Capital Cities: Unabashedly Cheery

Peter Imbong

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In town for a series of shows, The LA-based indie pop duo explains why their debut album is bursting with optimism and where they got their sweet moves

CAPITAL CITIES. Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant met through an online ad posted by Sebu   on Craigslist. In 2010, they formed the band. Photo courtesy of MCA Music


MANILA, Philippines – There’s a blazing fire of youthful optimism that runs through all 12 tracks of Capital Cities’ debut album In A Tidal Wave of Mystery. It’s sugary sweet – for some, almost cavity-inducing.   

In their international hit “Safe and Sound,” a blaring trumpet and old-school electronic synth samples usher in the verse, “I could lift you up / I could show you what you wanna see / And take you where you wanna be//.” In “Farrah Fawcett Hair” they gush about all the beautiful things in the world including, but not limited to, solar energy, Nutella, bathrooms with scented candles, and of course, Farrah Fawcett’s actual hair. 

It’s all so random and ordinary, and at the same time, so catchy and effervescent. And that’s exactly the way Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, the duo behind the Los Angeles-based indio electro pop group, want it.

Optimism is a key word, I think, at least when it comes to the message of our music,” explains Sebu, who, together with Merchant and their band, arrived in the Manila last January 10 for a series of performances sponsored by Ayala Malls. 

Jingle writers

Their background, perhaps, best explains why all this is so. It was in 2008 when Sebu placed an ad on Craigslist to look for production work. Ryan, a songwriter, was the only guy who replied. And for two and a half years, the pair worked as jingle writers and wrote songs for other bands, as well. In 2010, they formed Capital Cities. 

“Safe and Sound,” the first single off their debut album, topped several music charts around the world and became an Internet sensation. Its music video won the Best in Visual Effects prize at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

“We don’t think about it consciously,” explains Ryan on the infectious nature of their songwriting. “Even though we were jingle writers for two and a half years, we both started writing music for bands. So first and foremost, we’re singer-songwriters for artistic band projects and the jingle writing thing was something that we kind of fell into.”

He adds, “I think we both had a knack for it because we’re both obsessed with writing interesting melodies. I think jingle writing is very much about coming up with catchy melodies, whether it’s an instrument or a vocal. I think our strengths within the music world kind of lent itself to writing jingles.”

For Sebu, it’s simple: “We don’t try to write music that sells; we just try to write music that’s good. And then if it sells then that means it’s really good.”

But have they tried to write songs of a sad nature? “We did try writing melancholic music and, yes, we did fail miserably,” admits Sebu. “It never went anywhere.”

Performance is another aspect that makes Capital Cities also a joy to watch live. Choreography is something they take pride in, even if their skills, they admit, leave much to be desired. In the music video of “Safe and Sound” for example, they hired choreographer Mandy Moore of So You Think You Can Dance fame to teach them different genre’s of dance. The result, as more than 60 million views on YouTube can attest to, was a hit. 

Watch the video of “Safe and Sound”:

And for those catching their local shows, it’s a good idea, says Sebu, to stretch a bit before the show, bring an extra item of clothing, and prepare for the Capital Cities Shuffle.  “It’s a very simple dance that we try to teach the audience in the middle of our set that we came up with ourselves,” says Sebu. “It’s not very creative but it’s very, very simple.” 

And what’s with the beard? Well, explains Sebu, “[that] came with the genes.”  

Capital Cities performs at Ayala Malls at the following dates: January 11, 2014 at Alabang Town Center Activity Center 4PM, Glorietta Activity Center at 7:00pm; and on January 12 at the Marquee Mall Activity Center at 3:00pm, and Trinoma Activity Center at 7:00PM. In A Tidal Wave of Mystery by Capital Cities is available at Astroplus, Odyssey Music & Video, and Fully Booked, or download online via iTunes.

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