The Ataris

By paul

This interview was conducted in The Ataris changing room, backstage at the Manchester Academy on February 21, 2003. Cheers to Hayley and Chrissie from Positive Nuisance PR for setting it up, Kris for being extremely honest and open and my girlfriend Becky for both travelling for hours and for waiting very, very patiently with me.

PAUL: “So, the tour’s like 13 dates in a row or something in total across Europe, how’s it all been going?”
KRIS: “It’s cool. We didn’t start in the UK though, we did a bunch of shows in Europe…”
PAUL: “With The Vandals and Tsunami Bomb?”
KRIS: “Yeah, we did like Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and then more Germany and then we came here. Each show has been great, almost every show has been sold out..except for like one or two, and I think that was just like freak occurances due to bad weather. Switzerland there was a bad snowstorm so the show was like…but yeah, we had a great time and y’know we are just anxious to get home for a few days and we get one day off and we go out on tour. The record comes out in the States, and here, the week we get home and we are doing a bunch of record release instore shows and then we go out and do a whole US and Canada tour on the new record and then do Warped Tour in the summer and come back here, hopefully in May, to do festivals.”
PAUL: “So festivals are part of the plan?”
KRIS: “Hopefully, it’s not all confirmed yet though.”

PAUL: “So it’s been about two years since you last played here and without a new record you’re at an even bigger venue than last time. I mean here at Manchester especially, you were at the university last time and..”
KRIS: “…yeah, I think we’ve tried to keep the same kind of, erm, the same kind of…i dunno. We just try to keep the momentum going. Even when we’re not out playing shows I think that we’re always with the fans because we always keep a personal level with the fans and we let everyone know that we really care about our fans and I think with the internet it helps because a lot of kids with word of mouth talk about a band. And also at university towns too, that also helps because everyone kinda is close-knit and everyone knows each other. In the United States when we play university towns it’s like a whole different world. I didn’t like playing at universities at first because they would put on your show and occasionally it’s poorly promoted or kids get caught up in their schoolwork or whatever. But like now I think it’s like the word of mouth spreads really well and we are honoured we can come back and play this big venue. We like playing small clubs but [*laughs*] it’s supply and demand and I want to make sure everyone gets in to see our show and I guess you have to step up to the next venue.”

PAUL: “When ‘End Is Forever’ came out, did the reaction that record got, which was slightly different and a departure to what you had done before, did that shape up the writing process for ‘So Long Astoria‘?”
KRIS: “Actually it’s weird because we tried to make this record as far from ‘End Is Forever’ as possible. For me, I can only stomach listening to like four or five songs – ‘Fast Times At Dropout High’, ‘Song 13’, ‘If You Really Want To Hear About It’ and ‘IOU One Galaxy’. The rest of that record, to me, oh, ‘Summer Wind’ and ‘Teenage Riot’ is alright, but y’know for the most part there’s a good half of that record that I’m really ashamed that I wrote.”
PAUL: “Really?”
KRIS: “Yeah. I wrote it in such a part of my life that we had just gone on tour and the label was like, “you guys have gotta write a record,” so we went straight in the studio and I think I only had about half a records worth of material and I really had to cram and write really fast and ended up writing about six songs worth of lyrics in two weeks and all and all that’s what it sounds like – six songs worth of lyrics written in a two week part of my life. During that two weeks I was really depressed and I was fighting a lot with my wife and I had issues with who I was as a person but by the time that record came out everything was good in my life and my relationship, but that record to all the kids was like ‘why are you so depressed and why are you so bummed out’ when you have all these great love songs and what not. Even myself I have bad days and that record I happened to write it on a bad day and for me the best thing on ‘So Long Astoria‘ is that we really made a conscious effort of what we put into this record and what elements we put into the lyrics and we made sure that all the lyrics were representative as much two years from now as the day that I wrote them. Musically ‘End Is Forever’ has a lot of good parts but not enough good songs. The songs that I actually like, those are songs I think are good full songs and they just wrote themselves and those we had done before I went into record. This record the music is way more straightforward and a lot more formulated – it’s very verse, chorus, verse, chorus and it’s a lot more structured and I think that’s a lot better because we focused on writing good songs and not being fancy and all over the place.”

