It’s been about ten years since the most successful lineup of the 90’s punk rock band The Ataris have performed together. Since then their former bassist Mike Davenport has continued his music career and ventured into other different projects. The Ataris lineup that made their album So Long, Astoria
a hit recently reunited to celebrate its ten year release by touring across the nation and playing the album from start to finish. Mike Davenport recently took time before their House of Blues Chicago stop (CONCERT REVIEW
) to talk to Musiqtone about his musical past, The Ataris and his present musical projects.
Amaris: How old where you when you started playing music?
Mike: When I started playing music, it was probably from literally birth. It was all I ever wanted to do. I got a drum set when I was five and then I started singing in choir when I was seven. At nine I got an acoustic guitar and then eleven I got my first bass so then I stayed on bass from eleven years old on.
A: So why bass then?
M: I’m a business man first that’s my deal with this band (The Ataris) and I’m also in another band called Versus the World and we do really well. We were on the whole tour up until two days ago. So as a business guy and even as a little kid I was always skimmer so I started playing bass. I switched to bass because I was actually singing for a band at eleven and noticed that everyone wanted to be a singer or a guitar player or a drummer so to really get a band together, and that was always my gift is pulling the guys together, I got a bass and just fell in love with it. I always liked Paul McCartney too so I just thought bass was a really cool instrument and I still think it is. I think bass players get a bad rep for being kinda seedy if you will, we might be a little seedy but we are smarter than you think.
A: So you say you have been in a bunch of bands and you like bringing bands together, so why did you decide to join The Ataris?
M: Well The Ataris was easy. I was always pretty dedicated to the band I had growing up. I stayed in bands longer than most people mostly because they were my bands. So I would say before The Ataris, from eleven to twenty five, I had about four bands over that whole time and I was pretty dedicated to all those bands. So The Ataris, I was in a band with a girl called Beaker. She was a female singer, she was awesome, and she fell in love with this kid who was eighteen and she was my age, she was twenty-four. So she fell in love with this kid who had moved out to California because he got a record deal so what happened was that he had sent a demo tape into The Vandals in the early 90’s. They liked the tape so much they called him up and they told him to come to California and bring his band. He said it wasn’t a band and he had done all the recording in his bedroom. So they said to come to California and they would work it out to record an album. He went to California and they moved him to Santa Barbara because the drummer they wanted to pair him with lived there and just happened to be friends of mine, friends of my singer. So he met my singer and they started dating and then I was like “who is this kid you are dating that’s so weird” so I went over to meet him and it was Kris Roe. We really hit it off, right off the bat. Our musical taste, even though he was seven years younger than me or whatever, he had a really old soul. His dad had similar taste to my dad as far as music so we grew up on the same stuff and we really clicked like that. The problem was he didn’t have a bass player but I was in the band with his girlfriend so he really couldn’t rob me right away. He tried the band with the drummer they gave him and another bass player for about three months and it didn’t work at all. They were really mean to him but they did get the first record Anywhere but Here out of that little deal. He came to my house because we had become good friends, and he told me he had broken up with Joanna, the band was being mean to him, he is eighteen in California he doesn’t know anyone and that he was going home. So I told him to just stay with me for a bit, I put him on my couch and I never asked him.
I made him ask me but it was my intention to hijack The Ataris. He wanted to try it one more time so he asked me to be in the band. We went to audition drummers because we had a tour lined up with Dancehall Crashers and Unwritten Law and we heard a sound coming from another room while we were going to audition people. It was this kid, younger than Kris Roe, seventeen years old. We asked him to go on tour with us and he though we were fucking with him. We gave him all the demo tapes and basically that’s how the band started. It was me, Kris and Chris and from that point we were together every day for like eleven years until we couldn’t stand each other anymore.
A: It seemed like you (The Ataris) had a lot of projects in between labels, so how do you think going from smaller labels to being signed to Columbia changed things?
