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Interview: Kris Roe From ‘The Ataris’

The Ataris

The Ataris are coming back down under for the first time in seven years for their ‘So Long, Blue Skies’ Tour, where they’ll play fan favourites from their albums ‘So Long, Astoria’ and ‘Blue Skies, Broken Hearts…Next 12 Exits’. To top off our keen-ness for the tour we caught up with The Ataris’ vocalist and rhythm guitarist Kris Roe to discuss his favourite releases by the band, his favourite Australian cities, and getting struck by lighting.

Hey! How are you?

I’m good. I’ve got some neighbours with a car alarm that’s just been going off for the last two nights, and tonight just doing interviews it’s chosen to go off incessantly. So if it goes off and you hear it in the background, I apologise. They’re just noisemakers. Like, would you ever go running if you heard a car alarm? They’re the most useless things. It’s not like you think ‘oh, someone is breaking in’, you always assume it’s malfunctioned.

So, apart from the car alarm, how’s your day doing?

Oh, it’s like 12am right now. It’s the end of the day, but it’s a beautiful night, it’s real nice weather out. I currently reside in Chicago, where my girlfriend’s from. I’m just hanging out and doing two hours of interviews, which is a lot of fun, you just sit and ramble about your band for a while. It feels kind of egotistical like, “I don’t wanna talk about myself, let’s talk about you”. But no, it’s good, it’s a lot of fun. I’m excited to go down and do these shows.

That’s cool! So, you’re coming back to Australia for the first time in something like seven years?

Yeah, roughly. We were gonna come back once, but we ran into issues with the promoter. It seemed like they spun it so that it was all about my flying hatred, which is partially true. I do hate flying, because I was on tour in Australia once where we got struck by lightning! We were going from Melbourne to Sydney and it struck the wing. We took off in a really bad monsoon, it was pitch black…I’ve flown hundreds of times in my life, and I’ve never flown one time where it’s like “this is the time we’re going to die”.

We got caught in the microburst of the storm and it was like pushing us to the ground where we couldn’t get lift. And then we ran into issues because we hadn’t received the deposit for the show, so waiting around the day before I was supposed to leave I literally decided I’d take a flight the next day and change my flight.

So I sat in my hotel room, watching television and I decided to look on the internet to see the flight tracker for where I would be right now. You can watch the flight in real time and I saw the flight turn around two hours over the pacific and head back towards Los Angeles, and I was like ‘what’s going on?’, and it turned out they had an engine’s flameout, two hours over the ocean, and that was the flight I was supposed to leave on.

That coupled with the fact that we hadn’t received our deposit for the show, and it turns out a lot of bands said they never got paid for it either, and we lost a bunch of money on the flights. I just took it as a bad omen and everything. But yeah, we’re coming back now and it’s all good. I’ve toured overseas several times since then and you know, I might hate flying but that doesn’t mean I won’t come and play!

Wow, that’s quite a story though, getting struck by lightning…

Yeah, but hey man, there are people who actually have real tasks and jobs and lives that are really actually dangerous. I feel really blessed and lucky for what I do, so I’m not gonna complain (laughs).

Do you have a favourite city over here, somewhere you like to visit most?

Yeah, you know, we’ve had some really good shows all over, but I think the last couple of times we played Perth were exceptionally cool, because that’s always a little bit smaller. The last time I played Melbourne was great because I got to go see Evan Dando of The Lemonheads play at The Corner Hotel. I think it was The Corner Hotel…I played a show acoustic and then went and saw him play after and that was a great memory. I think Melbourne and Sydney always have a couple of the best crowds. Adelaide is kind of chill, and Perth is kind of more chill and smaller.

I think we did one or two tours where we actually drove and we played some places that were more off the beat, and we haven’t done that since. So this tour I really wanna do the whole tour over land, and I can never get anyone to be like “Ah, we’ll do the drive to Perth” because I’ve always wanted to drive out or take the train and see it. But y’know, we’re doing every one except that one by land so we’ll actually be able to enjoy the country, rather than just enjoying you know, playing at 1am, waking up at 5am and only seeing airports and backstages (laughs).

That actually segues really well into my next question. When you’re on tour what do you do to keep from being bored?

