A lot has happened to the Ataris since the release of 2003’s So Long, Astoria, and the California punk band’s frontman, Kris Roe, says his own life has been turned upside down and inside out. First, Ataris drummer Chris Knapp and bassist Michael Davenport were cut from the fold, leaving just Roe and guitarist John Collura. Eventually, Roe and Collura recruited five musicians to fill out the band: a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist, a pianist and a cellist. Between the subtractions and the additions, Roe and his wife divorced.
“I also lost many friendships because of personal issues and drugs with them,” Roe explained. “So I went into therapy and started taking anxiety meds. I’m now somewhere where I feel like I’m finally being honest in my life and not living some kind of f—ed-up lie. I’m playing music with people I love who are my true friends, and it feels like the first day this band started.”
Roe — who says the group’s forthcoming disc, Welcome the Night, is being mixed and should surface in March — thinks that, at least in the Ataris’ case, change has been a good thing, something he’s welcomed. Along with Collura, he was able to foster what he described as the band’s “natural” evolution, unimpeded; Knapp and Davenport had thwarted previous attempts to progress, he says, and thus, they had to go.
“It does sound like a different band, but to me it’s the next natural step,” Roe said of the album, which he claims was heavily influenced by bands like Kent, the Doves, Sigur Rós and Slowdive, not “East Bay power-pop stuff.” “This band has always been about evolving. The bands that inspired me were always the ones that kept me guessing. I feel the one thing that music doesn’t have room for today is safety. There are too many bands playing this f—ing safe rock.
“Some of those bands are good at what they do, but they are entertainers,” he continued. “I aspire to say something more with my music. I want to make music that pushes people to check out something different and not just follow with the rest of the sheep. I feel like punk rock has become a complete joke. I mean, I’ll never turn my back on where this band came from, but you just start feeling like what you were perceived as doesn’t represent you.”
The five newest members of the Ataris — guitarist Paul Carabello, cellist Angus Cooke, keyboardist Bob Hoag, bassist Sean Hansen and drummer Shane Chickeles — all hail from indie-rock backgrounds. The Ataris have been working on Welcome the Night, which will contain 12 tracks, for more than a year with producer Nick Launay (Nick Cave, INXS, Gang of Four) at Seedy Underbelly Studios in California’s San Fernando Valley.
The LP revolves around a dark story inspired by a recurring dream Roe has had since childhood. “At the start of it, it’s the end of everything, the end of the world,” he said. “The sun turns black, and I’m in this little church in this small town, and then I wake up. There’ve been different variations of it throughout my life. But the album has religious and spiritual undertones and addresses issues like hope, loss, questioning life, how we’re so afraid of dying.
“There’s always a part of me that will love the bands I grew up with, but at 28, I feel like I’m way more influenced by the more textural, atmospheric, indie-rock stuff now,” Roe continued. “We felt like we wanted to make a record that represented us as people today. I didn’t feel we were doing that anymore. We’d kind of outgrown the band, musically, and had to evolve past what this band had become.”
Which is why fans won’t be hearing much old material like “The Boys of Summer” on the Ataris’ forthcoming tour, which Roe said will probably happen just before the album’s release. They’ll focus on the new material, mostly, since the Ataris are a much different band now.
“Look, we’ve written something that could really be an album that lives for a long time, that sticks around,” he said. “This album will age well. It’s something I feel like, overall, I like a lot more, better than what we’d created before.”
Track list for Welcome the Night, according to Roe:
- “The First Elegy”
- “Begin Again From the Beginning”
- “And We All Become Like Smoke”
- “Welcome the Night”
- “Secret Handshakes”
- “From the Last, Last Call”
- “The Driftwood Sinn”
- “When All Else Fails It Fails”
- “A Soundtrack for This Rainy Morning”
- “Act V, Scene IV: And So It Ends Like It Began”
- “Sonnet for the Early Departed”