PAUL: “Was it always part of the plan to go to a major? I mean was there a certain point when you reached a cult status where you thought now is the time?”
KRIS: “It’s really weird because we were so anti-major label around the time ‘Blue Skies’ was recorded because I thought we were at a point in our career were it was so out of our sights and at that point it was a bad idea because I’m against…
PAUL: “…Were you offered the chance to go to a major then?”
KRIS: “Yeah we were and I think if you go to a major label you should build up a really strong following before you do it, like AFI, us, Green Day, The Offspring, we all sold 100,000s of records on indie labels and toured the world several times. Oh man, we toured around the US in a van more times than I can count. There are so many horror stories of waking up in a van with someone’s feet in my face but y’know you’re driving through the snow and then in the 100 degree desert and you have to experience that before you go to a major. So I think by the time ‘End Is Forever’ was the last record in our contract with Kung Fu, so we had a meeting, just the four of us, and we were like ‘what do you want to do?’ and what is the best for our band now. We think we should just keep going forward and we felt that on Kung Fu we would have stayed at the same plateau and we definitely felt that there are so many people out there who haven’t heard The Ataris and we would like them to hear our music. We felt it was something we deserved and we wanted to reach more people and this is the best way at this time.”

PAUL: “Why choose ‘Boys Of Summer’ as a cover? I mean it’s quite an interesting choice anyway, but is there any kind of hidden meaning behind it? Do you know there’s this really terrible dance remix of it?”
KRIS: “Yeah I actually heard it after we recorded the cover. It’s big in Australia also, my wife was with me and she was like ‘hey, what the fuck, this is like Boys of Summer’ so it’s kinda strange. The reason we chose that cover was that it reminds me of summer when I was 8 years old. When I was a kid my mother and father would fly me down to Florida to visit my grandparents, it was my dad’s mom and dad, and there was one summer I was down there and I remember that song was really huge on the radio and my grandmother would take me out and I bought that record. I listened to it the whole time and it totally set the mood. I was in Florida, I was a little kid travelling by myself, I was like cool, I felt like Holden Caufield from Catcher In The Rye, and I look back at that moment when we played our first show in Florida and I remember thinking when they played ‘Boys Of Summer’ it nearly brought a tear to my eye. It was totally nostalgic so for me that song really represents that part of my life when I realised I wanted to see the world. I just thought it was a good rock song.”
PAUL: “That’s cool, I mean it’s a good song but rather than cover it I think you made it sound like an Ataris song…”
KRIS: “Wow, thanks, we tried to keep it as similiar as possible but play it with guitars instead of synths. All the little parts were like ‘do-do-do’ it was all on the synth. We recorded it off of memory, we didn’t really listen to the song and when we learned it and played it live we listened to the Don Henley version in the studio and we were like, man, is this too close to the original and we listened to the old version and it’s so electronic drum based.”

PAUL: “Another thing I noticed on the new record is that in ‘Radio#2’ you changed the lyrics from “I’ll bring the explosives” to “I’ll bring my guitar.” Was that because of September 11?
KRIS: “Bring the explosives talked originally about this fantasy I had before September 11 about going up to the Hollywood Hills and throwing a big party and blowing up the radio tower, but I just felt after everything that happened on September 11 it’s just one more thing and I want to convey a positive message with every song on this record and it wasn’t appropriate so instead we changed it so we could sing protest songs. The song ‘Radio, Radio’ by Elvis Costello is like, now I picture us around the tower singing ‘Radio, Radio’ and protest because the radio doesn’t play enough great bands. There are so many great bands out there that never really get the airplay that they deserve and they play music that doesn’t even fucking deserve it! They play Puddle Of Mudd, I mean you guys probably haven’t heard them over here…”
PAUL: “…oh yeah, we’ve heard them, they suck.”
KRIS: “Yeah, that band is so huge in America but honestly, I mean they seem like good guys but musically I don’t really care for it and I think there are lots of good bands with lots of integrity out there. Musically they ain’t that good, so…[*laughs*]

