You Sing, I Write: Q&A with Kris Roe of the Ataris: Part 2

Monday, February 25, 2008

Q&A with Kris Roe of the Ataris: Part 2

As promised, part two of my Q&A with Kris Roe. If you haven't yet, check out the Ataris' MySpace, which Kris runs personally, for the latest tour dates and music. And be on the look out for a new album in the near future!

On this tour, are you just playing the whole Blue Skies album?
I’m playing our whole Blue Skies album from start to finish and then I also play a handful of songs from our other records at the end. Time permitting; I usually play four or five of our other most well known songs at the end. “So Long, Astoria” and “In This Diary” are usually always in the set and the other three I just toy with what people are drunkenly shouting at me or what I feel like playing.

Why did you decide Blue Skies?
Well, it was beyond the five, six year anniversary of that album, and almost the 10 year anniversary of that album and I think that was the album that, other than So Long, Astoria, got most of our core fan base into our band. We usually played the majority of songs from So Long, Astoria over the years and Blue Skies we played like the four, five most known songs. There was the other half of that album that we never played since we recorded. And that’s the same way probably with a lot of bands. You record an album, you play the best four or five songs and the rest are just album tracks. So, I just thought it was a fun challenge to go out and do something like that. And also, I feel it would bring a little bit more interest to the show to people that wouldn’t necessarily just come out and see me play acoustic. Maybe they’d be like, “Wow, that’s kinda cool he’s doing a whole record and playing a few other songs.”

I think that the majority of the album people are always singing along with. For me, there are some songs that were later on the album and were just kind of filler. I think that’s why that album did so well. We kind of back loaded the album. The strongest songs are the first five or six songs. There are a couple of strong songs later on the album. But for the most part, that’s why we put those songs towards the end of the record, because we wanted to make the strongest record from the beginning because most people only listen to the first five songs of an album anyway and then the diehards listen to the rest. I think people know most of the songs, but I don’t expect them to know every one. If they do, they’re usually creepy or too much of a fan. No not, really. But you know what I mean.

How would you describe your fan base? Has it changed a lot over the years?
It definitely changes throughout time because music changes. I think it depends. I think to sum it up, we have this core fan base and those are the kids that really come out, the kids that have been listening to the band for so long and they kind of grow with you. And then we have the people that discovered our band on So Long, Astoria when they heard “In This Diary” and then “Boys of Summer” and that’s cool too. But those are the people, I think, that usually have a shorter attention span. This is just a guess off of what I have seen. Because, I think the radio public are more on to the next thing because they love the current single and that’s fine, but that’s how it is where I grew up. In Indiana people just discovered shit off of MTV and the radio unfortunately. For me, a lot of my friends, we were kind of the kids who seeked things out, discovered bands and just stayed with them. Those are the kids that really stick around. Once we get a new album out and we have a song that’s on the radio or MTV you’ll notice a new resurgence of new fans. Right now, it’s kind of mid time between records and I’m not really out supporting anything, I’m just out doing this for fun. So it’s usually the diehards. The people that really love your band and your music and know the songs.

80% of the people that come to these Blue Skies shows are not the kids who are more apt to yell for “Boys of Summer.” There are those nights. When you play a college town you assume that will be more of the thing because that was more their era. I think the kids that come to these shows; they were into the band before that. I love just as much the kids that got into our band because of that song than the other ones. I think it’s equal. I try to make sure to play some songs from that record at the end. I think those are two of our most popular records and I really try to make a fair set if I have time.

Do you have a favorite song to perform?
I think the best song in our band’s history is the song “Fast Times at Drop-Out High.” That was an older song that I feel stood throughout the history of our band and doesn’t feel dated to me today. There are some songs you write and a month or two later after you record them, you’re like, “That feels really dated” and it’s something you don’t ever want to play again. And then there are some songs that stick throughout. Pretty much everything I play in my set I feel happy playing. There are a couple songs that I’d rather not play and are slightly dated, but I want to make the people who paid happy and give them a set that’s good for them. There are some songs I sing, either love songs from the past that I don’t believe a word I’m singing anymore that I’m just singing so people want to sing along and hear it and there are some songs that I still believe like the day I wrote it. But, that’s the good thing about being a songwriter. You move on and your songs stay frozen in time and you just gotta live with that.

Do you remember how to play everything and all of the lyrics?
No. [Laughs] But I give it a shot. Most of the stuff. I have a handful of songs beyond the Blue Skies album that I can choose from every night within reason. If someone is yelling out something that is rare, I’ll sometimes take the challenge. Sometimes I fail miserably. Like, last night I think I failed miserably on a couple.

You’ve been doing this so long, what inspires you to keep going?
Hands down, it’s the only thing that I really enjoy doing. I take photos, I like doing that. I have some other interests. For right now music is the only thing that I know and the one thing I want to continue doing. That’s pretty much it. I’m a really driven person, but I think when you get something that you know, it’s like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s true. Just keep moving forward and try to do as much as you can.

