Probably not many. Air Traffic Controller, or ATC, is fronted by Dave Munro, who was born and raised in the Salemwood neighborhood of Malden and graduated from Malden High School.
I met with him recently at Hugh O’Neill’s in Malden Square, a fitting place for our conversation. As he sipped on a bourbon-beer he was curious about, an Irish band played (loudly) in the background. Munro’s older brother, Jeff, still lives in Malden and he organizes the Wednesday Open Mic nights here and books the bands that play on Thursday nights.
Munro is an affable and thoughtful guy. He apologizes for running late for our meeting and when he arrives he warmly greets the waitress as they chat about his brother and what’s been going on at Hugh O’Neill’s. As the band’s name would suggest, Munro actually worked as an Air Traffic Controller for six years– first in the Navy, then in the civilian arena. All the while, he kept busy during his downtime composing songs in his head and recording them on a four-track recorder.
He has no formal music training per se, but he watched and learned from his older brothers who were both in bands throughout high school, and started jamming with friends in basements. He took music classes in middle school, sang in school chorus and played trumpet in a concert band well before he started to pick up the guitar on his own, and he participated in Malden High’s yearly “Junior Varieties” show, a tradition that continues to this day. Munro’s major musical influences include Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, and the Beatles.
Munro passed along the demos he had recorded while serving in the Navy to a friend of his, who in turn sent them to LA-based musician and producer Bleu, who agreed to work with Munro on developing and producing his songs and eventually went on to produce ATC’s first two albums. When Munro returned from Puerto Rico where he had been serving, he and his brother Richie build a recording studio and worked on their music in full force. ATC has played in clubs all over Boston and also tour around the country in smaller venues. ATC ‘s two albums, The One and Nordo, are available on ITunes, Pandora, Spotify and other popular online music apps, and they are hard at work on their third, as yet untitled new album, expected to be released sometime in 2015.
ATC’s current lineup has been going strong since 2010 and is comprised of Munro, singer/songwriter and guitarist, Casey Sullivan on bass and female vocals, who is also co-writing songs and lead singing on the upcoming album, Steve Scott on lead guitar/keys/arrangements, and Dave’s older brother Richie Munro on drums. Several musicians have performed and recorded with ATC, Munro names string players Jeremy Van Cleave, Alison Shipton, Kiara Ana Perico, and David Wong, as well as drummer/percussionist Seth Kasper being some key players to the band’s work and success.
While Munro no longer lives in Malden, he visits regularly to spend time with his brother, sister and parents who all still live here. Munro also maintains strong connections with many of his friends from Malden High.
The musician’s hometown roots and experiences can be heard and felt throughout much of ATC’s music, particularly in their newest single, “The House,” about just that—-high school friends hanging out and playing music in Munro’s house in Malden which served as a sort of default hangout for their crowd. “It was so crazy, our house–even if it wasn’t your house, everybody knew about that house. We’d have people over there until the wee hours and we’d be like, ‘let’s make a movie, and we’d edit a whole movie on the camera, and they were good,'” he says and laughs. “I love doing that with songs sometimes, to talk about growing up, where can I just kind of talk about something that everybody knows exactly what I’m talking about.”
Munro attended Holmes Elementary and Beebe Middle School. He muses about some of the changes he’s seen over the years that have taken place in Malden—the increasing cultural diversity and the plethora of ethnic restaurants, and the construction of new apartment buildings that attract young professionals and students, drawn to Malden in part for its easy access to downtown Boston. He notes that by the time he was in high school, there was already a noticeable demographic change in Malden.
He remembers a diverse student body and a staff that supported those changes well. Munro recalls that his grandparents were proud to say they went to Malden High, and notes that “maybe it’s because of the newer generation but I think Malden has become more welcoming and aware in general.” When he visits his hometown, he enjoys eating at All Seasons, Hugh O’Neill’s, Joti Palace and Exchange Street Bistro.In terms of the local (or lack of) music scene, Munro feels Hugh O’Neills is one of the only venues to catch local bands as well as new talent at their open mic nights. He adds that perhaps offering live music every night there would be a good idea and might attract more Maldonians, but it’s more of a dance club on Fridays and Saturdays. Live music followed by the usual dance party could be a cool scenario, like some bars in Cambridge do it. He notes that some music venues in Malden have closed in recent years–places where ATC has played, including No 9 Ale House, now home to Ferry St. Food and Drink, and the now defunct Avenue C.
“I think Malden center has the potential to become a real, thriving downtown square like Davis in Somerville,” Munro says. He adds that the location of City Hall hampers Malden Square’s potential to be a more thriving downtown community. He feels that perhaps as the community continues to diversify and attract a younger population, the demand and interest in a local music scene could follow, and that more coffee shops would be a welcome addition. But in the meantime, people probably tend to travel to Boston, Somerville and Cambridge to hear live music and many Maldonians may simply prefer to go out in Malden.
Munro is excited about the new year and releasing the next chapter of ATC music to loyal and enthusiastic fans. As the band finishes recording, they are also planning their next US Tour, all while balancing their busy lives as a band constantly pushing themselves to reach the next level.
Despite ATC’s success, music is not Munro’s bread and butter. He has a day job that he prefers not to specify and he’s thrilled to be able to create music and play for enthusiastic and loyal fans. One of the most meaningful live ATC shows he remembers, both personally and professionally, was when they played for Marine troops about to deploy to the Middle East last August in the hot desert in Southern California.
“It would be a little pompous of me to say like, yeah, we’re the Malden band, everybody knows us, but we probably are the only band to come out of Malden in a long time,” he adds.
A hometown boy playing at a beloved local institution where his older brother books the bands? Sounds like a perfect way to bring his music back to Malden. — Natalie Hill