Dave Munro was keenly aware of Air Traffic Controller's music that had connected favorably with fans and media outlets such as Filter, the Guardian UK and the Boston Globe, the newspaper that pegged the band as "a brightly glowing Ferris wheel of musical romance." Those positive reactions to their album "NORDO," Munro decided, would not become limits.
"The song 'You Know Me' on 'NORDO' made me want to write more duets (with Casey Sullivan) so I kind of made the decision before I knew how people would respond," Munro says of his initial writing ventures that raised Sullivan's profile in the band. "Casey has become such an important part of the band and I think it keeps people guessing what we're going to do next."
Air Traffic Controller, which Munro started in Boston after a stint as an air traffic controller in the Navy, has approached its third album, by expanding the palette with more ballads, more electronic embellishments and more combinations of male-female vocals. It came about through more collaborations in the songwriting between Munro, vocalist-bassist Sullivan, multi-instrumentalist Steve Scott and producer Bleu, who has shepherded all three of the band's albums.
Buzz Bands LA was among the first to praise the band's evolution, noting of the new track "On the Wire," "Sullivan comes forward as the lead vocalist, adding a dreamy overtone to the band’s already-exuberant sound. Her voice beautifully soars over a handclap-friendly beat, sparkling guitars and hypnotizing synths."
"It has a more serious tone and shows an evolution in the writing process, different takes on topics," says Sullivan. "Everyone in the studio has a voice and I love the fact that everyone has a puzzle piece they put in that fits really well."
Munro sees the new collaborative spirit as allowing darker elements in alongside the bright hues of their rock music that has earned comparisons to Of Monsters and Men and Florence and the Machine. He says the new music is "trying to maintain our vibe and style, but also reach for a different sound. People expect my 'everyday guy' kind of writing. Hers is brilliant - more poetic and leaving more to the imagination."
ATC's material bubbles over with a variety of approaches to relationships. The effervescent love song “What You Do To My Soul,” the rhythmically and chorally layered “Water Falls” and the enchanting “Are You With Me” exemplify the unique power of Air Traffic Controller's music, energetic with an aura of hope, never cloying or forced. The epic “Warrior” unfolds in a gloriously cinematic fashion, starting with Sullivan singing about perseverance over wordless humming as the
song builds and ebbs through dynamic percussion and string sections.
ATC and producer Bleu spent a year off-and-on in (Grammy Award Winning) Ducky Carlisle's Ice Station Zebra Studio outside Boston recording and writing the dozen tracks that appear on the album. Early in the process, they were so pleased with the outcome of "The House" that they released it immediately online. It soared into the CMJ top 20 radio airplay chart.
Soon thereafter, they released "People Watching," which Munro says is the one track on the album that he, Sullivan, multi-instrumentalist Steve Scott and producer Bleu created from scratch. Otherwise, Munro and Sullivan showed up to sessions with lyrics, melodies, titles and chord progressions and let band members and Bleu shape the ideas into songs
"We all have similarly musically open minds," says Scott, the band's guitarist whose role as string arranger has been ramped up on the new album. "We've been using some strings since the beginning and our ears have become attuned to string treatments. Casey has a song, 'Island' that was really just her acoustic guitar and we added this really neat string quartet. Other songs, when they start to get big and epic, we add something orchestral as well."
Even without a label deal, Air Traffic Controller has made considerable inroads in getting exposure. ATC was invited to perform at the first Billboard Hot 100 Festival in the summer of 2015 where they shared the main stage with Justin Bieber and The Weeknd. Their track "You Know Me" has received over 6 million plays on Spotify; Bose, Target and Best Buy have licensed their songs for promotional projects; and they have placed syncs on a dozen-plus TV shows. ATC has toured the U.S. and England and played shows with acts such as Joshua Radin, Kongos, Catfish & The Bottlemen, and J. Roddy Walston & the Business.