PAUL: “Why did you decide to re-record ‘I Won’t Spend Another Night Alone’?”
KRIS: “How did you know we re-recorded that?”
PAUL: “I have my sources, haha.”
KRIS: “For us it was something like, we had more studio time and we just wanted to record as many songs as we possibly could. It was more for fun than anything.”
PAUL: “Is it ever going to come out?”
KRIS: “You never know, it could, it could not…if anything it might be a b-side or a hidden track or something, you never know. It was just something fun to do. A lot is different, there’s new melody stuff and I change a couple of the vocal melodies. We thought about doing ‘San Dimas’ too but we kinda ran out of time.”
PAUL: “I think that would have been quite controversial.”
KRIS: “San Dimas? You think? Just think, we recorded ‘San Dimas’ like three times already, it’s been on the EP, an acoustic version, plus it’s also been on ‘Blue Skies’ and the Fat Wreck Chords comp so technically it’s four places, but I don’t think people would care about that song because what’s a fifth place?”

PAUL: “How big do you think The Ataris can be? Are we talking Blink 182 style big?”
KRIS: “I think we’re a different band to Blink.”
PAUL: “Yeah but I mean in terms of size and sales.”
KRIS: “I’d like to be along the lines of say Foo Fighters and Jimmy Eat World, Weezer even, those bands are good rock bands loved by people of all walks of life. They have a lot of integrity and they do a lot of one-off small shows and they try to give back to the area where they came. Weezer give a lot of small bands a chance on tour who they feel deserve some support. That’s what we want to do. We want to go as far as we can with this band. We know this band won’t be around forever and we know when we look back we want to see we did as much as we could and we didn’t get to one point and say this looks fine. I definitely don’t wanna be a fucking poster boy or anything, we’re a rock band. We’re not fucking N*Sync, we just strive to write good songs and give a positive message and people can get something positive from it they can apply to their lives.”

PAUL: “I don’t know whether you’ve seen it but in this weeks Kerrang magazine they’ve reviewed the record and compared you to Jimmy Eat World and U2. Do you think this is fair and did you agree with the 3-star review?”
KRIS: “To me to be compared to those bands, it’s awesome. I think each has had a great career and they write really good songs and…it’s U2 man, it’s fucking awesome.”
PAUL: “Were you happy with the review though?”
KRIS: “I think there’s a couple of things that to me were really kinda weird. I read it and there were a lot of comparisons to The Goonies and I think they focused a little too much on that. I think the only thing…”
PAUL: “…but it’s only the song ‘So Long Astoria‘ that has that.”
KRIS: “Yeah I know. This record lyrically there are some completely different stories on the record and there’s so little relationship content on it. I think the thing they said at the end though, that they felt it was a record that could reach a really wide audience, I was really happy that they said that because I think we are really proud of the record we recorded and honestly man, at the end of the day, all I care about is what our fans think of it. Critics are only a small part of that. Maybe there are some critics that are our fans, but at the same time y’know, a review is a review and I think I have only maybe once or twice not bought a record because of a review. And then maybe later I ended up hearing it and liking it so who pays attention to that shit!”

PAUL: “Does the radio still suck even though you are being played on it?”
KRIS: “I think the radio is better because they are playing more better bands. Every day more bands from our walks of life are getting signed by bigger labels which is honestly a sad thing to say, but it’s like major labels are fucking…when it comes to major labels, major labels literally control the radio. With the times that have changed with music, there’s more bands of our nature on the radio because there’s more bands of our nature on a major label. I think that the times have changed so the radio has gotten better, but yeah the radio still plays a lot of garbage so y’know, hopefully it will continue to get better. Maybe we can add to that somehow and get bands to get some mass airplay. We’ll do what we can…”

