Dave Munro’s U.S. Navy career has impacted his current role as frontman for Air Traffic Controller in more ways than one.
The name of his Boston-based pop-rock group reflects what he did while serving in the Navy for almost six years. And during that time, he also picked up a few skills and behaviors that have come in handy as a bandleader.
“I guess when you’re in the military, you learn not to complain,” singer Munro says in a recent phone interview that also includes bandmates Casey Sullivan and Steve Scott. “I think people in the band might see me as someone who doesn’t really complain much. Is that even accurate?”
“Most of the time,” says Sullivan with a laugh. “We always joke about how Dave will have things falling apart around him, and he’ll be like, ‘Everything will be fine.’ It’s a good way to be the leader of a band because it chills everybody else out.”
“There’s a team spirit that comes along with being in the military and all the divisions you have, whether you’re marching in boot camp or you’re in a control tower talking to airplanes,” Munro adds. “There’s very much a team model in progress, and I think being in a band is the same way. When you’re on the road together or in the studio together or onstage together, everyone is trying to get the job done. But it’s way more fun being in a band than it is being in the military.”
That team concept extends to the creation of the music. The credits for Black Box, the third Air Traffic Controller album, list Munro and Sullivan as the primary songwriters, but the other band members — as well as a cast of friends — play important roles in shaping the end results.
“Their song structures, words and melodies really are a very strong skeleton for the song, and in a lot of ways probably suggest where the song should go,” explains multi-instrumentalist Scott, a co-writer of two songs on Black Box. “But there are so many crazy directions that some of the songs can take, whether it’s electronic [sounds], strings or orchestra stuff.
“If Dave or Casey show me something,” he adds, “I like to create some kind of demo because that’s how I’m best at formulating my ideas. But when we go into the studio, it’s really important for me — and pretty much everybody — to not get married to these ideas. If your idea gets on there, great, and if it doesn’t, that’s OK, too. As long as everybody in the [extended ATC] family takes that mentality, that’s when things are most successful because it’s all about making the songs great.”
Just like with 2012’s Nordo, William James McAuley III, better known as Bleu, handled the production for Black Box. Crowdsourcing did not play a part in making the new album, though.
“It was definitely fun getting everybody involved that way,” says Munro, referring to the Nordo Kickstarter campaign, which saw 150 backers pledging more than $12,000. “It did take a while for us to record this album because we did it in sections, but it seemed to be happening so fast that we almost didn’t have time to do a Kickstarter campaign. We would have been faking it: ‘Help us create this album — even though we’re almost done.’ Doing a Kickstarter is such a great thing, but it’s really like having another job, just managing that. You’re promoting every day.”
Being able to “walk on our own as a band,” says Munro, is another main reason why ATC passed on crowdsourcing support for Black Box.
“Before we recorded Nordo, we literally had no money, and we couldn’t have done it without crowdsourcing,” he says. “This time around, with the amount of touring that we were doing and just getting our music out there, because of the people who contributed to making ‘Nordo,’ we were able to make the money to do another record.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Air Traffic Controller on tour (schedule subject to change):
May 17: Branch Line — Watertown, Massachusetts
May 21: Mercury Lounge — New York
May 23: IOTA Club & Café — Arlington, Virginia
May 25: Local 506 — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 26: Exit/In — Nashville, Tennessee
May 29: Smith’s Olde Bar — Atlanta
Air Traffic Controller photographed in March 2016 in Austin, Texas, by Chris M. Junior