Can you tell us about your photography skills?
Skills, I don’t know. I just take photos of things that I like and strike me. Overall, my general photography is stuff that’s kind of sad but beautiful at the same time. Growing up in the Midwest you have all this worn down beauty. You have these old factories but you also have a side to it that’s kind of tragic but beautiful and that’s the thing I come across in my photos. I just became a photographer by accident. I stole my old roommate’s camera because I needed to take photos for a record because we had a deadline and the guy that was doing the photos flaked out. And after I was like, “Well, shit, I can do this.” So I always feel weird saying I’m a photographer because there are so many people that go to school and do this for a living and for me it’s just something I do. I think anybody, if you have a good eye, you can take photos. Anybody can write a song. It’s all in here. [pointing to heart] It’s all trial and error really. For me, it’s like guitar; I never read a book of fuckin’ tablature or chords in my life. I just hear it and go. Look at the Ramones, look at painting, or photography, or anything, it’s all in here.

Are you working on a new album?
Not currently. Planning to do a new album, but probably later in the year. I’ve written some rough ideas of songs, but for the most part, that area is just getting started. I’ll probably be doing this touring off and on throughout the summer just to have some money so when I do go in the studio I’ll have some money put aside to pay the bills. I think it will be my hope to realistically get in the studio by late summer now. I think by then I will have tapped every market I can actually play. After this tour and South America and Japan we’re going to try to book Europe and Canada and I think after that, the only thing I can really do is go in the studio. It’s really hard to go beyond that when you’re just doing a solo tour. We used to play Australia a lot, but I think to go down there and do a tour by myself I’m not sure I can do that by myself. But, who knows.

Welcome the Night is a little deeper and darker than So Long, Astoria. What was going on in your life when you wrote it?
I agree with part of that. I think So Long, Astoria has a lot of really personal songs but I think the biggest difference is that album [So Long, Astoria] was a bit more uplifting and positive and optimistic and Welcome the Night was not necessarily self-loathing or anything, but it was more self questioning. That was just because I wasn’t really happy with my life at the time and I was just trying to find a place in my life where I was content and happy. That album was kind of a cathartic process of me questioning myself and trying to find that place in my life. So, that’s what I was doing. Kind of like therapy, that album was. I think where I am at now, writing is a little back towards where I was when I was writing So Long, Astoria. I think your writing reflects where you are in your life. I’ve kind of come around full circle again.

How did your fans respond to that?
I really expected, overall, to be a split kind of thing. I just wrote what I know and I always like to change it up and do things that are different and daring. I think that I really expected half of the people to get it and really pay attention and the other half to be like, “What the fuck?” and that’s good ‘cause unless you shake shit up, then you’re selling yourself short. I think art is about people questioning and people not understanding it. I think it would be more of a tragedy if people just listened to it and got it the first time they heard it. Things that are easily palpable for me are things that fall to the way side and is the art and music that you’re going to forget 10 years from now. I think that was an album that needs to grow on people. The people that really paid attention to it, I think they got it and the other ones weren’t supposed to get it.

What is your typical writing process like?
Laziness. No, I’m really bad. I keep a little journal. Usually I write the most when I’m just sitting in my car because I don’t let myself get distracted. When I’m just driving around the country I’ll get a piece of scrap paper and I’ll just write my thoughts and later I’ll put it altogether and try and make it into songs. I write a lot of free verse and poetry and things and put it all together and make it into something. It’s changed throughout the years. Before, in earlier albums, I used to write more in a format and start with the actual verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Later, as we went along, I started writing differently. Now, it’s a little different, more disjointed, but it comes together after the fact. Musically, I usually come up with a melody or music part in my head and I’ll jot it down. I put the two together at the end.

Have you ever been afraid to give away too much of yourself in your music?
The only time I was ever afraid of that was when I didn’t want to dispel too many things that would scare the shit out of my mother and father or my ex. There was one point when I finally realized that as a writer, I think your only duty is really to say everything you need to say despite what some people might read or see. After writing that last album, the immediate response I got from a lot of my fans was, “Are you okay?” And I’m like, “Yeah, ‘cause I wrote it two years ago and if you were to ask me then I would have been like, no I’m not.” Today, yeah, it is a thought. But you really can’t give into that. You really have to keep pushing it and write everything despite the consequences or that’d be your biggest mistake.

How would you explain your music to someone who has never heard it before?
I think we’re a band that has something to offer everyone. I feel it’s really personal stories. I try to write things that I feel everyone can relate to but that are brutally honest and really try to put my whole heart out there, sometimes to my disadvantage. Definitely, when you do that, you get a lot of the creepy people that are like, “Oh my God!” asking me all these questions. It’s like you don’t know me, but you know me. It’s kind of weird. I want to be known as a storyteller or the singer/songwriter type artist. That, I would portray to someone who had never heard us.

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