From Jingle To Single


John Zelazny

Time Out Music Columnist

A s electronic music becomes a household art form, the lines separating genres are often blurred. In the end, there are instrumental-based songs that sound like electronic dance music.

It's a pretty regular occurrence that a song comes on the radio and the listener is unaware of how the music was created, either with instruments or however electronic music is made.

One thing is certain about Capital Cities: they will change the way you look at a band. They are slated to appear in Aspen and if you don't know much about them: their debut appearance at the Belly Up on Wednesday, May 22 might surprise you.

Capital Cities are an alternative dance group created by Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian in Los Angeles, Calif. The two met on craigslist and have a history of making commercial music together for advertising.

They are currently most known for their single “Safe and Sound,” a song that is infectious, joining a positive high-energy feeing with an undeniably catchy dance beat.

Ryan Merchant grew up with a variety of instruments. He started playing piano at 10, in seventh grade he picked up a guitar and then he played drums in high school. In college he began singing lessons with a jazz-based vocal teacher.

Onstage he plays keyboards and sings alongside Simonian, who also plays keys but mainly they both sing and dance. They perform with the help of a laptop for backing tracks, but there are five people performing — including a live trumpeter, bass player and guitar.

“We wear matching outfits, there is a lot of dancing in our show. It's very interactive,” Merchant told me while he was killing time before a show recently. “Its not a show that you come and passively watch. It's a show where you want to be involved.”

The duo did enjoy their time making commercial music, as it was a motivating process and the pace was fast. They would literally be asked to turn around a commercial in 24 hours.

“It's interesting to have to be creative very fast and I think it has helped us with our Capital Cities music,” says Merchant. “It sort of taught us how to produce in multiple styles and how to harness a spark of creativity and really run with it, not trying to think too much when beginning a song, and finding that first seed of creativity.”

Commercial music was good to them but they would rather be doing the band thing than doing the jingles. Writing jingles gets old, Merchant says, because a lot of time would be spent writing the same type of music for a lot of different commercials due to the trends in commercial music.

Merchant and Simonian start their songs simply with either a beat, a chord progression or with a lyric. They usually know it's worth perusing when they both think it’s a good start for a song. But as far as having a main inspiration, they are simply inspired to write good music.

“I personally couldn't pinpoint some sort of muse that drives me to make music,” says Merchant. “What makes it exciting is when you make a unique melody or unique lyric or where you come up with a beat or something that just feels like it’s fresh and you can listen to it a million times over and you just know that you stumbled across something special. I think that's what inspires me to keep on writing songs.”

Lately it seems Capital Cities can do no wrong, however, that is without releasing an album. That will change on June 4 when they drop their first, “In a Tidal Wave of Mystery.” Luckily for them, everything they have put out thus far has found an audience and they feel their album will do the same.

“A lot of our fans are itching to hear some new music and we are itching to give it to them,” says Merchant. “We want to show the world that we have more to give them than just ‘Safe and Sound.’”