Well, I usually find I never have any time to breath (laughs). Because I do all the driving, I sell the merch, I also play in the band, and I choose to do all those things because to me, I would go insane if I didn’t keep busy, and otherwise I would just, you know, be standing around. Often I never see the backstage of a club because usually I spend my time hanging out at the merch, talking to the fans, and people tend to buy more stuff if the guy from the band is selling it, so it’s always really cool to be able to meet people and sign stuff!

On this tour we’re doing the VIP thing, you buy a ticket and you get a special shirt or laminate, one of my photography prints, and some other cool goodies, and have a meet and greet with the band and we sign stuff. But at the same time, when I have the time in Australia I’ll try to come out and meet people. But anything to pass the time is always good. To me my favourite thing is driving, being behind the wheel of my van is when I feel most at home, because you get to look out the window and see all these beautiful landscapes. The songs I write are usually kind of reflective of that, of the scenic imagery and all the areas you see when you’re travelling around.

The Ataris have had a pretty good career spanning over 20 years. Of all the releases and songs you’ve made during that time, what’s your favourite?

Umm, we have a bunch of new songs that are only available on our Bandcamp page. They’re free, it’s like a pay-what-you-want thing. A few of those are from our upcoming album. I’d say those are my favourite, just because they kind of encapsulate everything I’ve gone through in the last several years, from good times to losing my Grandmother and my father, and so they mean a lot to me. I feel as a songwriter if you’re not continuously growing and becoming a better writer, then you’re doing something wrong.

But as far as records older than that release, ‘So Long, Astoria’ [is my favourite] because I feel that was the first record where I really came into my own, and then I really started to get familiar with what I do, and feel like I really got kind of good at it (laughs). Before that it was kind of a constant learning process, that was the first album where I was like “I got this”. I learnt to be a better editor of what I write as far as, not censoring myself, but I mean I definitely learned to like, trim the fat. My earlier songs, a lot of them prior to that I feel like they’re all over the place, certain ones. That was the first album where I think I learned to structure a little bit more, but not to a fault. I feel when you start to get things over-processed and over-thought they become super static and I hate music like that. I like music that’s honest and raw and organic, and I think that record was the beginning of that.

You guys kind of started out in the pop punk genre with albums like ‘So Long, Astoria’ and ‘Blue Skies’. What do you think of the modern state of pop punk and where it is now, compared to how it was?

I don’t listen to it, actually. I think that to be a good writer you’re only as good as the music and art and inspiration you put into yourself. To me, what always made our band stand out, is that my inspiration came from outside that world. The first time I saw the Ramones it was something that really changed my life, and the first time I heard The Descendents, or the first time I heard Jawbreaker, but that to me was the extent of what I called pop or like, melodic punk rock. Pop punk now is very processed and safe and contrived. There are a lot of bands in that world that I get along with, that I like, but it tends to be the ones that are more honest and more real like Against Me! and The Gaslight Anthem.

To me we’re just kind of nodding our heads to the bands we grew up with like The Replacements, or bands that were doing more of a kind of singer-songwriter or rock and roll thing. So yeah, I feel that fairly enough the albums before ‘So Long, Astoria’ could kind of be lumped into that, but I think starting with that album we sort of set out to be more of a straight forward rock band, or alternative rock band, or whatever you call it. Because that was the album where it was our first album [with] Sony and I knew we had a wider audience, and I really wanted to make sure the songs spoke to a wide audience, and not just the world of a certain demographic. I think at that time some of the records that really did that for me were like Weezer’s first two albums, and Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Bleed America’ album. You know, we kind of set out to be a band that didn’t have a genre.

What artists or albums are you currently listening to?

Well I just downloaded the new Radiohead album. They’re one of my favourite bands. I also really like Mogwai. I’m pretty big into all those instrumental bands too. My favourite of all time would have to be Tom Waits or David Bowie though. I also really love the British band My Bloody Valentine.

Well, this has been awesome, thank you so much for chatting with us!

Thank you, hopefully see you soon!

The Ataris ‘So Long, Blue Skies’ Tour

The Triffid, Brisbane
The Metro Theatre, Sydney
170 Russell, Melbourne
Fowlers Live, Adelaide (All Ages)
Amplifier Bar, Perth

Get Tickets HERE