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Summer Stars: Capital Cities

by Amy Jacques on July 08, 2014

Our annual Summer Stars series features a variety of groups making the rounds on the festival circuit. Today we feature Capital Cities. We've also checked in with The Motet, Twiddle, Darkside, Washed Out and St. Paul & The Broken Bones .

When asked to describe a Capital Cities performance, the band’s co-founder Ryan Merchant is quick to say that it’s “a tasteful blend of live instrumentation and electronic elements, lots of dancing and matching satin jackets.”

He initially met collaborator Sebu Simonian in 2008 via a Craigslist ad when they were both working as jingle writers in Los Angeles. Then, in 2010, they decided to join forces in the writing department and start an indie-electro band, settling on their name during “a desperate brainstorming session chatting online,” Simonian says. “We practiced writing catchy melodies and got better at it,” Merchant adds of how their jingle-writing careers informed their new sound.

Since playing SXSW and releasing their debut album In a Tidal Wave of Mystery last spring, the composers have been traveling nonstop, playing what
Merchant describes as “funky, eclectic and playful” music and Simonian has dubbed “alternative electro funk.” Merchant says that it’s been “difficult at times because we hang out with TSA too often, but also fun on account of the new audiences we get to play for almost every day.” But a highlight was meeting Rod Temperton, who wrote several Michael Jackson songs (“Thriller,” “Rock With You”), in Paris who “gave us a bunch of insight into the songwriting process.”

Capital Cities released their first EP independently in 2011, which included their catchy, synthy hit song “Safe And Sound” that went viral on the Internet and began getting airplay in Peru. This inspired the group to travel to South America to tour for their newfound audience.

“Performing an impromptu acoustic set in front of 300 fans at Lover’s Park in Lima, Peru on our first trip outside of the U.S.,” is one of Simonian’s favorite
musical moments to date. Following their success abroad, Capital Cities self-funded a promotional campaign and appeared on the airwaves stateside. Capitol Records soon partnered with their indie label Lazy Hooks, and the rest is history. “Safe And Sound” went multi-platinum in several countries and has held spots on the Billboard Hot 100 and alternative radio charts, while the song’s video mash-up of people dancing from different eras and cultures received Grammy and VMA nominations.

In addition to already touring four continents, Simonian notes that they played almost 200 shows in 2013, which “was a whirlwind—fruitful and inspiring,” while Merchant says that “coffee and our brains” have helped the creation process as well as everyday life experiences. Along with Daft Punk, Pink
Floyd and Michael Jackson, they also draw musical inspiration from Jeff Buckley, Air, Joni Mitchell and Shania Twain.

“Some songs take a week to write and some take many years,” he says of the duo’s songwriting and development process. “Regardless of how
long it takes, they are all developed from the layering of idea on top of idea until we both—Sebu and I—are satisfied with the result.”

Simonian adds: “We collaborated in a recording studio for about three years, writing and producing about 15 songs until we felt we had enough to put out an album. We invited some awesome musicians to record on it, and they are now part of the live band.” Bassist Manny Quintero, trumpeter Spencer Ludwig, guitarist Nick Merwin and drummer Channing Holmes round out Capital Cities in the live setting.

The group is “looking forward to our massive arena tour opening for Katy Perry,” on the first leg of her summer tour, says Merchant, as well as “nonstop touring and more music videos.”

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