Air Traffic Controller ready for new heights
It’s been two and a half years since Boston native Dave Munro first turned his musical hobby while serving in the US Navy into Air Traffic Controller’s debut album The One and the band is finally ready to follow-up the first LP’s success with its sophomore record, Nordo. With the CD release party tonight at Brighton Music Hall, Boston Music Spotlight caught up with Munro to discuss Nordo‘s genesis and Air Traffic Controller’s past, present and future.
Boston Music Spotlight (BMS): For Nordo, you returned to producer Bleu, who you had worked with on the first album. Tell me a little bit about how you came together in the first place and what it was like working together the second time around?
Dave Munro (DM): Like many of the great things that can happen in life, the way Bleu and I came together was simply a matter of – asking. I was making demos with my brother in our own studio we built after I got out of the Navy, and our friend Dennis Hennessey, who hadn’t even dreamt of his Sugarpop record label yet, sent Bleu a random email suggesting he consider producing a song. That quickly became two songs, then before we knew it, a full length debut album happened.
To make Album 2, Nordo, I didn’t exactly return to Bleu. He asked me, “When the fuck are we making another record?” He had just launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign and suggested do the same. It worked! Making a record with Bleu the second time around sort of had to happen. It was like he loaded Album 1 in my backpack and said, “now go do stuff with this” and ATC sure as hell did. We came back to him this time with a whole new band and a bunch of big songs. Our first record already took us in ten different directions musically, and still Bleu was excited to aim us in yet a new direction, or maybe several more. I was onboard with the plan.
BMS: How different, musically, is this album from your debut, The One?
DM: For The One, there really was no plan, or even a band! My brother/drummer, Rich, and I met Bleu at Ducky Carlisle’s house to record and we thought, hey let’s call all of our friends over and get them on the album.
However this time, for Nordo, we had the band and a plan. The band included multi-instrumentalist, and high school band director, Steve Scott, who knew he’d be co-writing arrangements for string quartets as well as a full concert band. We were also armed with a committed ATC String Quartet that could play anything we threw at them. They were able to pull off a lot of this material live, which saved us lots of aggravation and studio time. It was a very professional experience, yet it was still a party, and I think it sounds that way.
BMS: What sort of goals did you have in mind for Nordo?
DM: Before we began recording, Bleu said, “we’re going to knock this one out of the park”. I think we approached each and every song with that in mind. Ways we succeeded – recording our string quartet live, recording a 40-piece concert band in a warehouse, getting our fans involved in the experience, carefully choosing the right songs for the record, making it all feel like a cohesive album. My goal for this record was to make it sound like we were in a house, because we were. So we recorded mostly in Ducky’s livingroom, I mean drum room.. I mean everything room.
BMS: How difficult was the process of deciding which songs to keep and which to cut with this album?
DM: Pretty easy actually, we kept everything. We were going to cut a song that was pretty special to me. I said let’s just make it a hidden track. End of debate.
BMS: Is there any one track that is particularly special to you?
DM: Our single “Hurry Hurry” is one that may be considered just a fun pop song, but lyrically it’s my “day in the life”, it’s pretty serious. Beneath all of the joy of this song is someone who’s really taking a toll on himself trying to make something happen. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is put out twelve sad songs for you all. I’m so thrilled that this one turned out to be our catchy single right out of the gate! That just makes it more special because I know lots of people will relate to it. Everyone is hurrying and stressed out. This song is our punching bag, our squeeze toy, our reason to feel like – it’s all kind of fun to live like this isn’t it?
BMS: You’re known for mixing darker lyrics with more upbeat tunes. How do you strike that balance between that sort of content and catchiness of the music?
DM: The main reason I make music is because I want to make people feel something, literally anything. When all you can come up with is dark lyrics, you have to make a decision on who you are as an artist and how you want people to feel when they hear you. There have been a couple times when I’ve written songs and my intention is to make the listener weep hard. But for the most part, I really don’t want to do that. I want people to get up and celebrate. That’s how you grab people’s attention. If I can reach a gigantic pool of people, a good number of them might stop and say – hey this guy speaks the truth, this song is deep. That means the world to me. The catchy hooks aren’t there to hide the message, I just like making catchy tunes. Music should be fun, period.
