After a two-month tour of mainland Europe followed by a bare-bones jaunt through England, you’d imagine the Ataris frontman (and sole original member) Kris Roe might be, if only slightly, dreading a summer-long stint with the Vans Warped Tour. After all, that’s a lot of shows on sun-beaten blacktop across the U.S. Still, Roe says he can’t complain. He knows his life is amazing, and he insists he never takes it for granted.
And no matter how many times Roe sings a tune he’s written—even one that’s 20 years old—he often finds himself onstage smiling, sometimes getting choked up. You can hear the emotion in his voice, which has matured and gone gritty, as evident in last year’s rocked-up and acclaimed October in This Railroad Earth EP. Fascinatingly, Roe, 40, wrote the six songs back in the ’90s, before the Indiana-spawned Ataris cinched mainstream success with a 2003 cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.”
“I’d written [the Railroad Earth songs] when I was 14, and the way I sing them on the EP is how I imagined them as a kid,” Roe reveals during a recent phone chat with Vegas Seven, ahead of Warped Tour’s June 23 stop at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
You could easily make the case that the Ataris’ current performances of old chestnuts such as “In This Diary” and “San Dimas High School Football Rules” are—dare I say it—more forceful than and much improved over the original recordings. With a set featuring mostly favorites, the Ataris are more than happy to give fans what they want to hear.
“These days I try to build on the songs I wrote when I was younger, rather than change them,” Roe says. “I keep them true to my original intent, but I also work to make them more powerful.”
Power has always been an aspect of the Ataris’ punk-pop sound. Another adjective you might apply to the Ataris? Uncompromising.
“I think it’s great where we are in our career,” Roe insists. “It’s good to be the underdog. You know when I’ve been happiest? Not when the Ataris were on the radio every five minutes. I’m happiest when we’re DIYing, packing our own merch, driving ourselves to shows. If I really had wanted to go further, I would’ve had to compromise, and I only compromise with people I respect—my band, my wife. But I’m content to play for several hundred to a thousand people every night.
Vans Warped Tour
June 23, 11 a.m., $35, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, vanswarpedtour.com/dates/las-vegas