Bands with gold records and top-20 singles don't usually play dive bars, let alone go on tours that feature dive bars almost exclusively.
But on Monday, Asheville will host a band doing just that. The Ataris, once one of the most popular pop-punk acts around, play The Get Down as part of their first full-band tour since October 2010. These are the same Ataris who released 2003's So Long, Astoria, which went on to sell more than 700,000 copies and spawned a few hit singles. The most successful of those singles was a revved-up rendition of Don Henley's “Boys of Summer” that climbed to No. 20 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Despite these credentials, The Ataris aren't unhappy with their current position. In fact, frontman and leader Kristopher Roe says that this is the level he prefers.
“If you want to be in some big, excessive, rock ‘n’ roll, rock-star band, then this is not the band,” Roe says. “I like playing basements and f—king dive bars and playing for a couple hundred people, and I have no desire to play all these homogenized, shitty, House of Blues, Clear Channel-owned venues. If you have a couple guys that have that vision, you shouldn’t deter them, but just encourage them to do that in another band.”
Roe calls for this interview unexpectedly at about 10 p.m. on a Monday. His publicist had advised Xpress to drop this story, explaining that the 35-year-old “sorta just works on his own schedule.” At the moment, that schedule is busy. It's two hours earlier in his current home of Arizona, but he still has to run through a practice with his band and pack for the next day's cross-desert drive to El Paso, where The Ataris will start their trek. It's a stressful situation compounded by the fact that Roe doesn't particularly care for these romps with the full band. He prefers the solo tours that he's embarked on during the past few years as he's whittled away at recordings for Graveyard of the Atlantic, The Ataris' long-delayed seventh LP.
“I just feel like I’m most in my element when I’m traveling that way,” he says of his acoustic outings. “This romantic feeling of just being out in a car — just you and the world.”
Roe's tendency to fly by his whims has been the dominant force in The Ataris' trajectory. In studio, the band tends to be a mostly solo outfit, with Roe and studio-only member Bob Hoag laying down most of the recordings, save for 2007's more collaborative Welcome the Night.
Before the success of So Long, Astoria, The Ataris had enjoyed six years of underground stardom, chugging through spastic and earnest pop-punk that resonated with more than a few Warped Tour crowds. Astoria saw them jump to a major label (Columbia Records) and stretch into a bigger, cleaner sound made for arenas — not so much little rock clubs.
Despite the strides his Ataris made in its punk-rock vein, Roe was ready for a change. Label shakeups at Columbia followed the run supporting Astoria, and the Ataris asked for and received a release from its contract. Free to do as he wished, Roe took a left turn with Welcome the Night, with its darker, more far-flung alternative rock palate and emphasis on heavily layered guitars.
“Throughout the complete history of this band, I’ve always tried to control every decision,” Roe says. “I’m partially a control freak, but it’s also because I would feel like I’m selling myself short if I don’t secure the vision. I always put my best judgment into it.”
After turning his back on pop-punk, Roe returns to it with Graveyard. He jokes that the album will be the follow-up he never made to Astoria, and the two songs he released on a single in 2010 back up the claim. “All Souls' Day” would fit perfectly on Astoria, leaping to life with heartbeat-like drums before adding grungy riffs that are shot over by prickly guitar fills. “I wish I could drive all night/ Wake up in the harsh daylight/ In a different town, start a different life/ And never have to see your face again,” Roe intones with a throaty scream, recalling the bittersweet love songs of his past.
“It's still me, and it's still where I want to be,” Roe says. “It's not like I did it on purpose. If that were the case, I wouldn't be doing it. It's all fate and timing, and there's just no way to rearrange the certain timelines in your life. That's just how things happen.”
— Jordan Lawrence is assistant editor at Charlotte-based Shuffle Magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.
who: The Ataris (with Old Flings, On the Take & The DiMarcos)
where: Get Down
when: Monday, Feb. 6 (9 p.m. $11. www.getdownavl.com)