BMS: You often mix classical instrumentation into your work. What draws you to those types of sounds and compositions?
DM: I truly got into The Beatles around the same time I started playing music. They were boundless, they did absolutely anything they wanted to do with their music. It’s so inspiring. So it’s easy for me to say yes when anyone says – how about we get classical on this piece? It’s even easier when I’m working with geniuses like Bleu and Steve Scott and such brilliant string players in the band.
BMS: The album was recorded and mixed locally. How do you think your Massachusetts roots manifested themselves on this record?
DM: I’ve never been a sheltered writer really. I never sit down in a quiet room with my guitar and write a little ditty. It has everything to do with my surroundings. I write while walking or driving mostly. I live in South Boston and ride the T frequently. I’m surrounded by my fellow Bostonians all the time, and while there are some crazies out there, for the most part, we all get it. This is life in Boston, it’s a little rough around the edges but we like it that way. If you’re not the underdog, you’re at least rooting for the underdog. This city has a rich history, a diverse culture and a lot of spirit, it rubs off on you, that’s how it manifested itself onto Nordo.
BMS: A lot of independent artists are turning to Kickstarter as a way to finance tours and albums. Tell me a little about what led you down that path and why you think it was such a success?
DM: The moment I heard about Kickstarter was the same moment I saw it and believed it. Bleu hopped in my car one day, when we were doing a show together and he said – I just launched a Kickstarter with my fans and they are funding my next release as we speak! Every hour or so he’d take out his phone and say – guess what I just made another couple grand! His campaign was record breaking at the time. Bleu showed me the ropes, gave me some tips, and I was off and running. It was a success because my fans were so passionate, and I stayed with them every step of the way, creating ridiculous airplane graphs, and showing them clips of us in-studio shaving beards, playing pattycakes, inviting them in to sing with us… we really made them a part of the whole album-making experience and they were willing to take a chance with us, they were curious. I think they kind of wanted to hear some more songs too.
BMS: What’s the story behind the “Hurry Hurry” video?
DM: A Canadian filmaker, Gavin Michael Booth, heard the song and felt so connected to it that he just felt he had to do the video. We tossed around a few ideas and he basically said just fly up here and we’ll figure it out. It’s funny, the song is called “Hurry Hurry” and we rushed through the whole thing is just two short days. We drove all around his hometown of Windsor, Ontario enlisting all of his actor friends and shooting in more locations than he’s ever done for one project. When I saw the finished video, I saw things I forgot we even filmed. It was exhausting but a lot of fun. It’s one of those videos, where the video is the lyrics of the song, which I’ve found annoying in other videos, but in this case, I love to see and hear the visuals as the song unfolds.
BMS: You’ve had a lot of TV shows and commercials use your music over the past few years. Has there ever been a sort of “wow” moment for you, hearing your song on the radio or television?
DM: “Beverly Hills 90210″ put a song in an episode, then the following week, we got another song in the very next episode. I mean it wasn’t the old “90210″ with the lovely Brenda Walsh I grew up watching, it was the new series, but it was still fun to tell everyone for two weeks – “Hey listen to ATC on ’90210′ this week!”
BMS: What’s in store for the big CD release show?
DM: We’ve played in so many forms of ATC, but for this, we’re going all out. We’re playing the album in its entirety, as the full band, with our full string quartet, plus an “orchestral surprise” (is it still a surprise if I tell you?), you don’t want to miss this one! The bill includes Boston fave, Will Dailey, new promising Sugarpop band, Nemes (pronounced “knee-miss”) and Berklee’s finest indie rock alums, Friendly People. The event is being hosted by 92.5 The River who has shown so much love and support for ATC.
Air Traffic Controller will perform at the Brighton Music Hall on Tuesday, June 12. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster for $15.