PAUL: “You released the Australian only EP in December, we managed to import it over here, it’s quite different to anything else you’ve ever done before. There are some covers and some stuff you recorded in hotel rooms…”
KRIS: “That was the thing. It wasn’t meant to be something anybody else heard, it was only meant to be for Australia. We only did that, well it was kind of elitist. They asked us as we were coming down there to tour and they wanted something to set up the tour and they were like ‘you guys can you give us some songs real quick’. So we said we don’t have too many b-sides, like one or two, so I went in a hotel and recorded a bunch of acoustic versions. There’s one band on there, Lotel, they’re from Australia and we covered one of their songs so all the Australian kids would know what the hell we were doing and there was this Smoking Popes cover I did for this tribute album I had lying around and there was two other songs from this record and that in no way represents where we are.”
PAUL: “So it’s not a taster for the next album?”
KRIS: “No, not at all.”
PAUL: “It’s just like a one-off then?”
KRIS: “Yeah, it was just for Australia. I was like, kinda praying that no-one else would hear it. I am one of those guys that will search out rare imports so I figured a few people would. I have signed a lot of those over here for people, you can’t find it in the US anywhere, which is good because I really don’t want to see it.”

PAUL: “Going on with the acoustic thing, I know The Starting Line, or Kenny anyway, is doing a set of acoustic songs to be released, is that something you would like to do, maybe re-work some of your old songs? I mean you’ve done one for the Fearless comp…”
KRIS: “…we’ve done an acoustic version of the song ‘Eight of Nine‘. I think that it’s something I could see our band doing in the future or me seeing myself doing it, but right now I want to focus on ‘So Long Astoria‘. I think if it would happen it wouldn’t be until the end of this year or later. We talked about, well the only surprise thing we have in the works is we are talking about doing a split 7″ with like a really good band and doing it on a really cool indie label. Columbia’s really cool about wanting to put out little things on other labels and vinyl and what not. They want us to continue to be who we are. We might do a special limited 7″ things and I guess I could see us doing something like that acoustic too, maybe for Christmas.”
PAUL: “What songs would you do? Would it be older stuff or newer stuff or even new songs?”
KRIS: “I would probably want to do stuff that’s not released, maybe write a couple of special songs. It’s fun to do cover songs but if you do cover songs you have to do stuff that’s kinda obscure. There’s like everytime you cover a band you want it to be a band you can turn everyone on to. There’s this one band in particular that no-one in this world will ever know called FON and they were from the town I grew up in and they were a small little indie band. I’d like to cover one of their songs, they were the band that made me want to start The Ataris and play guitar in the first place. They were amazing and everyone loved their songs but they never got out of the town where they were from. There was also a band from Chicago called Sledgeworth and they were a great band. They were the band that when big bands came through Chicago, like Green Day or Jawbreaker, they would open up. It was kinda weird because that band were also locationally challenged, they never really broke out of Chicago. But if they ever played in Chicago they could play in front of 2,000 people easily. We covered one of their songs one time when we played Chicago and the kids went crazy. They have great singalong choruses, kinda like a mix of Jawbreaker meets the Misfits meets Cheap Trick or something. It’s good, you have to check it out. They have one cd on Lookout! Records and it’s called ‘Losers Of The Year’. It’s out of print right now but you can find it. If you check that out you can definitely hear The Ataris influence. All the little guitar noodle parts, if there’s any bands we have lifted a lot of parts from Sledgeworth. No-one knows them so no-one will ever now! [*laughs*]”

PAUL: “You’re also managing a couple of bands, Breakdance Vietnam being one of them…”
KRIS: “…yeah. I have lost a lot of time to do everything because it’s been kinda like touring so much and I don’t know how well my managing skills are right now but Go Reflex and Breakdance Vietnam are two bands. Breakdance are from Riverside, they’re kinda like Thrice, Hot Water Music, Avail, a little bit more power-pop with screaming. The Go Reflex are like Jimmy Eat World with radiohead, Ben Folds, there’s like piano…”
PAUL: “…are there any links to The Ataris? People are going to listen to these bands and…”
KRIS: “…no, not at all. The Go Reflex, the songwriter used to be the songwriter in a band called Pollen. They were a big influence to The Ataris so if anything you might hear a bit of The Ataris in that band, but Breakdance Vietnam, I think they sound like us in ways, but my tattoo artist is the singer in that band and he does tattoos on like New Found and Blink and Alkaline Trio.”

