Driving across the vast and open Midwest highway, Air Traffic Controller gets candid in a converted passenger bus that’s now homebase to five musicians. Partially gutted to make space for equipment, this room on wheels is full of inside jokes, the untapped energy of a Frisbee, and a few fireworks the band hopes to break out along the way.
ATC will make their Lowell Summer Music Series debut on July 15, opening for Brett Dennen. The Boston-based indie-pop group has been busy since releasing their new album, Black Box, in March. A cheeky video for breakout single “The House” helped earn the band recognition on notable lists like Billboard’s Hot 100 Fest performers and NPR’s Hot 100 for SXSW. ATC has also landed more than 15 million plays on Spotify.
“You could say (Black Box) is the most upbeat record we have, but there is darkness in the beauty, and still a positive message,” says Dave Munro, the band’s frontman.
Bass guitarist Casey Sullivan lends her talent for songwriting in a big way on the band’s latest opus. Since Sullivan and Munro met following Munro’s leave from the Navy (he was a former air traffic controller while serving in the military), the duo has fine-tuned their craft for writing catchy melodies and clever lyrics.
“I stepped out of my comfort zone and explored (for this record),” Munro says. “We started finishing our songs together, Casey and I.”
The end result of that creative collaboration led to what the band describes as a “darker feeling” in its newest album.
Black Box is deeply symphonic. Both bright and edgy, the band harnesses the enveloping boom-clap of a concert hall in its incredibly catchy, marching rhythms while Munro and Sullivan’s vocals layer perfectly, switching between bouncing, upbeat sing-a-longs to dreamier, after-dark numbers (“Warrior,” “Phantom,” “On The Wire,” “Island”) that have the power to lull you to laid-back places.
But ultimately, listening to ATC’s danceable synth-rock (“People Watching,” “Waterfalls,” “Get It Over With”), reveals a band whose carefree anthems seem to uncork a party. Black Box is an album that will get stuck in your head and have you humming along by the pool all summer long.
For now, Munro says the band is excited with their progress, and has high hopes the current tour will lead to a larger one. ATC is using its time on the road to set the stage for future works.
“We sort of write and record as we go,” Munro says. “We are comfortable with the speed of our writing. There is so much to be influenced by musically, with the stuff we are experiencing right now, that it could help the way we present the next record.”
The band’s busy cross-country summer tour schedule, and opening for Brett Dennen in Lowell, is just icing on the cake.
“We love Brett. We were jumping up and down when we found out,” Munro explains. “We have been listening to him for years on college stations —our favorite stations at home are WERS and The River — we instantly fell in love with his voice.”
Dennen’s lyrics, he adds, hit home.
“It’s the kind of writing that makes you wonder, that you can connect to,” Munro says. “He’s very good with word play, as well as making a thoughtful connection with listeners — something we strive to do.”
Munro says ATC draws musical inspiration from the past and present, listening to local favorites like award-winning Boston singer-songwriter Will Dailey and indie rockers Dirty Projectors, whose frontman, David Longstreth, hails from Connecticut. Legendary greats like Fleetwood Mac, Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon are also in frequent rotation on the band’s playlist.
Music is a constant on and off the road, but between writing new material and busy touring schedules, there usually isn’t much room for other pastimes — like keeping up with your favorite TV show. ATC admits they still have a few episodes of Game of Thrones to catch up on. Without giving away the season finale, we ask the band to pick a song of theirs they’d like to hear in the series.
“Warrior,” Munro says without hesitation. “It’s an exciting song Casey wrote. She brought it into the studio, and it kind of reminded me of Game of Thrones. We even pulled up some ideas from The Hobbit movies.”
Soon the flat and open stretch of highway in front of the tour bus will transform into hills and cities as the band returns east to play more gigs, take in the familiar sights of home, and revisit another guilty pleasure — Dunkin’ Donuts.
The road has its own rhythm, and every stop along the way brings a new story, another adventure.
“I don’t know what it is,” Munro admits. “People are just overwhelmingly friendly wherever we go. I don’t think we look that crazy, but they seem to know we are a band before we tell them.”
Learn more about ATC and listen now at http://www.airtrafficcontrollermusic.com