A new feature! Our inaugural edition of Either/Or – yes, it’s inspired in name by a certain Elliott Smith record – features Kris Roe of popular US punk-rockers turned superbly epic-indie-pop types The Ataris. Remember ‘San Dimas High School Football Rules’? “Went on all the rides, didn’t have to wait in line.” Yeah, they don’t do that anymore.
The new-look The Ataris is spearheaded by Roe and original member John Collura; the pair are joined for the forthcoming Welcome The Night long-player by new recruits Sean Hansen, Paul Carabello and Shane Chikeles. The new album’s direction is a far cry from the catchy pop-punk of the band’s late-‘90s breakthrough, having more in common stylistically with ‘80s alt-rock (think Pixies, My Bloody Valentine) and contemporary indie acts of the UK and Canada. It’s wide of scope, and affecting of lyric; it’s sure to blindside both long-term fans and recent converts.
Welcome The Night is released through the band’s new label Sequel (home to The Cooper Temple Clause, Idlewild) on February 19; a single, ‘Not Capable Of Love’, preceded the record’s release and its video can be seen here. The band are on tour in April – check the end of the article for dates.
While The Ataris’ new album is a record of emotional substance and compositional strengths, Either/Or is a simple concept. See for yourself…
Touring: US or UK?
Roe: Oh the UK for sure. The US can be a bit… well, everything’s a lot more spread out. There are smaller places where people don’t get so many bands coming through: these places are a lot less jaded than the big cities. When you do go to the big cities and there are ten shows on, the people there are like, ‘so what?’ I think people in the UK are a little more understanding, and more rabid about music generally. They’re more passionate, and a lot of the bands that are inspiring us come from the UK – especially the shoe-gaze bands like Swervedriver and Slowdive. I think Slowdive were one of those bands that didn’t have the impact they should have in the States – I mean, everyone quotes Loveless as a key album, but… A new My Bloody Valentine album? I’ll believe it when I see it… it’ll be like Chinese Democracy or something. But maybe Kevin Shields is becoming less of a hermit – I would love to see him make more music. But yeah: I think the UK is more in tune with what we’re doing, and pigeonholes things a lot less than America, which is a lot more segregated.
And with that in mind: current UK indie or Canadian indie?
Well, there’s a wave of music coming out of Canada, but I can’t denounce the good that some US labels have done. Sub Pop has put out so many great bands – The Shins are an amazing band. So I’m not slagging where I’m actually from, but Middle America does like a lot of band like Creed and Nickelback, fucking mullet-rock. Dude, Nickelback are bigger than ever, and there’s this band called The Fray who… well, take the most mellow, safe British band – like Coldplay, who are already quite safe – and strip anything remotely cool from them and make them American. That’s The Fray. I love bands like Muse and Doves, but what can you say man? People do like rubbish.
The ‘E’ word: emo of years past or the emo of today?
Oh, people gave up on that whole tag like two years ago in America. It’s been done to death there. I don’t listen to any of that rubbish. I’m not saying The Get Up Kids were rubbish! You know, “ten minutes to downtown…”, but The Get Up Kids and Texas Is The Reason and Samiam… when I was 18 or 19, and I’m 30 now, they were dubbed as emotional hardcore, which was derived from Fugazi and some bands from their era who took positive hardcore and added a melody to it. So I’d see ‘emotional hardcore’ and think it was a good thing, but somewhere in the past four or five years the term’s become associated with bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, who to me are just pop bands. I mean, I’m not slagging what anyone does, but I’d like to think that what we’re doing is something that’s completely different. I create music that’s daring, whereas some of those bands make music for pure entertainment. There are exceptions to the rule, but if they’re making money and having a good time, fine. Heck, they’ve got better cars and bigger houses than me, so more power to them.
Fall Out Boy or My Chemical Romance?
I’d say My Chemical Romance. I think they have a more artistic side, and their latest album keeps getting tagged as Queen. I don’t think anyone can capture that, but there are similarities in a song or two that I’ve heard. In America, you read this rubbish magazine Alternative Press, and it’s all about the make-up-wearing bands with perfect hair. And it’s funny, ‘cause it’s the same magazine that would have Dinosaur Jr or REM on the cover in the ‘80s. But I guess you’ve got to move with the times. They’ve fallen into the trend of covering the haircut bands, and I don’t think we’re classed with them. They play it safe, and had the balls to call Brand New ‘America’s Radiohead’. Yeah, really. I don’t think that’s correct, at all…
A few hours in front of American Idol or a visit to the dentist?
Oh, I think American Idol is entertaining. It’s funny to see people who are so delusional, who believe they can sing when they can’t. Going back to what we’re saying about these perfectly-crafted emo bands, I think that you can take any cute young boy, put him in a studio and make a band out of him. Yeah, that does sound bad…! I mean, look at Paris Hilton: someone like that can make it? Take her to a karaoke bar and tell her to fucking sing: I’m sure that whore couldn’t hit a note to save her life, y’know. She gets paid just for being at a club. But American Idol’s good for bringing people down to earth, and knocks the piss out of them.
G.I. Joe or Transformers?
I dunno, I was never much for television. I was lazy, sitting in my room trying to write music – TV sort of went over my head. But I’d have to side with the robots. If you make me choose, there’s nothing quite like a car that can turn into a robot and blow shit up. There’s definitely a homo-erotic thing about G.I. Joe, though. You know there was some shagging going on behind the cartoon.
‘San Dimas High School Football Rules’ or ‘Boys Of Summer’?
