Posted May 1, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

Capital Cities: It hits them in a flash

Capital Cities
Capital Cities

A L.A. duo with an affinity for the kind of synth pop music that was popular in the ’80s, Capital Cities is currently on tour in advance of the release of its major label debut, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, a terrific collection of infectious tunes that border on electro pop. The group’s Ryan Merchant recently phoned from the road to talk about the album and how he and musical partner Sebu Simonian first met as jingle writers.

What’s it like touring behind an album that isn’t out yet?
It’s been great so far. We’ve played Phoenix, Tucson, Austin, Dallas and Houston. It’s been great. People know us from radio airplay and just word of mouth.

The album sounds great on headphones. Is that intentional?
You know, we obviously reference headphones from time to time, but it’s not something we think too much about when mixing the album. We worry more about how it will sound on a car stereo and on the NS-10 speakers that we use, which are the industry standard.

You released a few EPs but this is your first full-length. Was it hard coming up with enough songs?
It’s an extension of the EPs and we up-streamed all the songs from the EP onto the album. We produced “I Sold My Bed But Not My Stereo” and we put “Kangaroo Court” on there; we had released that on the Internet. The rest are songs that we’ve played live and we just dug into them in the studio and finished producing them.

The single has gotten some great traction. How many TV commercials has it been used in?
I’m not sure what the number is. It’s actually running on an ad in Germany for a telecommunications company called Vodafone. The song is actually number one on iTunes in Germany at the moment. It can be a powerful medium for getting the music out there. It’s like a modern radio format in some ways.

That’s how we work. We get a flash of inspiration in the form of a melody or lyric and then we know when it’s right and continue to develop it.

You guys were both jingle writers. How did those skills translate to writing the album?
They’re very transferrable. When you write for TV commercials, you’re being asked to write in multiple styles and the turnaround is really fast. They want something that sounds like a band wrote the song and not a couple of jingle writers. We were tasked with writing catchy songs. That helped us learn to capture inspiration in a quick, efficient way and then fine-tune it later. That’s how we work. We get a flash of inspiration in the form of a melody or lyric and then we know when it’s right and continue to develop it.

Would we know any of the jingles?
Probably. We’ve written for Home Depot, Honda and Walmart. Not necessarily full-on jingles in the sense that we wrote a song that mentioned the product, but background music that was specifically for an ad campaign. It was a fun job.

I read that you initially met through Craigslist. What’s the story there?
We met in 2008. I was looking for someone to help me produce some songs of mine and Sebu had an ad offering his production services. I was more of a songwriter and not so into the production side. We met up and started working together and had this good writing chemistry and started writing jingles and became a composing team.

Who’s the better jingle writer?
Ha! I think we’re both pretty equal. We both have similar skills. We’re good at melodies and lyrics and we can both play multiple instruments. Our collaboration is very much fifty-fifty.

What made you want to write a song about Farrah Fawcett’s hair?
The concept is paying homage to popular culture and things that are undeniably good. It’s an embodiment that everyone in American can agree is “good shit,” which is what the chorus says. It’s a listing of all the things that we can think of that everybody loves and in the middle we list off one of our favorite rappers, Andre 3000. We were lucky enough to get him to appear on the song.

How were you able to get him?
He hadn’t heard of us but our manager reached out to him. He used to work with Wale and other hip-hop people and has a lot of connections in that world. He sent the track to Andre, who loved it. Next thing you know, we got him on the track.

When you sent it to him, did it have the narration by NPR’s Frank Tavares?
It did. We sent it to him in as finished a state as it could be. We felt like his stuff with Outkast was tongue-in-cheek and he could understand it. When he heard it, he came up with the genius line about American Apparel ad girls. It was great. It was awesome.

Is “I Sold My Bed but Not My Stereo” an autobiographical tune?
No. Neither of us could say we’ve been in such a dire situation where we would have to go through something like that. It’s more about the extreme expression of the sentiment that music is more important than other necessities in life such as where you sleep. If you had to choose between your bed and your stereo, some people might actually choose the stereo.

The artwork is by Brazilian artist Joao Lauro Fonte who has done works for Wired, Converse and others.
The artwork accompanies the single, which features this wooly mammoth hanging over this body of water. We found him through this random site where you can order interesting T-shirts and you can sift through the artists and buy their artwork on the T-shirts, kind of like a CaféPress web site. He’s an illustrator from Brazil living in England and when it came time to do the album, we thought he would be the perfect person. He absolutely nailed the design. There’s something about his work that reflects our vibe very well. He’s an amazing illustrator. Having strong artwork is an important thing that can draw people in.

Who’s your favorite ’80s pop band?
I’ve got multiple. I love the ’80s, it’s one of my favorite decades, obviously. One of the biggest is Michael Jackson. I also love David Bowie. I love the Cure. A lot of the bands wrote such amazing songs that really had great lyrics. They had great melodies even though the image was over-the-top and plastic, there was depth to the songwriting that I think is lacking today. That’s why we’re drawn to music of the ’80s. There’s a lot of music that’s produced really well. It’s ear candy. On first listen, you think it’s amazing but when you break it down if the songwriting isn’t great, it won’t stand the test of time.

Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates






















W. Columbia, SC – New Brooklyn Tavern

Charlotte, NC – The Fillmore

Virginia Beach, VA – The Jewish Mother

Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club

New York, NY – Irving Plaza

Philadelphia, PA – Theatre of the Living Arts

Albany, NY – The Bayou

Toronto, ON – Virgin Mobile Mod Club

Cleveland, OH – Cambridge Room at House of Blues

Detroit, MI – The Shelter

Colorado Springs, CO – The Black Sheep

Aspen, CO – Belly Up

Fort Collins, CO – Aggie Theatre

Englewood, CO – Gothic Theatre

Vancouver, BC – Venue Live

Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theatre

Sacramento, CA – Ace of Spaces

Santa Barbara, CA – SOHo Restaurant and Music Club

Anaheim, CA – House of Blues

Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre

Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].