M: It wasn’t as much it seems to appear. We were on Kung Fu and did every record on Kung Fu except one which was an EP called Look Forward to Failure which was on Fat Records. The reason why we did that EP was because we were doing good on Kung Fu but Fat Records at that time was the biggest label in punk rock. The owners from Fat Records and Kung Fu got together and wanted to make The Ataris big so we decided to put out an EP on Fat Records but we were still tied to a three record deal with Kung Fu. That whole time, we did five records before we were signed to Columbia, we were being courted from the beginning because it was punk rock. Blink 182, Green Day, everybody was getting big. It was the mid 90’s, punk rock was getting huge. We were being courted by major labels the whole time but we didn’t feel like we were ready. We wanted to finish our contract, stay true to where we were until we felt like we were ready. By the time Columbia came around again after The End is Forever record we were ready because we wanted to get out music out to even more people. An indie label, at that time, can only go so far, now it’s easier with iTunes and things like that but the internet wasn’t even around really.
A: So Long, Astoria was the highest charting album, why do you think that is?
M: It was the only charting album let’s get serious for a bit. Why? Because it was on a major label. I think some of our other albums might have been able to chart had they been put out on a major label but it’s all about money. That’s it. The only reason we were on the radio is because they pay the radio to play your song. Now that doesn’t mean it will hit, your song has to be good and people have to respond to that. The only reason a band can even get a single or a Number 1 song like “Boys of Summer”, “In this Diary” went to Number 10 for four weeks that kind of thing is because the radio pays to put it out there. Once it gets going, from there it’s up to fans and people to make it stick.
So I think it connected. It’s awesome. It’s the epitome of all our ten years of work. We worked so hard for ten years; we played 300 shows a year, crazy dedicated. That’s all we did, we gave up everything in our lives and the band almost had to break up at that point because we gave everything we had to that record and the toured that followed and we just couldn’t. We needed a break after that because it was so intense.
A: How was touring throughout that whole stage?
M: Touring was crazy because everything was a blur. In the early days being a punk rock band and even though we were making great money I pretty much toured managed the band and took care of all the manager stuff but once you get to Columbia Records you got get into the corporate thing where you have a big time manager. Our manager managed Everclear, Lifehouse and all these crazy big bands. So you get to a whole different level of people dealing with corporations which where Sony and Columbia. Up until then we were in control of what was going on and as much as we thought we were going to be able to stay in control once things took off like that we lost control. We were pretty much told “this is what you’re doing, if you don’t do this we won’t do that” and all this other stuff which was pretty intense. It was awesome though, we played Conan and Jay Leno and Letterman and on MTV. Hard Rock Live and Pepsi Smash, we were everywhere and flying all over the world. That’s the one thing about being a punk rock band; even before we got signed to Columbia we were big in like Australia, Europe, and Japan so we had to service all of those places. The way I tell it is the truth. For a two year period after Astoria
I literally went home to Santa Barbara was three times and the longest of the three times was five days. It was basically a whirlwind and then when it’s done you feel kinda used. But it was awesome and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was definitely a crazy feeling of not being in control of what is going on next.
A: Do you have one moment throughout that whole time that sticks out and you remember the most?
M: I don’t, no. I get that question a lot and I wish I did have one moment but there are so many. I loved when we did Hard Rock live and I still see it played on loops. That was really to me an amazing show and I get to see it all the time. Even when I go places, my wife will request it so that kind of thing is super cool. And the fact that they still play “Boys of Summer” ever where, every summertime is awesome too. It happens a lot. I own a big company now and my insurance guy called me yesterday for some business stuff and was reminded of me because he heard “Boys of Summer”. So that one moment, I mean I’m so lucky and blessed in this life because there is a thousand. I hate to be cheesy but I’m so stoked to get a chance to be able to do it again. This tour unlike ten years ago I am really trying to savor because this could be it for us, we are not sure what we are gonna do after this. I have my other band and we have a schedule, we are making a new album, we are going to Australia and then to Europe next year. I would love to do this more but for now I’m just in the moment. Like this is a perfect example. In Versus the World I get to play the House of Blues in L.A but when we are in Chicago we are at a Reggies level and we don’t get much higher than that here. So to get to come back here this one was a big one I was looking forward to because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to play House of Blues Chicago ever again. I’m forty-five, I’m getting old so you never know you know what I mean?
A: On So Long, Astoria or even any album, which song are you most proud of?