Neither. We don’t play either of those songs anymore. You’re digging really deep there… no, we do play ‘San Dimas…’ sometimes. They played it in rock clubs here? (They did – at Jilly’s Rock World in Manchester when I was a student – MD.) They do play rock music after gigs here, which is cool, but in the States clubs are exclusively into dance music, pretty much. You see rock music at a band’s show. In Australia, there’s a big cover band scene. In Perth there was this band – we’d shown up a day early – and they were playing Smashing Pumpkins songs and other ‘90s alt-rock stuff and everyone was slam-dancing and it was great! And it’s because none of those bands ever made it there. Perth is really remote, but the UK has such a good scene… and in the US people act like they’re too cool just to go out and hang out. Clubs are more for shit dance music, or Fergie and Justin Timberlake and shit like that.
Innovation and expansion or play-it-safe fan-pleasers?
Well, Justin Timberlake is only ‘innovative’ because of the producers he works with – that guy, Danger Mouse, his work with Sparklehorse is great. But I do admire people who work with cutting-edge people, and I do appreciate diversity. I think a problem I have is that a lot of people tagged us the same as a lot of the new emo bands you’ve mentioned, but we’ve not been into any of that. But the guys that are in the band now, we’re freer: we’re all good friends and we all like the same music. We’re not the band we were – everyone grows, and while we had fans who liked ‘San Dimas…’, they’re now loving Welcome The Night. Some magazines are good at pigeonholing, and that harms us, and the Warped Tour is bad too – it’s so narrow-minded, y’know? I don’t want to be a part of any of that. I just want to be in a band that’s honest, and I’m keen to disassociate ourselves from any particular genre. Because for me, punk rock was about expanding the limits of yourself, and doing something outside of the mainstream… while a lot of these Warped Tour bands aren’t doing that, and they’re not creating outside of these boundaries. You look back at the bands that moved punk on, like The Clash, and they were taking influences from reggae and dub, and the problem today is that contemporary punk bands are influenced by other contemporary punk bands. I mean, I’d hope to think that the shit would sink, but you only have to look at the charts to see that there’s a lot of shit out there. I think you can only grow as a writer if you’re taking influences from areas outside your safety zone.
Downloading tracks or buying and savouring a full-art album?
The thing for me, being 30, is that there was this thing called vinyl that actually made you want to hold an album and embrace the concept of side A and side B. It’s terrible in America now: we are doing a vinyl pressing of our new album, but only 1,000 copies. I think it’s better here – there’s a cool factor to vinyl – but I understand how a lot of the world listens to records as a simple collection of songs. It’s quite disposable – everything’s reduced to tracks. I love iTunes and use it every day, but I do really feel there’s some romance to a proper album. Pictures can tell another dimension of the story on a record. There’s a Tom Waits quote that I love, and he says that the perfect song describes, perfectly, the place you’re in at the moment, the light overhead, the drink in your hand, every little iota, and an extension of doing that, personally, is my photography. So I hope that even if people don’t buy the new record from a store they’ll look at the art and appreciate it. Conceptually, the album’s best heard from start to finish; lyrically, it’s all one body of work. It’s very consistent, but fuck it: people download music, and more power to them. Steal music all you want - if something’s online, it’s there for a reason. Things like Limewire can be positive. You can find rare tracks, like I found a version of Mogwai covering Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Don’t Cry’ one time – it’s so awesome! It’s a good thing, the internet. There’s more than porn on it, I’m sure.
Seaside or city centre?
I like the grey, remote seaside feeling. Like, the seaside in Britain has a different feeling to it than it does in America. It’s good – when I think of the grey seaside I think of ‘80s music videos by bands like The Smiths and The Cure; like ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’, that video was filmed in Brighton. So seaside in the winter is good – I always have to modify everything. I did live in California for a while, but I associate the beach there with all these pretentious assholes. I grew up in an industrial town in the Midwest, and taking photos you can find some sense of romance in that, in burned-down tragedy. We’ve been all over. Hull? We’ve been there. There are some dodgy towns here... Portsmouth, Coventry. Liverpool’s pretty scary. When you get to the south of London, too, that can be scary. I’ve been out walking in Brixton at two in the morning. Hood up and run? That should be Brixton’s motto: ‘Hood up and run’!
Action blockbuster or art-house indie flick?
Oh man, I’m a music snob so I’m a film snob, too. Y’know, I get to drive a truck around and kill people in our new video (see link at top of article), but they shatter into beautiful shards of glass. Terminator 2? I’ve never seen that! I’ve never seen any of the Supermans, the Terminators, or the Jurassic Parks.
Weezer: ‘The Blue Album’ (i.e. Weezer) or Pinkerton?
Erm, man I bought Pinkerton when it came out and I think it’s a solid album. I think it’s one of those albums that has to sit with the listener, and that it’s not very immediate. But at the same time ‘My Name Is Jonas’ is such an amazing song. I’d say, over the long run, I’d have to go for Pinkerton. How old are you? (26, going on 40.) I remember buying ‘The Blue Album’ the day it came out from Reckless in Chicago, and then I bought Pinkerton and I wasn’t into it so much at the beginning, but a year later I couldn’t stop listening to it! I was like, “I WANNA GO BACK, I WANNA GO BACK…”, y’know… But going back to people buying rubbish, Pinkerton sold like 375,000 copies or something while the blue album has gone multi-platinum, so people do like things that are catchy, ‘cause they’ve the attention span of fucking lab rats. That’s fine, but I think we’ve written an album that, a year from now, people won’t be sick of. If they listen to it with open ears and an open heart, they’ll find that it’s an album with a lot of substance that isn’t submerged in perfect hair and eyeliner like a lot of the fucking rubbish we’ve spoken about today.
The Ataris’ Welcome The Night is released through Sequel on February 19; the band tour in April and May, dates as follows:
29 Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
30 Leeds Cockpit
1 Manchester Academy 3
2 Birmingham Academy 2
3 Glasgow The Garage
4 London Mean Fiddler
Tickets cost £12-£15. Support TBC.