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Capital Cities: Keeping pop fun

Capital Cities
Capital Cities
Photo by Jamie McCarthy

The partnership between Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities may be the greatest endorsement for Craigslist ever, but don’t call the Grammy-nominated duo an overnight success, as it’s hard work making pop this catchy and fun.

Yes, fun, something that can be missing among the doom and gloomers and navel gazers of the music world. But for Merchant and Simonian, it’s the only way to fly.

“I think the music industry is cyclical,” Merchant said. “There’s always a time and place for upbeat, fun music, and I think bands that don’t take themselves too seriously and are connected with their audiences and know how to have a good time, those are typically the bands that we’re fans of and that do well.”

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when the Californians’ single “Safe and Sound” became a staple on radio, on commercials, and in cars around the globe. 120 million youtube views can’t be wrong, right?

“When it got a million views we kind of felt like we had made it,” Simonian said. “And we were very excited when numerous blogs had written about us and we would play shows to 500 people and they would sell out. We felt like we had made it. Little did we know that that view count would jump up to 120 million. It’s these little steps, these little milestones that pop up in your career and you’re like ‘wow, I can’t believe we’ve gotten this far.’ And then all of a sudden, you have a new milestone to reach for.”

World domination? That may have to wait, but for the moment they’re not doing too bad. In town earlier this month for an August 6 concert for Depend's "Drop Your Pants for Underwareness" campaign, the duo have seen their 2013 album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, hit #66 on the US charts, and they just finished a run opening for Katy Perry on her latest tour. It was a match made in pop heaven for Capital Cities – not just musically, but philosophically.

“Katy Perry, in particular, has kind of a similar outlook on life and music and the music industry,” Simonian said. “She likes to have fun with her music. She takes her songwriting seriously on the one hand, because a lot of her songs do have these interesting new ideas. But in general, her message is tongue in cheek and she likes to make fun of herself and be silly. That attitude is important to have in general, but especially in the music world. Seeing someone like Katy Perry, who has that same mentality, succeed the way she has, is encouraging to us because we approach life and music in a similar way.”

Not that blowing up youtube and the radio, and touring with one of the biggest pop stars in the world was in their immediate plans when they began writing together.

“We could picture it in our minds, but we weren’t a hundred percent sure that it was actually going to come to fruition,” Merchant said. “But we were always hopeful that we were going to be very successful with “Safe and Sound” and our album, and here we are.”

So what’s the secret?

“Hard work, perseverance, good music, and being blogosphere-savvy,” Simonian said, with Merchant adding, “If you want to go at it by yourself and do it independently, for at least a little while, and have any degree of success, you definitely need to be internet savvy and social media savvy. You have to be able to utilize these tools intelligently if you want to generate any buzz for your music.”

That buzz is there, and while being on the road isn’t as glamorous as movies and television will make it out to be, the duo always seems to be having a good time, whether it’s through their choice of covers, or their high energy live shows. In short, it’s that word again – fun.

“I think we keep the fun in it because every night we’re playing for a new audience and that can be a somewhat unpredictable experience,” Merchant said. “So even though we’re playing the same show basically over and over, it’s always interesting to see how people react and you never know what kind of energy you’re gonna get. I would say that 99 percent of the time the energy is great and that feedback from the audience is what drives us to continue performing. It makes it all worth it.”

Capital Cities is currently on tour. For tour dates, click here

For more information on Depend's Underwareness campaign, click here.

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