As of February 28, The Ataris have officially kicked off a one-time only reunion with the original band members, celebrating the tenth anniversary of their landmark album, So Long, Astoria, and will play it in its entirety, in order. The Southern California-based post punk band makes its way to Portland and plays the Hawthorne Theater on March 11.
Fans of the group and album will certainly be delighted to that lead singer guitarist Kristopher Roe, bassist Mike Davenport, guitarist John Collura and drummer Chris Knapp will reunite for the first time since 2006, playing fan favorites So Long, Astoria, The Saddest Song, and the smash-hit version of Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer.
Forming in 1995, The Ataris launched their career with indie label Kung Fu Records, selling hundreds of thousand of album and paving the way to hook up with Columbia Records in 2001. Long known as their defining album, So Long, Astoria, and selling over a million records. Their success has lead to performing in multiple Warped Tours and selling out their own major tours. But things came to a halt for the original line up when they disbanded in late 2004.
In a recent interview with bassist Mike Davenport he expounded on the upcoming tour while on the road to Sacramento with his current band, Versus the World, who will also be the opener on this tour.
While learning more about the group’s dynamics, he explained his relationship with band mate Roe. Davenport was very much the business side of the band, while Roe captained the creative aspect. That’s not to say Davenport didn’t make a musical contribution to the band, referring to himself as the George Harrison of the band, providing one song per record.
Davenport discussed the early beginnings of The Ataris, where he and Roe partnered together and navigated the band’s course. Davenport recounts, “We pushed it from a baby band, barely getting by on the dollar menu at Taco Bell when we started the band in ’95, to 2004 having a number one song and selling almost a million records.” The two band members played to their strengths, resulting in the formula for their success.
Santa Barbara, California, located at the northern most part of Southern California, became home to the band even though each band member grew up elsewhere. It was Davenport who had the closest roots, growing up just to the north in Santa Maria. He shared what the attraction to the punk music scene was, “Being a kid in California in the 80s, it was where punk rock really grew up, exploded. All the kids I grew up with were riding skateboards and listening to punk rock and starting bands, where anyone can play in a band. You don’t have to be a great musician.” Genuinely adding, “You can actually be completely horrible but still get up on stage and express yourself.” And humbly admitting, “That was basically how I started. Everybody was doing it and is what I loved about it the most.”
Kris Roe, a seventeen year old aspiring singer/songwriter, attended a show by Huntington Beach-based, The Vandals, in Indiana where he grew up. He got a demo tape to the bass player, Joe Escalante, who thought Roe’s demo tape was amazing. He called Roe back and left a message that he was starting a record label in California and bring his band to California and make a record. Roe thought it was a prank call, calling all his friends to find out who did it. Roe finally called the number Escalante had left and found out it was the real deal. Escalante told him to bring his band out to California and we’ll set you up. The only problem, Roe didn’t have a band. He played all the instruments with the use of a drum machine. No problem Escalante said, come to California and we’ll get you a drummer.
Davenport recalls Escalante hooked Roe up with drummer Derrick Plourde, of Lagwagon, who Davenport also knew, and brought Roe to Santa Barbara where they met. “It was pretty instantaneous, we got along really good, thought alike about music. It wasn’t long before he asked me. I never asked to be in the band. That was my abash statement, but probably wasn’t more than three months before he asked me to be the bass player for The Ataris.” Unfortunately Plourde didn’t work out but that created an opening for Chris Knapp which developed in to a solid musical relationship for the foursome for the next eleven years.
What has made So Long, Astoria so memorable for the band, success aside? Davenport explained, “It was definitely the first record we didn’t have to make on the fly. All the records before, the three studio albums, the EP, and the B Side were all done in between tours. You know, we started the band and got in the van. It was the heyday of the mid 90s, of bands getting in the van and going on tour with Green Day, Offspring, and Blink 182 and we wanted to be a part of that.”
Davenport discussed the hotbed of bands gaining national and international success; NOFX, Lagwagon, and Mad Caddies, that upped the bar for them and made it realistic to see what they could accomplish themselves. Davenport continued, “It was kind of a microcosm of, almost camaraderie and a little bit of competition that led us on the small scale and slowly work our way to So Long, Astoria. So what happens is, we do all these records on the fly, we tour for eight years non-stop and finally Columbia Records signed us.” Even though other records labels had courted The Ataris, Columbia wanted something else. Davenport recalls Columbia telling them, “We want you to slow down, we want you to take a year off and write, and make the best record you can.”