M: I’m most proud of, it’s on So Long, Astoria, and it’s my most proud song in The Ataris, I have some Versus the World ones we have two albums which are amazing, but in The Ataris I’m most proud of “The Hero Dies in this One”. I wrote the basic structure of that song. I usually write one song for every Ataris record. I would always write but maybe only one of my songs was good enough to make it. So when I brought that song to the table, the basic riff that started it, the guys all started pitching in so we wrote that song together as a band so it’s one of my favorites to play live.
A: Awesome! So you seem pretty stoked to be doing this reunion tour…
M: Totally stoked yeah!
A: So whose idea was it?
M: The first guy to bring it up and even make it something to talk about was my drummer Chris. Chris was the one that was probably the most angry about how things went down in the end. I had Versus the World so I was kinda ready for a change; I’m all about mixing up life like that. After Astoria
, as an artist Kris Roe, who is the artist in the band, he didn’t want to play punk rock any more so the one album The Ataris have released without me since that time was very indie rock and not well received but he was writing those songs while I was still in the band and I wasn’t into that. I felt like I needed a change just like everybody did and I started Versus the World where we were playing most like Rise Against, heavier stuff but still pop punk. That’s what I was hoping The Ataris would do but that wasn’t happening.
So Kid (Chris) was pissed and we didn’t talk to Kid for like five years. But he came to me because Versus the World tours around and I started seeing all the guys. I say it like this. We have been split up for ten years and for the first five years we were pissed at each other. We were angry that something was so big, so awesome, so great didn’t work out and we all went these different ways. The next five years, these five years, we really missed it. We missed each other as people, we missed each other as a band, and we missed playing with each other. So Versus would go around and Kris Roe lives in Phoenix and he would jump up and sing a song with us, I’d go through San Francisco where Chris Knapp lives and he would come out to the show or New York where John (guitar) lives and he’d come out to the shows. So I was always the mediator in the band but it was Chris who approached me and asked what I would think about doing a reunion. I was like are you serious because I wouldn’t even broach the other guys unless you said something but he thought he could push everything away. People are all different and he’s one of these people that have a hard time getting over things but time heals all wounds. Kid hit me up and I went to John and then I went to Kris and we all started talking about it. So it took about two years. It took a year to say “Yeah let’s do it” but now we all have these different lives. I have business and another band, Chris Knapp has an awesome business, John has a recording studio in New York, Kris Roe does acoustic all over the world so then it took us another year. Not only is this tour a month long but we wanted to sound fucking killer like we have been together all these years so we rehearsed for two months to get this tight. So to find three months of your life when four people are doing different things is super hard but we finally got it together and that’s what this is. Honestly they wanted this to start a year ago but it took us a year to really get it together and get on the same page but here we are. It’s been awesome, it’s been incredible. It’s like being able to have sex with your old girlfriend and being married to somebody else. Like telling your wife “I’m going to go check out my old girlfriend, it’s not a big deal it’s just gonna be one time but when I come back everything’s cool”. You’re not allowed to do that with women but with a rock band, it’s possible.
A: How is your other band (Versus the World)?
M: They are great. We opened every show on the tour up until St. Louis. I just sent them home two shows ago and it’s the saddest thing. I got to play in the opening band and in the headlining band everything night and I loved it. At first I was scared, in all the interviews I did I was like “oh I don’t know. I’m kinda scared playing in two bands in the same show”. I’ve never done anything like that, I know a couple people that have but not really but it was amazing. I was super sad that they had to go. Now my singer in Versus the World, to try to bridge the gap, is on stage with us in The Ataris. He is sort of the comic relief from our four people that where together all that time. We added Donald Spence, he is awesome; he sings for me and plays guitar in Versus the World and he’s such a good guitar player/vocalist that Kris said why not ask Donald to play so he could be more free to sing and let Donald play more of the guitar part. He does these great backups, he’s an amazing singer as good as Kris so it has really opened us up. Honestly I think we are playing better than we have ever played in the history of The Ataris in all the years we did before and a big part of that is Donald. Donald is going to open up acoustic tonight, if they get here on time otherwise Donald’s fucked for tonight but he is going to open up acoustic on the rest of the tour too so it’s been awesome. I get to have both my bands out here and it’s amazing. They both love each other and its super cool. It’s good for Versus the World too because we match really good with The Ataris because that’s my band too so it’s really good to see The Ataris fans that don’t really know Versus get to come out and see us play.
