Discovered by the Vandals' bassist and Kung Fu Records founder Joe Escalante after hearing a demo tape given to him at a show, The Ataris' Kris Roe went from bedroom recordings in small-town Indiana to professionally-produced albums under the palm trees and bright lights of Southern California. "End is Forever," (in stores February 20th), The Ataris' third full-length release on Kung Fu records, puts him at the top of a growing list of soldiers in the latest punk-rock revolution. Guitar Center's Dustin Hinz recently sat down with Kris and found out what it's like to be living a real-life punk-rock fairy tale.
GC: Tell me about your guitars. What type do you use and why?
Roe: I use a 1980 Les Paul Standard because Les Paul guitars are the greatest. We are endorsed by Seymour Duncan, and we have other guitars that I use that I've put my Seymour Duncan pickups in, but with my Les Paul I won't change the pickups. They are 1979, awesome vintage Les Paul sound. I like to sound really across-the-board rock, not too overpowering. I know a lot of bands like to use a lot of distortion. Me, I like to use a JCM800 Marshall head, that used to belong to the singer of Jawbreaker. Well, actually, I bought it from my friend that is in the band Nerf Herder who used to be roommates with the singer of Jaw Breaker, one of my favorite bands. Blake (Schwarzenbach) from Jaw Breaker- I met him and asked him where he got it. He told me that he got it from Ian Mackay from Fugazi and Minor Threat while they were on tour in Washington, DC. Ian was actually helpful to him because his amp blew up while they were on tour. He had another Marshall or something, and Ian had this amp that he used to write songs during Minor Threat. He only sang in Minor Threat. He told him, "I have this trusty amp that I will sell you." He nearly gave it to him. This heirloom has kind of been passed down and fell into my hands, and I am never going to get rid of it. That, combined with the Les Paul, is just straight-up great rock distortion. I do not use any pedals or anything. On our records, I use about the same. On our new record, we actually used a Fender Twin, for left and right tracks, so we can make the guitar sound different. I also bought this new head, too, that I keep at our practice space. It's a Sun amp by Fender. I kind of think it was kind of a mistake to buy it because it was too expensive.
GC: So you don't use any pedals?
Roe: On a record, we use a Rat pedal and a Big Muff pedal to accent certain things. I love the sound of Rat pedals. It is not a sound you would (use) all the way around because it is so grating. Those pedals are really cool. I do not use any of the modern day pedals-- too metal.
GC: What is the coolest recent addition to your setup?
Roe: I just bought an Anvil road briefcase. I'm the kind of guy [who] needs to have [his] shit in order. So I bought this thing and customized it, put red velvet in it. And I put a picture of me and my wife, and a bunch of places where I stick picks. I plan on buying another Les Paul and maybe road cases for my gear. Because we tour so much, my gear gets beat to shit and I hate that. When we played with Less Than Jake, and Zebra Head, our last show, before we went to play in Vancouver, I went to a Guitar Center in Washington. I bought a couple of Squire Teles that were on sale for $100, and I set them on fire and threw them in the crowd. I saw Fat Mike from NOFX from the Warped Tour [do it] in El Paso, and I thought "I want to do that once." And I did it! And these kids were just beating each other up, and I was like, "It is only a Squire. It's a $100 guitar, don't beat yourself up for it."
GC: What's the next thing you'd like to get?
Roe: Probably another Les Paul for backup, or more studio gear. Right now I use a Fostex four-track. I think it's the best four-track you can get that's not digital. I don't really prefer the digital stuff, also maybe an eight-track. I could always use the extra tracks.
GC: Say I'm an intermediate player with a basic setup, and I want to expand. What should I get next?
Roe: Everyone should try a Les Paul or a Marshall, and that's really it.
GC: Do you practice a lot? If so, what is your routine?
Roe: Sometimes we practice acoustically. Just me, my bass player Mike [Davenport], and our guitar player Marco [Pena]. A lot of the times in the practice space that we own, we all get together and go down and play through our set. We are going to run through some new songs because we have a lot upcoming shows, like two with Lagwagon, and a couple with Social Distortion, and a couple with NOFX. We want to be polished. When we're at home, which we never are, we get kind of out of habit of practicing. So, we're trying to get back into it. It's a good habit, to practice a lot.
GC: How do you write?
Roe: I write everything myself, even down to drums. I show the ideas I have to our drummer, and he'll expand on it because I am not a real good drummer. I usually write the music first, and I have the vocal melody in my head. And then I write the lyrics to that melody and kind of expand from there. On the last record, I wrote most of the lyrics in the studio, like the last six days when we were doing vocals. I hope it doesn't show. I think it turned out good.
GC: Do you warm up before performances?
Roe: Not more than I should. When we were on tour with MxPx, these guys were doing push-ups and sit-ups, and I was like, "Dude, what's up?" But I am going to start doing that because I throw myself in the crowd at the end of each show. And a couple of times I messed myself up because I didn't stretch.
