Music » Music Stories & Interviews

True to the moment



The Ataris
with Louis DeFabrizio & Hogjaw,
Awestruck, and Shut Up & Dance
8 p.m. Thursday, April 1
Back Booth, 407-999-2570



"Why do I never seem to learn that love is wrong and girls are fucking evil?" That's a line that Kris Roe should regret writing. Aside from the sexist overtones, it's an overwrought turn of phrase that overflows with frustrated teenage bile. Instead, the singer-guitarist of the Ataris uses the word "honored" when discussing the track it comes from, as in, "I'm really honored when people come up and tell us that we helped them through a breakup. We've all had that person that broke our heart `whom` we wished we could say those words to."

There lies the annoying charm of Roe and the Ataris: The 1999 song in question ("The Last Song I Will Ever Write About a Girl" from Blue Skies, Broken Hearts ... Next 12 Exits) includes an opening that wades in clich├ęd broken-heart, withered-flowers imagery, but they deliver it with the unfiltered gusto of a guy who just got his heart stomped and a song is all he has left. The blurted-out feelings are rote but they're also powerfully honest, and strong enough to be identifiable. The music works in unison, as the pop-punk of "The Last Song" is vindictive but melodic. At its close, it degenerates into a tuneless clash of guitar effects, as if the other band members are also going through mental breakdowns.

It's not the only time Roe lays his emotions raw in verse. In the better-tempered "In This Diary," from 2003's So Long, Astoria, his deft chorus observes, "Being grown up isn't half as fun as growing up," a mantra that summarizes the Ataris' discography. Like an eternal high school kid, he enthusiastically discusses his favorite movies, romanticized road trips, falling deeply in love, and falling even deeper out of love. His expressions aren't inventive or tactful, but there's a wistful sincerity at work.

Combing through 15 years of Ataris history, Roe figures that "at least 75 percent" of his songs still resonate with him, even when he doesn't wholly agree with his teenage self's opinions. Referring to many his anti-ex diatribes, he says, "You could remember a time when you felt that, but if you say you still believe `those feelings` today, you'd be lying to yourself."

"Fast Times at Drop-Out High," from 2001's End Is Forever, remains Roe's proudest work because it strikes back at people from his "five mile-wide" hometown of Anderson, Ind. who "would push that being an artist or musician was not a valid dream to have." In the spirit of a defiant adolescent, he has proven them wrong.

On the other hand, Roe is not fond of his "character songs" that don't directly draw from his experiences. For example, End Is Forever's "Teenage Riot," a vaguely rebellious, "pep rally-ish" song proclaims, "Gonna have a teenage riot, because we all understand what it's like to be a kid today / Gonna have a teenage riot, let's blow 'em all away."

"Music should not be silly," says Roe. He believes that his music's sense of heart will outlast any contrived angst. "Angst is only good when you're 19 and full of empty causes. When you're 33, two marriages down and trying to find yourself, you look back and laugh at angst."

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