PAUL: “You’ve changed the album from having ‘Beautiful Mistake’ to include ‘Looking Back On Today’. Is that true? And is it the slow acoustic version?”
KRIS: “No. We re-recorded it. We didn’t feel the song was good enough to put on the record so at the last minute I felt that I didn’t want ‘Beautiful Mistake’ to be on the record because I think once again it’s quite a negative song and at the last minute I thought I didn’t want to read a thousand reviews of this one song which is really negative. Then I read all these requests on our website saying ‘put Looking Back On Today’ on the record – tonnes of them, and I was like man, we played that song for so many people on the Warped Tour and I didn’t realise so many people liked that song. I thought it was a good song but to me it was like, to me, it wasn’t as good as the lyrics on the rest of the record. It’s a good heartful song I wrote for my wife. It’s mostly a song I wrote for her, it’s not for anybody else. It’s a song I just wrote for her when I was on tour and I didn’t expect it to be a song that we would put on the record or anything, I thought it would be just a b-side or something. But popular demand I guess. We listen to our fans and they wanted it to be on the record so they got their wish! At the last minute I thought fuck it, let’s get my way and they took Beautiful Mistake off and they get their wish and put Looking Back On Today on. Those songs are polar opposites. ‘Beautiful Mistake’ I wrote that like me and Denise had a falling out for like a month and erm, that was written as a product of that. ‘Beautiful Mistake’ will still be a song as a b-side or something, but it won’t be on the record.”

PAUL: “Last question..”
KRIS: “Sure.”
PAUL: “‘Saddest Song’ is about Starla, that to me is lyrically the best song you’ve written.”
KRIS: “Thank you.”
PAUL: “Is this something you are going to focus on more rather than the whole girl/high school thing? Maybe focus more on being a family man?”
KRIS: “Have you heard the whole record yet?”
PAUL: “Yeah.”
KRIS: “Well I think the whole record is kind of like that.”
PAUL: “Yeah, but I think that song stands out the most.”
KRIS: “oh cool. I think that one song in particular is just one story I have to tell. It’s also a story from when my parents split up when I was 5. They later got back together when I was 10 but I wrote this song for my daughter as a letter in the song – forgive me for the times that I haven’t been in her life in the past. I’m just letting her know that I’m trying my best to be in her life from now on. There were some times in my life when I wasn’t able to see her because I live in California and she lives in Indiana and that’s like a 32-hour drive. It’s definitely hard but as long as I have a lot of personal stories to tell I will continue writing things like that. Lyrically I am more happy with this record than any other I have ever written. That’s definitely a sign of what’s to come in the future for The Ataris. Two years from now on our next record I will want at least to write a record which equally has a lot of stories and is very in-depth and has a lot of substance. If you compare this record to any other record most songs, give or take about three or four, were products of my relationships at the time or in the past. They were all personal stories. But this record every song is about something different. The first song is about having a lot of good memories and the second song is about not only my fear of flying but the night I drove to LAX and watched the planes trying to find the beauty in something I don’t like that much. ‘Saddest Song’ was about my daughter and my father, ‘My Reply’ is about a girl from Australia who wrote us a letter and she was in the hospital and I wrote her a reply…’Unopened Letter To The World’ is a song about the poet Emily Dickinson – she never got a lot of credit until after she died and all her poems where discovered when she died, she led a very posthumous life. Then, erm, ‘All You Can Ever Learn Is What You Already Know’, that song is about, me and Johnny wrote it together, it’s about when people get caught up too much in the unimportant things in life like drugs and fucking money, all the material things in life and not the things that are in their heart and what they should know or do in life. ‘Eight Of Nine‘ is about all these close calls we have had with dying, ‘In This Diary’ is as much a tour story about this band, it’s like our theme as a band and what we have gone through. ‘Radio#2’ is this fantasty story of going up and like blowing up the Manhattan tower. Then there’s ‘Looking Back On Today’ and I think that’s it. Erm, there’s one more…oh, whatever [*laughs*]”

PAUL: “Thanks a lot Kris and have a good show tonight.”
KRIS: “Thanks a lot man.”


(c) Punktastic 2003. Please don’t steal without asking us first…

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