GC: What advice would you have for a young player who might want to model their career after yours? What do you tell someone who said, "How can I be successful and get to where you are?"
Roe: Work hard and practice a lot. I know it is sounds cliché. If you write songs, get some kind of cheap recording device, like a four-track for like $189. A starter kit. Bug your parents about it. Record your songs and give the demos to the bands you like. Sure enough, if you write good songs, the band will hear it and they will discover you. We listen to every demo we receive, and we have gotten a lot of the bands signed to our label. And I have produced a couple of those bands. It's a lot easier than people think. You have to be devoted and persistent. You have to stick to it. If you have good songs, that is all that matters. Every band I saw I gave my demo to. And out of all those bands, one called me back and was like, "Hey, we like your tape," and I thought it was a joke. But it wasn't.
GC: How did you get discovered?
Roe: I used to write my own songs on a little four-track. Me and this guy named Jason back in Indiana, were playing with this little HR16 Alesis drum machine, and we were looking for a drummer. And part of my deal with giving tapes to bands was, "If you know any drummers, please pass this tape to them." Then the Vandals were playing a show in Cincinnati with a band called the Queers. My friend Jason said that his friends were starting a label, and asked if he could give them my tape. A month later, they wrote to me and said, "You didn't include your phone number." So I called them, and they said they liked my songs and wanted to put it out. I explained to them that we are two guys and we need a drummer. He told me that it was no problem, and that they knew a lot of drummers. They gave our demo to a few drummers, and one of the drummers we hit it off with was the old drummer from Lagwagon. He moved to Indiana and we practiced in this tiny one-room apartment. We had to sleep around the drums. We had no heat, and we practiced for like a month. We recorded the first record and went on a small tour with the Vandals. Jason didn't want to move out here because he was involved with a girl. So, Derrick and I packed it up and moved to Santa Barbara. We went on a couple tours after that and then, because of personal differences, the band fell apart after six months. After that, I put the band together with my three close friends, Mike, Marco and Chris (Knapp), the drummer, because they were my close friends. So, I kind of started the band from scratch, and it's been that way for the last three years.
GC: Next week you are going to produce a band. Tell us about it.
Roe: Yeah, I'm producing this band Useless ID from Israel. They're kind of like MxPx and Lagwagon. Good pop-punk style. They're going to be one of the next bands on our label, Kung Fu Records. We met them when we were on the road. We kept crossing paths, and we heard them and liked them, and we took them on tour with us. We became friends and gave their demo to the Vandals, and they liked it. And the rest is just history.
GC: Is producing something you do a lot of?
Roe: It is. This is the second (album) I produced. I also produced the band Antifreeze from Wisconsin. They are also on Kung Fu. They're kind of like Weezer, Greenday and kind of like straight-ahead. I liked it and it was my first time producing, and each time I learn a lot. [The] most valuable lesson I learned as a band is give in sometimes and let the producer give you some input. But producing is a good experience, and I hope to do more of it.
GC: You are coming out with a new album; did you do anything different on this album than you've done on previous ones?
Roe: Yeah, it's a lot different in the sense that we used a lot of different instruments. But the biggest difference was that we used a lot more piano and cello, and a lot more sound additives.
GC: What are your plans for the future?
Roe: Enjoying my time off. Spending as much time at home as possible. We're going out on tour again in March with Lagwagon, throughout all of Canada and US. We then go back to Australia. We're taking Nerf Herder with us. Then, to New Zealand, Japan and Hawaii. Then come home for a month. Then go back to UK and take Nerf Herder with us again. Then do the Warped tour this summer. Then we'll come home and probably back out on our own tour. Just tour, tour, tour like we always do.
GC: What is your most memorable live show?
Roe: Probably anything we do in LA or Orange County always has some memorable quality to it. Be it playing at a crappy club, where the bouncers are beating the kids that are coming up on-stage, or any show that the kids come up on-stage and start singing the songs. I like playing small clubs. It's a more personal vibe.
GC: Have you or do you shop at the Guitar Center and what do you think about it?
Roe: Yes. We shop there a lot. We know certain people in certain towns that can give us discounts. Just kidding. No, but seriously, they have a great selection. At the same time, if you haggle enough, you can get the prices down. Recently, our bass player bought his Fender Jazz Bass in Portland. I used to buy all my strings and guitar picks from Guitar Center. But, now we're sponsored by Ernie Ball. We always go buy any accessories we need. And, there is always a Guitar Center in every town you go. It is fun to look around see how many people you can piss off by playing Stairway to Heaven.
GC: Is there anything else you want to plug?
Roe: Our new record, "End is Forever," comes out worldwide on Kung Fu Records, February 20th. It has 14 new songs. It pretty much sounds like everything else we've ever done, so I'm sure you're going to like it. We are doing an acoustic show in Santa Barbara, so you can get our record before it comes out. We are also going to do it in our store that we are opening up, a punk clothing and record store called Down On Hailey. It's 414 East Hailey Street. Or you can check our website at www.ataris.com and get all the info there. That's enough plugging for me.