This led to The Ataris taking the next year off from touring. Davenport continued, “Now we were playing the album from beginning to end for the whole year, slowly and deliberately crafting the songs, and playing them just like the record came out.” And the directive from Columbia paid off. Davenport also adding, “It was the last time good time together, and was really before this record came out because when it came out, it became a whirlwind after The Boys Of Summer and In This Diary. We did Lenno and Conan, and all over the world whirlwind, and it just took it out of us. And then we went to break after that two years of touring were over, we just never regrouped the same.”
The exhaustion and effect of constant touring is well documented for rocks band and this period of success had left the band wanting and needing a change. Davenport acknowledged their breakup wasn’t anything dramatic.
After eleven years together, two long years on the road during the original So Long, Astoria tour, coming back to deal with record labels and managers, the band members effectively and emotionally shutdown. Ultimately, it was everyone’s non-communicative way of saying they wanted out. The different direction for Davenport in 2005 was forming Versus The World. His drummer was equally exhausted from ten years of touring, and Roe had gone off to play with other musicians as well. Davenport earnestly admitted, “We didn’t ever really speak about it. We should have all went to therapy or something, like Metallica, but instead we all sort of went and worked on our own projects and that was our therapy. That was our way of getting out of it.” But finishing with an upbeat outlook on the new tour, “So, I think this time we’re going to put a nice little bow on it”, adding with light heartedness and laughter, “If that’s possible.”
That being said, Davenport assured this tour is truly a one-time deal. He’s familiar with bands saying one thing and doing another when announcing one-time tours, but added, “It’s the least about money I’ve every seen. We were so exhausted, I think, when we split up ten years ago that we wanted a better ending note, and I think this is it.”
But The Ataris knew what they had together was special and wanted to get back to the time they were happiest, before So Long, Astoria was a record and playing all the songs from beginning to end. With a sense of anticipation Davenport conveys, “Being told to take our time to make the record, we’re just taking ourselves back twelve years ago to a place where we were really happy playing music. And it’s feeling that way again and it’s really cool.”
Did Davenport ever think the tenth anniversary would ever happen? “I didn’t ever see myself doing it. I’ve been in a band called Versus The World for just as long as I was in The Ataris, releasing our first album in 2005. I tour around the world with Versus and I didn’t really see The Ataris doing a reunion tour, even if you would’ve asked me this all the way up until a year ago.” Then Davenport received a call while in Australia, saying he had still been good friends with his former band mates but didn’t really see this coming. Each band member had moved on to do their own thing musically, and drummer Knapp had transitioned in to the business world of real estate but who was eventually responsible for putting out some feelers that resulted in promoter interest. And although Davenport thought Knapp would be the least likely to be interested, he missed it the most and got the tour talk off the ground.
Davenport said it’s taken a year to coordinate the tour, adding “I’m really surprised, it’s really surreal. It’s really hard to image. We’ve been living and rehearsing together and that’s been awesome and fun. But to bring it to the people? I’m scared and excited all at the same time.”
Despite the excitement and anticipation of The Ataris hitting the road again and it wasn’t an easy decision for Davenport nor Roe. He shared that Roe is truly more comfortable with small, solo acoustic performances than the long haul tours of the past. Davenport agreed, this is a big deal to get all of them together to tour again.
So what can long-time fans and the uninitiated expect? Davenport was excited to say that The Ataris are doing something they’ve never done before, even in their heyday, playing an album in its entirety. He was equally enthused by the other bands joining the tour. “The other bands on the tour are quality too. We playing with a band called Authority Zero, who headlines through Portland themselves, another band, Drag The River has headlined through Portland, they’re all very different kinds of music. And Versus The World is the opener on the tour so I’m going to be doing double-duty, and then I’ll headline with The Ataris.” He adamantly emphasized. “It’s going to be a great show from beginning to end, and there will be nothing like it, that I know of, ever again.”
Davenport also recalled the love Portland gave The Ataris, back in the day when they played the Crystal Ballroom and the Roseland Theater, and appreciates the support the fans have given Versus The World, who he affirmed will be back in Portland in 2015, but is really looking forward to The Ataris’ return to the Rose City this month.
Don’t miss the skateboarding, punk rock delight of The Ataris. This will be you only chance to catch them in Portland. Just follow the Black Flag stickers on the Cadillacs, and be sure to get your tickets in advance which are $18, $20 day of the show. Tickets are available through Cascade Tickets. This is a 21 or older concert with doors opening at 7pm, show at 8pm.
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