By Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator
November 11th will see the release of Air Traffic Controller’s fourth full-length album, Dash. Dave Munro, the frontman of the Boston-area-based band, insists it was a coincidental alignment that the date of the debut is also Veterans Day. But accident or not, it became clear in conversation with him that just like so many elements of the band’s art itself, this one small detail, once magnified, is full of meaning.
Having served as an air traffic controller in the United States Navy, Munro is a veteran himself. These roots, of course, are alluded to in the band’s name. It was while deployed that Munro first sent demos of his original music home. He says that friends and family listened to the CDs he sent back so much that when he returned home and did an open mic in Malden, there were people who knew all of the lyrics.
In talking, Munro uncovered these early beginnings of Air Traffic Controller. He discussed what their latest chapter has been like — breaking down Dash’s lead single “20,” explaining the ideas behind the album, and clarifying the shifting lineup of the group. And he also opened up about his feelings on where the band is headed. As a whole, the chat was somewhat like a mirror to elements of what Veterans Day, too, incorporates: reflecting on the past, present and future.
BIG CHANGES FOR AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER
Since their last release, the EP called Echo Papa, two longtime members have departed from ATC’s lineup. Casey Sullivan (bass and vocals) left the band after a move to California not long after Echo Papa arrived in 2017. Adrian Aiello (guitar) moved on from ATC during the early days of the pandemic after his own relocation to California. He had tried to make it work with remote collaboration at first, Munro said, but it wasn’t comparable to being in the studio together.
With the past several years seeing some major shifts, ATC took to Instagram to introduce (or, in some cases, reintroduce) everyone in the band before promoting the upcoming album. The lineup was presented: Dave Munro (lead vocals), Joe Campbell (bass), Adam Salameh (drums), Bobby Borenstein (guitar), Emi McSwain (keytar, vocals) and multi-instrumentalist Steve Scott.
Borenstein and McSwain are the most recent additions. Each joined ATC soon after graduating from Berklee College of Music, Borenstein in 2020, and McSwain just this last spring.
Lineup changes aren’t the only moving variables that have shaped ATC into the form it’s in now. The members who have continued on in the band have had personal changes— growing families, shifting side jobs, and more. Dash was also the first record ATC did without their longtime producer Bleu. Dan Cardinal, who has worked previously with artists Lula Wiles, Darlingside and Dusty Wright, produced the new album.
Changes like these don’t go unnoticed in listening to the latest sounds from the group. But while so much has changed, much has stayed the same when it comes to the quality of music and the creativity pouring out.
“20” SEES A MORE WISTFUL, LAID-BACK SOUND FROM ATC
The latest single for DASH, titled “20,” takes listeners back to when Munro was 20 years old and deployed. It’s a beautifully introspective reflection on the past. And while it keeps a storytelling structure that feels recognizably Air Traffic Controller, its catchy sound turns heads.
When it comes to ATC song introductions, songs like “Hurry, Hurry” come to mind. The older track pairs a rolling snare drum with an upbeat, high-toned electronic melody. The words that come to mind when listening to the intro of “20,” rather, are groovy, laid-back and cool. There’s even what sounds like a car picking up speed in the first ten seconds. It feels representative of Air Traffic Controller driving in a new era sonically.
“I was someone else,” Munro sings in “20,” emphasizing just how much he has learned and changed since that age. And in the chorus: “I was 20, I just believed, big things were gonna happen to me.” It continues, “Kind of funny, I’d rather dream in the middle of the street.”
Munro explained that when writing the lyrics, he was thinking about how at that age he possessed a “vulnerability yet confidence.” But rather than thinking of it as harmful naivety, he says this song stems from enjoying the feelings attached to his memories.
“You're taking risks and going for it. And that's where I think we all should be, at least when we're 20— just trying to figure it out and try[ing] our best to, to make something work, to make something stick.”
THE THEMES THAT DRIVE DASH
Returning to the topic of constants that have prevailed in ATC’s art despite the many changes, Munro explains: “This is like any ATC record. [There are] going to be moods and stories; tempos that are all over the place. So you're getting more than one note.”
He went on to say that the common theme in most of this album and most of ATC’s entire discography is living life to its fullest.
This very concept is wrapped into the idea behind the album’s name, which Munro said was drawn from a eulogy he heard at a funeral during the pandemic. The person had talked about how a headstone has the date you were born, a dash, and the date you died. And so ultimately, the dash represents your lifespan, the memories made in between. Munro said he was compelled by the idea of the dash, and first jotted it down without necessarily thinking of it as an album name. But the story resonated with the band as well when he shared it. And ultimately, it resonates so strongly with the music they had set out to write.
WHAT’S TO COME FOR AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER
“20” is only a small glimpse into what the rest of the album holds and what is to come for ATC.
Dash will be released on November 11th. Fans will have a chance to hear the news tracks performed live on Wednesday, November 2nd when ATC plays Boston’s City Winery. They also have an upcoming show at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall on November 18th.
Talking about the current lineup, Munro expressed confidence. “ATC is in a good place right now.” It’s clear from this statement, and the thematic threads of everything that Air Traffic Controller do, that they will continue driving forward and living in the moment. We’re excited to cruise along with them.