Ataris' latest LP, 'So Long Astoria' takes inspiration from a concept
expressed in Richard Hell's novel 'Go Now,' an account of a junkie punk
travelling across America with a former girlfriend. "We were turned
onto 'Go Now' by our friend Marko who is the band Sugarcult," begins
Mike. "'Go Now' is basically based on a concept called futuring,
which is like making the most of the moment you're in. Manipulation of
fate. We could all sit around and have a good time all day or we could
get off our asses and do something. We've always been those kind of people,
they're the people that make their band successful. We've written a lot
of our past records about relationships. We were always on tour and we
always had these relationships where we had a hard time being gone ten,
eleven months of the year and so we wrote a lot about that. When we went
to Columbia (Records) they said, "Come back home, just chill out
and write this record. Take time." We'd never had that before. I
think in taking that time we actually got to relax and our relationships
were ok for once in our lives. We started to think about what got us here
and what in our lives led us up to here. I think reading 'Go Now' and
looking back on our past has brought us to this idea of futuring and memories
we make are the most important things in our lives. '
a concept record about that which just happened, we didn't go out of our
way to make a concept record."
by no means the first time The Ataris have found influences from literature.
Mike is quick to comment on other examples. "We read a lot actually.
Douglas Coupland inspired a song of ours called 'My Hotel Year' on our
'Blue Skies' record. Film, photography, poets, even acting
inspired by art. Art which inspires us we want to reflect through our
music and we want to express that to our fans so that if they like the
art that we're creating we want our fans to check out the art which
has inspired us."
Since learning about its inspirational connection with 'So Long Astoria'
there is without doubt a desire to read the Richard Hell novel. "And
isn't that fucking awesome!? That's just incredible," comments
an ecstatically happy Mike. "The same thing happened with Douglas
Coupland. He wrote 'A Girlfriend In A Coma' and 'Life After God.' I
have this great friend in London that plays in a band called Minority.
We inspired him to get into Douglas Coupland and Coupland did a signing
in a bookstore in London. He took Coupland the Ataris CD and said, "This
band is inspired by you." That was awesome for me. Now Coupland's
aware of us. It's just like a trickle down effect and that's the way
it should be."
city of Astoria is located firmly in the North West of Oregon. A state
itself located on the North West coast of the United States. It's also
the city the 1985 film 'The Goonies' was set in. "Astoria is used
as any town," explains Mike. "We're all from different places
but Astoria is just a metaphor. It goes back to futuring. In the movie
it's about these kids taking that one day they have left, making the
most of that day and pushing their dreams. I think Astoria is sort of
the same thing, saying goodbye to where you're from but embracing it
at the same time. Kris's wife is from Southern Oregon and he was up
there while we were writing the record visiting her family. Astoria
is a place he always wanted to go to so he drove there and I think it
all kinda clicked there."
The most striking imagery on the 'So Long Astoria' CD sleeve is unquestionably
the collapse of the Astoria port tower. "Great story about that,"
begins Mike. "Kris (Roe, lead vocals/guitar) went to Astoria for
the whole Goonies thing, to check it out and for the beauty of it all.
He came over the hill into the town, this is what he saw. Kris has a
great way of seeing all the record covers ahead of time. We were demoing
in Santa Barbara and he's like "I've gotta go back up there to
take the pictures for the cover of the record." Five days later
he drove all the way back up there and the tower was gone! I guess the
tower had been standing for over 100 years and during those five days
they'd torn it down. A guy that lived in the town happened to get pictures
of the whole thing falling so Kris just bought all the pictures off
single 'In This Diary' is an excellent sub-four minute piece of pop-punk
recalling experiences of growing up. A repeating hook line of "Being
grown up isn't half as fun as growing up
eventually you'll finally
get it right," is surrounded by experiences and aspects of the
band's past. 'In This Diary' is very much a retrospective look at their
adolescence and words of wisdom to fans. "It goes with the same
thing I was saying earlier of having this time to say 'wow, how did
I get here?'" explains Mike. "We had this year to write and
'cause we'd always been this tour-tour-play-play unit we were afraid
to stop. Columbia were right. We've made the best music of our life
but we were afraid to stop. That song is the epitome of our touring
lives. I'd been playing the music for a long time but hadn't heard the
lyrics. I got a fresh burnt CD in my Jeep and I had tears in my eyes.
