The Ataris

Kris Roe of The Ataris had no idea that giving a demo tape to Vandals bassist Joe Escalante in 1997 would lead to anything more than finding a drummer.

When Escalante called Roe back and offered to sign him to Kung Fu Records, the Indiana native found himself moving to Santa Barbara, Calif., and looking for a few more band members.

Roe said The Ataris’ first tour was memorable in more ways than one.

“I remember our first show of our first tour that we ever did – our first ‘booked-ourselves’ tour. We showed up, and there was this bagel shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” he told POLLSTAR. “We ended up playing in the basement for 15 people. We made a dollar a head and we got paid in day-old bagels. Our band smelled like onion bagels for like two weeks.

“We’ve had vans break down like a thousand times, wrecks – we’ve seen it all,” Roe added.

Since that time, frontman/guitarist Roe, guitarist John Collura, bassist Mike Davenport and drummer Chris “Kid” Knapp have rarely been off the road and have sold out venues across North American, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Europe on a regular basis.

“We’ve definitely paid our dues. We’ve been a band for seven years and have been out there completely slaving to do everything it takes to continue on an upward climb,” Roe said. “You just can’t have things handed to you and expect people to show up at your shows overnight.”

The punk rockers’ DIY approach and solid live show caught the attention of Darren Lewis of DL Management, who began working with the band in January 2002.

“They’d been touring for four or five years on their own without any help and they’d sold close to 100,000 copies (in the U.S.) of each of their albums on Kung Fu Records,” Lewis told POLLSTAR. “[My interest] was due to the fact the band had worked really, really hard in touring and just the way they approached everything. They were really conscious of staying close to their fans.

“Any band that can build themselves on the live level is attractive to me. The reason people were buying their record on the indie level was because they were fans of the band; it wasn’t a particular song they were attracted to,” he added.

The Ataris

Roe said The Ataris heard about Lewis through mutual friends when they were checking into other management.

“We’ve always been a band that operated as a do-it-yourself operation. Darren understood this ethic because he came up through the same school as we did as far as loving The Pixies, The Clash, and The Replacements – bands that I think are more along the lines of what we did,” Roe said. “He really understood what we wanted to do with our band, and how we wanted to come across to the public.”

The Ataris’ latest album, so long, astoria, debuted on Columbia Records in March and sold close to 1 million copies at press time. The band’s decision to go with Columbia, despite being courted by other labels, was one that Lewis said had been in the works for quite a while.

“Columbia had been interested in [The Ataris] for a long time prior to the 2001 Warped Tour. It was basically The Ataris and A.F.I. that were the two bands that year that everyone was going after,” he said. “Columbia was a good combination of a label that would allow the artist freedom like an indie would, but very much the big corporation that would be able to push the record.”

The Ataris have also combined their love of music and their fans by co-owning a Santa Barbara record store called Down On Haley. Roe said the idea formed when the band came home to some surprising news.

“We came back from touring about three years ago and saw that our practice space had been condemned by the city. They were going to tear [buildings] down to build waterfront hotels,” he said. “We found this place that [had] a perfect practice space in the back, but the one condition from the landlord was that he wanted the front to be something that could be for the public.

“We are just big music collector nerds, so [the store] is kind of our own little shrine to the bands we like, and we can turn our fans onto the music we were schooled in. We also wanted a place where our fans could come and visit us when we aren’t on tour,” Roe added.

The Ataris’ current tour runs through mid-November, after which they will take a break from the road to write and record the next album.

Lewis said another European stint is scheduled for the spring.