Team Effort

7 August 2012 | 6:15 am | Michael Smith

"[Producer Lou Giordano]'s always been there for me – he’s my bullshit detector."

Originally from Anderson in Indiana, American pop punks The Ataris were always more than a band. Committed to the whole DIY ethos, they set up their own label, Kung Fu Records, and even set up their own record store, dubbed Down On Haley, in Santa Barbara in California. It was in the back of that store long-time Ataris bass player Mike Davenport first got together with some of the store's employees and, in 2005, released the debut album named after the band he formed, Versus The World. A lot of touring followed and eight years and several lineup changes later, the band now also sporting guitarist Chris Flippin from Lagwagon, Versus The World have just released their second album, Drink. Sing. Live. Love.

“We actually went in there to just do an EP,” Davenport, on the line from his office in Santa Barbara, explains, “there” being Playback Recording and Orange Whip studios in his hometown, “and as we started layin' down tracks, we were stoked with what we were doin' so much that we were, like, 'We should really work hard on this instead of just rush somethin' out like we've done year after year [in the dozen years up to 2005, Davenport had recorded six albums with The Ataris as well as the eponymous Versus The World debut]. Let's take our time and see what happens.' And I really think it shows.”

After releasing that Versus The World debut, Davenport had opted to take a couple of years off from that dozen pretty relentless years of recording and touring, and when he finally dusted off the bass, he hooked up, at his invitation, with Flippin in a party band called Cave Mummy that included another former Atari bass player, Marko DeSantis, and that got Davenport back into playing music again.

“I didn't want to tour,” Davenport admits, “I didn't want to record, I didn't want there to be a bunch of pressure, and Chris is the one. It was his whole scheme the whole time to get me to play in Cave Mummy, and while we're in Cave Mummy he's asking whatever happened to that singer [Donald Spence] in Versus The World? 'I loved that – let's do that band!' So we called up Donald, who was playing with Bryan [Charlson, drummer in Crooks & Liars], who'd played live with Versus The World and worked at Down On Haley. So we called them up and said, 'Hey, let's just merge – Flip has this idea about all of us doin' Versus,' and he was right, man.”

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The choice of producer was also an obvious one for Davenport. Thom Flowers had worked as an engineer on the first three Ataris albums, before beginning to become involved with production ideas on their 2003 album, So Long, Astoria, which was produced by Lou Giordano, and Flowers produced the first Versus The World album.

“He's always been there for me – he's my bullshit detector,” Davenport confesses. “He's the one where I'll say, 'I think this'll work,' and he'll say, 'No, it doesn't work; it sounds like a bad '70s riff,' or something – you know what I mean? Thom is our fifth member and it wasn't for him, none of it would sound like this. We all work out the music together, but someone will bring in a riff, and then we'll bring it to Thom and Thom will tear it to pieces, and once he tears it to pieces, we go back, we go back and we work it out, and by the time we've done all that, Donald will be pretty close with the vocals – Donald will come up with all the lyrics and melodies. This band works exceptionally well as a team.”

The album was then mixed by Ian MacGregor, whose CV is certainly diverse, having done the honours on records by All American Rejects on one hand and Katy Perry on the other. “Ian's awesome. He's another guy that came up here to Santa Barbara, did a bunch of interning at Orange Web during The Ataris days, where we recorded The Ataris records, and lo and behold he became a big-time producer, which is awesome because then he's still a fan of mine and he produced our record for not what he charges a Katy Perry or All American Rejects,” Davenport laughs. “He did it as a fan, and that is just an incredible compliment.

“He brought depth [to the mix], and maybe even more. It sounded a little sterile. I think Thom is great at capturing the songs and helping us with the songwriting, but the awesome audio and the mix of the songs, that's all Ian. Thom could have done a great job himself but we really wanted to push it to the next level, and it was Thom that brought it to Ian, so I think they worked together on it. They work together on other projects.”

The album was then mastered by Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Davenport again drawing on his Ataris experience, that band having mastered two of their albums there. “We just wanted this record to have the best of the best, and I mean, we called in every favour we ever had and we used the deal that we hadn't done a record in seven years and we wanted to come back strong and everybody really pitched in. That's why you see so many great names associated with this record. I think once they heard the songs they wanted to be part of it, and that's the vibe we got all the way.”

While Davenport admits that they're at their best live, where they find recording in the studio hard, Drink. Sing. Live. Love. was a record done very much in the now traditional studio sense.

“In the studio is very much us separate. We didn't record this as we did some Ataris records where we would try and track everything together and make it more of a live sound, we did this very studio-like and it came out sounding more live than if we'd recorded live and tried to make it sound that way. So it almost worked out better for us this way and I think it was the team – to be honest with you, the team captured what we were going for.”