It's part of my life, but at the same time it's such a brilliant song
because people can adapt those things to their lives. Kris hits the
nail right on the head."
Although predominantly seen as a track to Kris's daughter, 'The Saddest
Song' also marks the time Mike spends away from his daughter Falan.
"It's hard," he admits. "It's really Kris's song to both
of us. My daughter's eight and a half and I've been in this band six
and a half years. Both Kris's daughter and Falan know that their dads
do something different. They accept it because it's how they've grown
up but I know there are lots of times when it's hard on them and they
feel really different to the other kids. It's a blessing and a curse,
just like our lives are. We get to see the world but we're never home.
I was just home for four days and it felt magical. This was the hand
we were dealt. Since October (2002) I've been home about three different
Having spent such little time at their respective homes, Columbia's
advice on taking a year away from touring to write the album also allowed
the band members to retake control of their personal lives. "A
lot of our early records were about how fucked up our early relationships
were," admits Mike.
couple of us had been in bad relationships and it was good 'cause that
time off gave us the opportunity to go home and say 'I'm really not
happy with this person'. Myself and my drummer both ended these really
long relationships we'd been in and fell in love with girls I think
are right for us now. Whereas Kris, I think his wife has always been
the one for him, and I think all the tough times they went through in
the early days of the band strengthened in that year. That year we looked
at ourselves completely and at each other as friends. It was probably
the best thing that ever happened to us."
'So Long Astoria' marking The Ataris jump to a major record label their
exposure to a larger mainstream audience is underway. The track 'Unopened
Letter To The World', however, deals with artists never achieving the
attention they deserve. "The song's about Emily Dickinson but Richard
Hell's a perfect example," explains Mike. "He was so cutting
edge in that early New York CBGB's scene with Television and The Voidoids.
Still they're unrecognised as the contributions they made to music,
to art, to poetry. My favourite band right now is the band Cursive.
I hope that they're gonna get this huge recognition. Right now barely
anyone knows about them so my job out here is to tell everybody that
listens to what I have to say that this is great art that is happening
At the time of The Ataris interview it was approximately a month until
Cursive, on tour in the UK, were due to play at the Northampton Soundhaus.
"You gotta go! Gotta go," urges Mike, adamant I go to see
the band. "'The Ugly Organ' - it's the greatest album if you ask
me since Nirvana's 'Nevermind'. Go buy it right away."
varying aspects of popular culture influencing The Ataris, it's unsurprising
to learn of other established names coming through as influences. "Douglas
Coupland is amazing to me. Irvine Welsh is what I'm reading at the moment.
I'm a writer myself and I read a lot," reveals Mike. "Emily
Dickinson is a poet who has gratefully influenced us. That's why we
wrote a song about her on the new record. We've always put Kevin Smith
blurb into some of our songs. We're all about words. I think that's
one of the biggest things in art, in film, in novels, in poetry, in
music. Words can be used to such beauty, to such good and be so thought
provoking. Kevin Smith is not so much what you see but what you hear.
You could see a Kevin Smith movie without seeing anything, just listening
and I think you would enjoy it just as much. Dialogue is the key."
