Interview From the Vault: Kristopher Roe of The Ataris

Just about two years ago I interviewed lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Kristopher Roe of The Ataris when they performed for the first time in over a year at Rutgers for Springfest. Live bands, food, and games in a carnival type setting on Livingston Campus is the typical Springfest setting. Kris opened up to me about the renovated band, their future album, Welcome the Night (which came out in February of 2007) and playing for a college crowd. Be sure to catch their show Friday, February 15 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken with Army of Me. For more info on future tour dates or to hear some of their latest songs check them out on MySpace.

When was the last time you performed?
October of 2004, we played our last show in Florida, some random show we flew down to do for Halloween. I just remember it was one of those things that we didn’t know if it would be our last show as that band was. It was me, John, Mike and our old drummer Chris. It came at a point where the band felt like it was very limited. What we did on our last record I felt was the best that band could do.

I didn’t feel like it represented me anymore and I didn’t enjoy playing music with our drummer anymore. He really wanted different things than me. He wanted to be the hugest rock band in the world, whereas I just wanted to get in a van and play shows with my friends and have fun. I didn’t really feel like we had a friendship bond anymore. And our bass player went off the deep end and got involved in things that I wasn’t so proud of. I hated seeing my friends succumb to those things, and it’s like tough love. I had to be like, “This band’s here for you if you want it, but you’ve got to sort your life out first.” A year went by and I never talked to him, so obviously he chose the other elements over me and over this band, and it happens.

John and I started playing music with a few of our friends out here in New York where he lives and we recorded a bunch of demos and from that the band took its own shape. After we had the five-piece going, our friend Angus (who played cello) and our friend Bob (who played keys) and we were like, well with the three guitars it sounds atmospheric and is very full and special but it still needed more layers. I wanted to have a certain sound and I knew when we all played together – the seven of us – it really just clicked and I felt the chemistry and that was what we were looking for. When we recorded the record we recorded it all live, we all got in a room together, all seven of us, and we played and recorded. The only thing that was over dubbed was the vocals so pretty much how we sound on the record is how we sound live. It’s an honest representation of what we sound like now, which was what we were going for.

What is to be expected of your new album, Welcome the Night? Is the sound similar to your previous record?
It’s completely different. At first it sounds like a different band. Musically its way more um, I don’t really know. There are seven people in the band, there’s three guitars, cello, keyboards, and we got a new drummer and a new bass player. It’s very atmospheric, it’s more dreamy, spacey, it’s like a big wall of sound. It’s more akin to all the British bands, like Radiohead, Muse, Snow Patrol, and Doves. We came to a point where I don’t really feel the music we were creating was the music I listen to and the music that I wanted to represent me. I think that we just kind of had to step outside ourselves and be like, “What do we really want to do and what do we feel feels really honest?” We just started writing a bunch of songs and eventually after two years off with a year of writing, rehearsing, and recording, the record just kind of wrote itself.

Where do you get inspiration for your songs?
Lyrically, this album is like a story about questioning yourself. There’s a lot of existentialist thought in it, about how in life there is so much more out there. It’s me questioning myself, asking what is out there in this world and what is beyond this world. The title of the album is Welcome the Night and it’s based on this concept that to me, everything in this earth and this planet is like, we are in transit and everything prior to our lives and after our lives is darkness. Welcome the Night is me thinking of the time where there’s not going to be me having to question myself and what my purpose in life is and that there is something better beyond this life.

Is there any venue or audience that you hated playing for?
Hated playing for? Oh good, I usually get the other one. I hate playing radio festivals. That’s the worst. It sucks! Usually, for the most part it’s always at these dumb, Clear Channel type amphitheater type venues where a lot of people are just sitting down with no atmosphere whatsoever. You’re playing outdoors during the day probably and there’s just no vibe. It’s too open and there’s just no feeling whatsoever. Too much hate, man. I can’t get on a tangent.

Usually it’s all pretty good, as long as people keep an open mind and don’t like to shout for stupid songs. Occasionally, you’ll get the one random punker guy. I’ve learned to ignore them. Back in the early days I would get kind of irate and get stupid. I broke my hand getting in a fight with a kid because he threw some shit at me, and I never did that shit ever again. Just don’t let people get to you. One time in Australia I got pegged in the head with a bottle and I was like fuck it, I’m just gonna keep playing because I knew it was the night of some Australian soccer championship. I knew it was some crazy, pissed off soccer fan and I knew he could kick me to shreds. So I was, like, “I’m just gonna deal with it.” If you don’t call attention to it, usually people will just go on about their business.

How is it playing for a student crowd?
Playing colleges is always a good opportunity to bring your music to people that sometimes wouldn’t often get the chance to hear it. Because usually when you’re so absorbed with studying and probably a lot of partying I would assume as well, the music seems to take a secondary position in your life. Where a nerd like me, all I do is listen to music and pretty much sleep in all day and play music.

Is it a lot different from Warped Tour and headlining shows?
Yeah, I just feel the crowds are a little bit more narrow-minded [at Warped Tour]. I think that Warped Tour is more of a young audience and they already have their mind made up a bit more, whereas colleges are a little bit more collective and willing to listen to more different and daring things.

Do you choose the songs you play based on your audience?
Well for this tour, there are two songs we play in the set because we know people would be bummed if we didn’t play them. Two older songs we’ve been playing for a while that we reinvented in a way with this band that I think come across different so that we still like them. If you play a song a million times you also have to realize that some people will be hearing them for the first time ever. So you might be sick of it and it might not mean anything to you lyrically anymore, but to somebody else it might. I try to be 25% compromise, 75% just us being honest to ourselves and doing what we feel is best. So, overall I think the main thing we stick to is we try to play a set that is comprised of songs
that are lyrically relevant in this point in our lives and try to get more of the story telling of The Ataris across. Nothing that is really too silly because there is some stuff that I wrote when I was way younger and it’s just not really me anymore. We do half new and half old. The old songs I feel had a lot more to say and still fit alongside the new songs we do.

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