Though they would be sure to dispute the term, or even shudder at the mention of it, Versus the World is one of the greatest punk rock super groups to have emerged out of the ashes of the late 90s. With members from The Ataris and Lagwagon, as well as Crooks and Liars, VTW began the experience of time-tested musicians. So given the amount of punk rock wisdom injected into the project, you can imagine the crazed frenzy fans went into when they unveiled plans to release their sophomore album Drink. Sing. Live. Love a massive 5 years after their debut. Feeds caught up with guitarist Mike Davenport (Ex- The Ataris) to better understand the Versus the World universe.
So once we got through the standard back and forth you’d expect when you interview someone with your name, Mike and I got to the nitty-gritty of just how all these accomplished musicians ended up in the same band: “Well, Donald [Spence, Guitar/Vox] and I did a Versus the World album 7 years ago, I owned a record store with The Ataris. I ran it and it was my baby and we had a rehearsal space out back where The Ataris would rehearse, but by that stage the band had gotten so big we were hardly ever in the same space together, everyone was doing their own thing. So Donald and Brian [Charlson, Drums] were these two little punks who worked at the record store, so we started jamming out and we wrote a bunch of songs. The Ataris was doing so well that The Vandals record label, Kung Fu Records, agreed to release the Versus album we had been working on. Well, we didn’t have that name yet, but we played a couple of shows under our old name until The Vandels guys hit us up and said they wouldn’t release the album until we got a better name.”
Though the album was received well, certain things began to act against the project. The other members’ musical commitments began talking off also and The Ataris were constantly on tour; not only that but VTW was yet to lock in a dedicated guitarist. Over the years, the band used a handful of session players for live shows between other touring obligations. But it all got too much. After 13 years on the road with The Ataris, Mike, as he put it, “had had enough…I needed a break. And I think that was a great idea because this next VTW album is the greatest thing I’ve ever done, and it came out of that break. And of course in that time we had picked up a guitar player.” None other than Lagwagon’s Chris Flippin.
His experience in The Ataris had obviously began to take a toll on Mike’s existence, and Versus the World was the perfect opportunity to save his sanity. “This is the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve worked on some pretty great albums. I just really needed that break, I needed to clear my mind from all of the built-up music. We were always throughout one record after another, but with this one we sat back and worked on…We aren’t out to pay the bills on this. That’s what I want to stress. We concentrate on the music when we’re together, not so much the business of being a musician.”
Being in his early 40s and with his fingerprints on a solid 20 years of punk rock history, with no end in sight, we got talking about how age affects your ability to connect with the punk rock ethos; is there an expiry date? “It never dries up, I don’t think. But for the first time, between these two Versus records, for the first time I walked away from music for 2 years. I didn’t touch my guitar for 2 years. I needed the break, I could have done another album, kept the gears moving, but no, I needed time after The Ataris, and I’ll tell you what: the singer from that band, Chris Robe, he had the worst time in the later years of his career getting his new songs done, he’s being way more hard on himself and far more critical than he used to be. But with Donald, he’s at the beginning of that, it’s flowing out of him. I’m just gonna let that keep going.”
So does this mean there won’t be such a long gap between releases? “Ha Ha, yes. This time we won’t be waiting 7 years to release a new album. Donald, like I said, he’s flowing and we’ve already got 6 or 7 songs that weren’t on this release that are ready for the next one. It’s also more the music I want to be writing. Part of the reason I left The Ataris was that by that stage Chris wanted to go more country, but I wanted to go heavier, which is what Versus did for me, so I was able to go: ‘OK Chris, you can go do your stuff, I’m gonna go do this.”
Australia will soon have the privilege of witnessing the collective years of experience held in Versus the World for Soundwave 2013. Having signed to Soundwave’s label 3Wise for the release, the band was always a show-in for the line-up, though this was before it was announced, and Mike played it smooth: “ha ha, well…I won’t rule anything out, let’s just wait and see what happens.” And here we are.
Mike Davenport speaks with nothing but pride when discussing his new baby, Versus the World. Having already contributed to one of the most seminal acts to come from the later pop-punk movement, much like his bandmates, Versus the World is everything you could like about punk, rolled into one not-so-neat, and not-so-little package.