Air Traffic, from the windy coast of Bournemouth, UK, may be poised as the new Coldplay or Keane in British press (and have also been more creatively referred to sounding like “Supergrass covering Little Richard” in NME), but don’t let that piano and incredible octave range of frontman Chris Wall fool you. This band’s debut album, Fractured Life, has more than its fair share of sublime surprises and well-wrought, addictive tunes. Perhaps all those random air traffic signals the band had dealt with while rehearsing near an airport in their early days had served as unique inspiration. Singer/pianist Wall reveals more of the band’s (not so) secret history as they get set to trek across the U.S. on their upcoming spring tour.

Since piano is an integral part to most of your songs, was it tough when you were first starting out to sort out that instrument when playing in smaller clubs (before the days of having your own soundman)?
I wouldn’t say that the piano is any more difficult to engineer than anything else, to be honest, it’s probably easier than guitar/vocals because, being digital, it doesn’t feed back. But playing in the early days without a sound engineer is really tough. We didn’t really think about it at the time but the sound guy is totally in control of how you sound… it almost doesn’t matter how well you play if you have a bad soundman.

Chris, you’ve got quite a voice as well. How long have you been singing? Were you one of those tiny kids who loved to show off to your parents’ friends and family during holidays, singing all the holiday hits? Were your parents the ones who first led you to play the piano?
I was one of those tiny kids who sang, apparently, but I was really shy. In fact I stopped singing because of a comment my first ever teacher made about my singing to my parents… she said it made her cry. I was so embarrassed I stopped singing until I was about 15. I really owe that to my friends who I hung out with down at the beachhut. They really encouraged me to play (guitar) and sing when they realised that the girls loved it! But that’s what gave me my first taste of singing live and the rush I felt from it. My parents never pushed me into doing anything, if they had I would have certainly lost interest being stubborn as I am. But they did buy a keyboard (it was for my Dad) and encourage me when I took a liking to it.

Do the Coldplay/Muse comparisons your band gets flatter or annoy you?
A little of both… It’s flattering because I’m actually a big fan (Showbiz was the first album I actually fell in love with, and Parachutes was my favourite album when that came out). But it’s annoying when I think people are purely making the comparison on the strength of one or two songs (of ours), or purely on the fact that we have a piano. Maybe it’s just annoying because we hear it all the time! I don’t want to be known as a second rate Coldplay (or a first rate for that matter!), I want to be Air Traffic.

How did you hook up with the Astralwerks label in the US?
Well, we’re signed to EMI worldwide, so it was always going to be them or Capitol. But Astralwerks really appealed to us because of it’s kind of indie mentality. We’re very happy to be with them, they’re a really great bunch of people.

Is there a main songwriter in the band or do all come up with initial ideas for songs and work on them from there?
Everyone throws ideas in really, and we structure them together… most of the initial ideas on Fractured Life are mine, and some are David’s. Occasionally, I write a whole song and it’s just okay as it is. I write most of the lyrics.

Your song “Charlotte” is undeniably instantly addictive and catchy. But let’s talk about that chorus of “Your face, my place…” How did you have the guts (or should I say the balls) to jot that line down and keep it for the song? I’m sure your lady friends wouldn’t love that line used on them (joking).
They love it. ha! No… I’ve never used a line like that. Er… we kept it because we were thought it was funny. I wish we could go back to the time before we were signed, just to write. I don’t know if we’d do that now because we know people are going to be listening. Writing was definitely easier when there was no attention because we were less inhibited.

Were you guys all school friends in Bournemouth before you formed the band or did you have to run ads in local papers to complete the band lineup?
Tom and David were school friends. Jim went to their school but never really knew them. And I’d never met any of them before Air Traffic. We did have to find Jim when our bassist at the time left… but it was actually an online ad that he answered (no surprise there!) and it wasn’t untill he arrived at my house that the guys realized they already knew him. Weird.

You’ve already done quite a few big budget videos for “Charlotte”, “Shooting Star”, etc. When the day comes to shoot the videos, is it a chore or do you guys like hamming it up for the camera?
We love it. You can’t deny that a day of EVERYONE focusing on (and fussing over) you is fun! They are long days, and hard work, but it’s usually a laugh. I tend to really like the filmy type people too.

I don’t know if the US release is going to have the track, but the hidden track on the UK version of Fractured Life is a song called “Pee Wee Martini”, which I’ve read is an homage to the dog who won the 2nd place in the ugliest dog contest here in the States. Do you guys all own pets at home and would you ever want to take a dog on the road as a mascot?
I’ve never had a pet, but I really love dogs. I would LOVE to have a ‘tour dog,’ and i’ve actually thought about it a lot!! But it wouldn’t be fair… touring is tough and ugly, and no place for animals (except David, ha!).

–Madeline Virbasius-Walsh

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  2. [...] Air traffic signals and melody Air Traffic, from the windy coast of Bournemouth, UK, may be poised as the new Coldplay or Keane in British press (and have also been more creatively referred to sounding like â