One listen of Air Traffic Controller’s latest album, Echo Papa, and you’re hit with a catchy electric pop-infused sound that comes packed with a bold rock and roll spirit. The EP’s lead single, “After Party,” combines an addictive riff with a deeper message, making the whole thing a recipe for musical greatness. Boston-based frontman Dave Munro explained what it was like getting ATC off the ground in a recent interview with AXS.
The former Navy air traffic controller, who used to play music from his barracks, discussed how this onetime hobby turned into a career. His collaboration with singer/songwriter Casey Sullivan made ATC a sensation with live audiences upon his return home, and now with members Steve Scott, Adam Salameh and Adrian Aiello, the band’s evolving sound has fans across the country excited for what’s next.
AXS: Can you tell me more about how you first forged together with Casey?
Dave Munro: My brother hosted an open-mic night in my hometown and people would come from all over. Casey was a couple of towns over and she would come in and play her songs. I just became a fan of hers. That’s all it was for a while. She would come to my shows, I would go to her shows; I eventually turned one of my songs into a duet so she would sing with me. By the time I called her up on stage a dozen times, she was finally into the idea of joining the band.
AXS: Can you tell me a little bit about your album evolution so far?
DM: The sound seems to change a little, especially from the first record where you can hear that it was just me, my influences and [my producer] Bleu, along with my musical friends and family, including my brother on drums. I think the first record was sort of paying homage to folk and classic rock.
We evolved into more of an electronic experimentation on the second record. We dove further into that on the third. Casey gave us a whole other world of possibilities for Air Traffic Controller’s sound. I had this kind of quirky, storytelling vibe and then Casey’s sort of abstract, poetic side; I think those two characters on a record had a cool marriage in a way.
AXS: Let’s talk about Echo Papa. Can you tell me what went into making the album?
DM: It was kind of the band doing what we always did. This time we were getting into the studio after touring for the past couple of years with two new guys who had become full-fledged members of the band: guitarist Adrian Aiello and Adam Salameh on drums. When it came to making a record it was something we had talked about on the road so much, so going in with that sort of excitement was very refreshing. I felt like we were kind of breathing new life into the band with this new record. We were just going to record as much as we could and basically get started. Then we sort of felt like these seven songs were a complete thought in a way.
On every album, I think the songs are pretty different from each other. And then each album is quite different, too. So, somehow people don’t expect really the same thing from us, which is good. It’s kind of a challenge to always be trying new things, but I think we have the right producer for that. He’s all about just breaking new ground and that’s always been exciting to me.
AXS: Let’s talk more about the song “After Party” and the metaphor. What do you hope fans take away from the song when they listen to it?
DM: We went into it thinking, let’s make a song that’s important, that speaks to what’s going on right now in the world, in the country. This was in January. By the time we finished writing it, we went home thinking that this song was just an idea that didn’t really take shape. That night or the next morning, we called Bleu and said, "Let’s get back in there and try to finish this thing and see what happens." We completed our metaphor idea and the excitement was reborn. But, if that’s not what people take from it, if they don’t know that the song’s a metaphor and they just think that we’re singing about an after party and just diggin’ it, that’s 100 percent okay with me, too.
That’s what music is all about. You can interpret it any way you want. We’ve always wanted to let people draw their own stories from our stories. What means more to me is when people come up to me after a show and they feel like they really connected with the song because of what’s going on in their life. I guess I hope what people take away from it is whatever it may be. And just that they enjoy it. I just want them to feel it. It’s got some cool sounds we’ve never done before. We’ve never done a blues riff. There isn’t a blues riff in the entire ATC catalogue, I’m pretty sure. It does make sense that it’s the single right now because it was kind of one of those moments in the studio. I think we have one or two for every album where we did a thing and we all freaked out.
Air Traffic Controller is currently working on a video for “After Party" and lining up fall tour dates. And, there’s more music in the works. With new ideas and exciting collaborations you can be sure their next record will be as different as the last. If there’s one thing you can expect from Air Traffic Controller, aside from their addictive tunes, it’s the element of surprise. You can head to the band’s website for more and find them online everywhere at ATC music.