Director Kevin Smith is better know for his on screen character Silent
Bob, making up one half of the stoner duo with Jay (Jason Mewes). "My
favourite (Kevin Smith film) is definitely Mallrats," suggests
Mike. "I have theories about all that. Clerks was awesome but rough,
it was him coming out and perfecting the craft. Mallrats had the best
of all elements. Chasing Amy is a little too angry. Dogma at first was
a little too religious but has grown on me over the years. Jay And Silent
Bob had a monkey in and I can't stand monkeys so I'd have to go for
any band of their size, The Ataris have received a sizable amount of
press since the release of 'So Long Astoria'. In March 2003, The Ataris
appeared in Kerrang! magazine. On a front cover dominated by Marilyn
Manson appeared a quote from The Ataris. Upon further investigation
a quote apparently from Mike himself. The words "We owe nothing
to punk" sit below the band's name. "First of all let's get
that one straight. That was a misquote. A complete misquote," instantly
replies Mike. Having clearly struck a nerve bringing up the subject
he appears determined to set the record straight. "Kerrang! is
a magazine as a kid I would drive an hour to go to a store which sold
it. I love it a lot. I'm gonna word this carefully here," he says,
pausing, considering with extreme thought his coming words. "The
last couple of interviews Kerrang! did with us were very tabloid journalism,
very British and I think they were out because of the shift to Columbia.
I think the writers of the last two articles were out to dig up some
dirt that really wasn't there. To show you how badly they misquoted
us. We owe everything to punk rock. EVERYTHING. The girl that was interviewing
us was completely attacking us. Every question was about selling out
and a different variation of it. It started to get surreal 'cause Kerrang!
had always been so cool. It started to get that weird! Jonny (Collura,
guitar vocals) went back to talking about Billy Joe. Green Day had that
whole problem with 'Dookie' being huge and everybody called them a sell-out
so the next record he did so punk rock, and then the next record he
came out and he did the 'Good Riddance (Time Of Our Life)' acoustic
song and everything. During that is when Billy Joe started saying "I
realised I don't owe anything to punk rock, I owe it to myself."
THIS is what we tried to tell this girl but somehow the cover of Kerrang!
comes out and it's "The Ataris don't owe anything to punk rock."
We were SO pissed. I'm not talking shit about Kerrang!. That's fine,
but I really believe this was more personal, this one journalist trying
Again pausing for thought and to grab a breath of air following a bitter
rant with barely a pause in between sentences, Mike continues. "She
should go write for the Daily Sport is all I'm gonna say. Not for Kerrang!.
Kerrang!'s fucking cool. Now people think that's how we feel but the
honest truth is we owe everything to punk rock. I run a punk rock record
store. Running an indie record store is not a profitable business and
we do that for punk rock."
its name from a song by fellow Santa Barbara punks Nerf Herder, 'Down
On Haley' was never originally set on becoming a record store. "We
were looking for a place to practice, not open a record store,"
explains Mike. "We got this place and it had a store front. It
was really hard to do. We put bands up, any band that want to come through
and play in our store can. We'll let anyone play. Kris and I both come
from different punk rock scenes. Him in Indiana, me in California. Punk
rock is the reason I'm here now. I have 'Punk Rock Is Freedom' tattooed
across my back, long before that girl misquoted me. I mean punk rock
is freedom because I get to be free. My life is like it is because of
punk rock. It's one of the most horrible things I've ever read in my
life. It definitely made me more careful about what I say. You learn
lyrics packed full of influences, everything Mike has spoken about reinforces
how much more there is to The Ataris than just simply the strength of
their music. Being only partly familiar with Cursive I now own 'The
Ugly Organ' simply on the strength of Mike's words. There is also the
desire to investigate the works of Richard Hell. The trickle down effect
works. If you're unfamiliar with Emily Dickinson read something by her.
Watch a film by Kevin Smith. Read The Ataris' lyrics and find something
else to take from the album besides enjoying the music. It's unsurprising
to learn what Mike would like listeners to be able to take from 'So
Long Astoria.' "Definitely the whole concept of futuring, making
the most of your life right now," he begins. "If I can get
that across to people... People obviously get unhappy, but if you get
unhappy you need to do something to change it. I really hope that people
get that from the record; to make the most of their life every day.
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