A: Would you ever consider more albums or more tours together?
M: We are talking about it right now. This is something that if you would have asked me at the beginning of the tour I would have told you absolutely not, this is a one-time only thing. Things are going so good that I have asked Kris to move back to Santa Barbara. Kris Roe is having a hard time finishing his new album; he says it’s going to come out every year for like four years in a row. I’m sort of like their older brother/dad like I raised both of those Chrises and being out here with them we really started to get along again. So my goal and I don’t know if it’s going to happen but he’s way into it now, and he might even say it if you asked him because he has been saying it without me even saying it, is to move him back to Santa Barbara where I have always lived and where all of his inspiration came from. Our early records, Blues Skies Broken Hearts, End is Forever, it’s all about Santa Barbara. Where Astoria
is all about L.A when we all moved to L.A, he (Kris) lived in Malibu, he loved those beach towns. I think if I get him back to Santa Barbara with my Versus team of people that are awesome and that he has always worked with since I took all the guys we had worked with in The Ataris and they still work with me in Versus the World. He likes our family vibe and I’m trying to pull him back in. He just went astray for a while, we all needed a break but my goal is to get Kris back to Santa Barbara and get a new Ataris record out by next year whether it I play on it or not I really want that for Kris. But I’ll probably get to play a couple songs.
A: Looking back on the whole career since even before The Ataris until now what is the biggest thing you have taken out of it?
M: There is nothing like the hour and half or half hour. That’s what I tell people. It’s hard to leave my three year old. All my older girls, I have three grown daughters and they all were completely neglected. When I came back they loved their dad but I have given up a lot of my life to play music. It’s (touring) something I can’t tell people not to do. It’s in your heart. There is nothing that feels like it does when I am up there. There is no drugs, no alcohol, I’ve tried them all too, maybe sex but nothing else. It’s something that is so incredible. Whether it was when I was in a band that no one had ever heard off playing to two people or if I get to play to a thousand people there just isn’t nothing like that. I can never shake that as much as I want too. I actually retired from music after The Ataris did their thing and Versus did like two years of tours and I had been touring for thirteen years and I was like I’m done, I need a break. I told everyone I was retired. For three years I started doing this company and started doing well and I was like getting the itch. People were calling me to play in their bands and I was like no no no. My wife told me I should go play which I told her was a dumb mistake because I never do anything like a little bit. It lead all the way up to a new Versus record and we got signed to Pennywise’s label and we have been on tour for like two years all over the world. We have toured Australia, Japan, China now, Europe like three times now so I’m addicted to playing on stage and I think that’s what my soul was meant to do.
A: You have been able to work with many different people a lot of different acts, who do you think is gonna be able to break mainstream wise?
M: That’s a hard question because these days you never know. I knew Fall Out Boy before, they use to come when we played The Metro, The Ataris, they would come into our RV and give us demo tapes. We thought they were hideous. I think they are great now. I think their records are amazing, I love the guys. I just saw them in L.A. a couple months ago and we hung out for a bit at the airport because we had a couple of hours. But that’s just a good example. If you would have asked me that question about Fall Out Boy I would have said no way, never and now look at them. Even Blink 182 if you go back that far. I knew Blink before they had a different drummer before Travis and they were pretty hideous. It was all potty jokes. I don’t like the potty jokes. We tried to be serious in The Ataris, as serious songwriters you do that when you get older. But I don’t know, I don’t have anyone. I couldn’t put that on you. I can tell you I like bands like the Love Ones, Dave Hos an acoustic player. Frank Turner is another one, he’s coming up. That’s the new thing, the singer songwriter. The guy that has a band but he also plays a lot of acoustic guitar, that’s the next big thing. Everyone is playing acoustic guitar. It’s going back to the Bob Dylan to the early 60’s late 50’s almost folk. Versus the World is gonna rule the world though. I’m kidding, I’m just playing.
Amaris: Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us.
Mike Davenport: Thank You, no problem at all.