The Ataris’ many forms7/8/2015
If we are talking frankly, The Ataris, historically, have not been so much a band as they have been the work of front man Kris Roe and a revolving door of supporting musicians. Since the band’s inception in 1995, nearly two dozen musicians have come and gone at various points, including a wholesale lineup replacement in 2007. Nothing, however, typifies this feeling like 2013 did.
“For me, The Ataris are just an ongoing thing,” Roe told Chicagoist at the time. “When we’re out on the road, if somebody has a drug problem or something — which has happened before — I don’t want to be a babysitter. I just give them a very nice, ‘Hey, get your shit together or find another band.’ Right now I feel like we have a very strong lineup, we sound great, and we’re able to coexist.”
The coexisting Roe was talking about was in regards to The Ataris current lineup, now a decade old.
In 2003, The Ataris released its most popular album, “So Long Astoria” through the Columbia label. It introduced the band to a wider audience for the first time and established The Ataris as one of the bigger bands in the glory days of the late-’90s/early-’00s pop punk revival era. As the 10th anniversary of the album crept up in 2013, Roe toyed with the idea of playing the album in a series of special shows.
“But then our old booking agent hit me up and said, ‘Hey, how would you feel about doing it with the lineup from the record?’ So I said I’d consider it, and then I just started talking to (the ‘03 lineup), and it was like everything was thrown out the window. We were on the same page, but we’d grown up, and all of the weirdness and bullshit was gone.”
And so, in what is probably as close to a unique situation as you’ll find in professional music, Roe took two versions of The Ataris out on the road.
Roe has always been the straw that stirred The Ataris’ drink. Roe does 99 percent of the band’s songwriting. In the studio, it’s usually Roe playing all the parts, something that he has always done to help keep the music tight.
Roe strives to deliver maximum impact with every Ataris track. It can make for a painstaking process — the band has not released a full-length album since 2007’s “Welcome to the Night,” though there were EPs in 2010 and 2012. And, while the overall process may have evolved over time, the basics remain the same.
“Before, in earlier albums, I used to write more in a format and start with the actual verse, chorus, verse, chorus,” he explained. “Later, as we went along, I started writing differently. Now, it’s a little different. More disjointed. But it comes together after the fact.
“All of the songs I write for The Ataris usually begin as me and one guitar,” he concluded. “I feel that if a song can stand on its own in that environment, then that is truly the test of a strong piece of music. Look at Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Hank Williams, Elliott Smith. All of those artists make you feel the pain of a huge powerful arrangement with one guitar or piano.” CV