Interview + Review: Air Traffic
By Ali Trachta in Arts & Entertainment on May 20, 2008 6:30PM
“See that’s what I love about playing in America,” said a smiling Chris Wall, lead singer of British rock band Air Traffic while on stage at Reggie’s Rock Club Sunday night. “You get that...’whoo!-whoo!’ sound. You just don’t get that in England.”
Currently taking the UK by storm, Air Traffic normally fills venues across the pond that hold a few thousand people. The band played to a crowd of maybe 50 that night, but that handful of people should consider themselves lucky. We doubt they’ll ever have the same up-close vantage point again once word gets out about these four young blokes.
The members of Air Traffic grew up in the resort town of Bournemouth in England. “I was sort of out of the picture,” Chris told us in a sit down with the band, “because I didn’t go to the same school as them.”
Guitarist Tom Pritchard and drummer David Ryan Jordan were already playing together before joining up with the others. Tom explained, “Me and Dave went to high school together, as you say over here. We call it secondary school. We were in a band for a while, then we played a gig with a band that Chris was in, and we kind of poached him from that band.”
When asked how one really goes about poaching a lead singer, Tom elaborated, “Well he wasn’t really in a proper, serious band with the whole goal to go and, you know, take over the world. And the band that me and Dave were in, they weren’t really up for that either. So it sort of split our band up, and then we poached Chris and started a new band. And then Jim [Maddock] joined because we needed a bass player.”
The foursome began making music together and eventually put two of their songs, "Just Abuse Me" and "Charlotte," on a double-sided single for release together. They printed 500 copies, and were surprised when all had sold within a few days.
Tom told us, “We hadn’t released anything before so to go from nothing to having a single suddenly on the radio and selling out in shops and stuff…it was pretty cool.”
With that fuel in their fire, the band continued to write songs and tour all over the UK. Their first big break out of the small venue scene was a gig at the Borderline in London’s Soho neighborhood. There they played in front of a few hundred and had their first taste of making it big. Since then their audience has only grown, spanning the UK and migrating throughout the rest of Europe. The culmination of all their work came in the 2007 release of their debut album, Fractured Life.
So their gig at Reggie’s was a bit back to their roots, considering the mobs of screaming fans were nowhere to be found. But the band scaled back nothing in the way of performance. Their enthusiasm could be felt all the way to the back of the room, filling the whole place with an upbeat, raucous vibe.
Dave told us, “For me personally, a gig’s a gig. If people are there to listen, and you’re on the stage playing, I don’t really care. As long as people are listening.”
Chris in particular was like a mad scientist hunched over the piano, rapidly working his magic across the keyboard. His voice, which hits impressive falsetto notes, can be hauntingly melancholy at some points and entertainingly poppy at others, but is always met with spectacular control. Anything but a one-note band, Air Traffic demonstrated tremendous versatility and skill within their music that showed prowess well beyond their years.
One would think this group of early 20-somethings that shows such creative brilliance must have their songwriting down to a science. Not so much. When pressed to explain their creative process, they were at a loss for specifics.
Chris told us, “[The writing process] sort of varies song to song. I don’t really know. You just start with an idea, and sometimes it’s part of something and sometimes it’s a whole concept for a finished song. And then we play it, and practice over and over again and everything just falls into place. It’s a bit hard to explain. It changes every time. I write the lyrics, so I write the melody I suppose...because I just sing it.”
What they may lack in their ability to articulate their process actually speaks volumes to their talent, considering their songs, many of which are profoundly evocative, are being created organically without the crutch of a proven formula, and little consideration paid to mass appeal or marketability.
Chris continued, “We just write whatever we want to write. We don’t need to say what our music is. That’s for people to fucking argue about amongst themselves. We just make the music that we want to make...if we didn’t like the way it sounded we wouldn’t play it.”
Air Traffic will continue to play gigs in the United States until the end of this month, gorging on what Jim calls a “malnourish American diet,” then head back to Europe where they’ll end their tour. They plan to be back in Chicago in September, although the venue is yet to be determined. Between now and then we predict these four young talents will have rounded up plenty of local fans, and the band will be drowning in all the “whoo! whoo!” they could possibly hope for.
Top photo: From left, Jim Maddock - bass, Chris Wall -vocals/piano, David Ryan Jordan - drums, Tom Pritchard - guitar.
Bottom photo: The type of crowd Air Traffic draws in the UK.