By SELENE SAN FELICE
Capital Cities’ hit “Safe and Sound” has been used in just about every ad campaign possible since the band’s start in 2013, which is fair, since the duo started out writing jingles for commercials. Three years later, they’ve just dropped a music video for their new single“Vowels.” Before duo Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant will be in Tampa for Next Big Thing fest on Saturday, Merchant (pictured right) had a few things to tell us.
You met Sebu by responding to his ad on Craigslist offering production services. Were either of you afraid of who you’d meet through Craigslist, and did you encounter any interesting characters?
Ryan: I’ve had lots of interesting experiences through Craigslist. Back in its heyday I found roommates through Craigslist, I met musicians through Craigslist…I definitely met some bizarre people. Usually if someone writes well, I can get a sense from their emails and the way they express themselves through words if they’re gonna be normal or not. I got a good sense from Sebu and I saw his website and it all seemed legit.
Tell me about the three years you spent jingle writing together after that ad. Why not just start a band right away?
R: I had gone to this recording and engineering school in Los Angeles and I had to do an internship in the end, so I interned for a month or two at this music house that did TV commercial music. They said, “Hey, if you wanna compose for us, you can start writing. We’re not gonna pay you right now, but you can learn.” So I started doing that and Sebu and I met around that time. We started collaborating on these jingles and we won this pretty substantial Walmart campaign, and then we started getting paid for it. We became this go-to jingle writing team that specialized in writing songs that sounded like they came from bands. A lot of times commercials will ask you to write something like an acoustic song, and electronic song or a country song. In that process we wrote a lot of cool music that was more stuff that we thought could work for us as a band, so we started Capital Cities around “Safe and Sound.”
It was an easy transition then?
R: Yeah it was. Our goals were always to be in bands. The jingle writing thing was like a kind of side road we both went down to hone our chops and to make some money doing music. It got us in this really creative mode because we were working every day just doing jingles all the time and we were getting better and better and better. The more you work on stuff the more creative you become, I think.
What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
R: If I had to pick one experience I’d say South Korea was really interesting. We played a club show in Seoul, Korea, and I had no idea what to expect with the Korean crowds. It was probably one of the most memorable shows in terms of the audience just being in tune with the music and knowing every single lyric of every single song. I found it strange because Korean is just such a different language than English. So that was a notable show we played a couple years ago.
When Zootopia came out this year I couldn’t help but think of your video for “Kangaroo Court,” and how Capital Cities did it first. Your video used the same concept to show our society’s race problem through “people as animals,” only way darker and completely pessimistic. Do you have any thoughts on the context of “Kangaroo Court” today?
R: It definitely resonates. We’re never going to eradicate racism. I think it’s just a byproduct of human nature at times. But I think the more people become personally enlightened, either through travel or having experiences with people and kind of cracking beyond the surface, then the less conflict there will be. In the music video we weren’t trying to make this grandiose statement about the world or anything. We were just trying to make this interesting story that had a dark side to it. I would say it resonates today and I have a feeling it will resonate for many years to come as human conflict continues.
As we speak Donald Trump has just been chosen as our next president. How do you feel about performing at a festival in Florida of all places after this election?
R: As far as playing a show there and what that’s going to entail, I don’t think it’s going to affect our show in any way. And it’s not like I have any ill will towards Florida or anything. Thoughts regarding the situation: I think this election presented two pretty bad candidates. I’m personally an independent. I didn’t vote for either, so my view is that both candidates are corrupt in their own distinctive ways. I don’t really know what’s going to happen, but I tend to be pretty optimistic of the resilience of the United States. I’m hoping that Trump surprises people and does some good things, but we shall see.