Indie Goes Pop
Capital Cities Ponied Up For an Expensive Radio Campaign. It Worked
By Daniel Kohn Wed., Jun. 5 2013 at 9:46 AM
Categories: Indie Goes Pop

As they sit in a conference room at Capitol Records, Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant can barely hide their smiles. The next day, their Los Angeles based group Capital Cities will play KROQ's Weenie Roast before zipping up the freeway to Mountain View for a big show at Shoreline Ampitheatre.
In less than two years, Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant have gone from placing instrumental compositions on commercials to hearing their hit pop anthem "Safe and Sound" (below) on radio stations all over the world. Their first full-length on Capitol Records, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, dropped yesterday.

Having first met through a Craigslist ad in 2008, Simonian and Merchant have built a partnership that has allowed them to become full-time musicians at a time when it's difficult to sustain a career. Initially known as Lazy Hooks, the duo were writing jingles for Honda, Muscle Milk and Walmart. Fusing upbeat dance-pop music with elements of hip-hop, the duo found a niche as writers and eventually began working on an eclectic non-jingle project, Capital Cities.

"The work we did on the commercials honed our craftsmanship," Simonian says. "Since we had to work on a wide variety of genres, we were able to learn what it means to produce music in different styles and how to do it quickly."

Releasing their self-titled EP Lazy Hooks in 2011, Simonian and Merchant's songs caught on with a wide audience, just not where they expected. Radio stations in Peru, of all places, picked up their music, "Safe and Sound" in particular. Embarking to that country on a mini tour, they were stunned when their first performance there pulled in a thousand people.

After several shows in South America, Capital Cities returned to Los Angeles. Having success abroad is one thing, but hearing a prominent local station playing their song was surreal. "The first time I heard 'Safe and Sound' on the radio was on KCRW of all places," Simonian recalls. "I think it was Nic Harcourt's final show on that station, and it was one of the last songs he played. I had a nervous breakdown because it was a very exciting moment. [The station] never played it again after that."


Around this time last year, Capital Cities went all in. After carefully considering their options, Simonian and Merchant decided to pony up for a radio promotional campaign for "Safe and Sound" in the States. (They won't say how much it cost, except that it wasn't cheap.)
While they knew their song was good, they had no idea it would take off -- SiriusXM was quick to pick it up, and things went from there. "It was a calculated risk," Merchant says with a smile. "But SiriusXM was the powerful catalyst for moving things forward. It was definitely an expensive risk, but it paid off."

"Safe and Sound" became the first song by an unsigned band to hit No. 1 on SiriusXM's Alt-18 weekly countdown, where it sat for several weeks and has been added to radio stations across the country, including KIIS-FM, 98.7 FM (early supporters of the band) and KROQ. At press time, the song is No. 1 in Germany and Austria.

In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, meanwhile, was pushed up in order to accommodate the demand; it's the type of treatment normally reserved for superstars whose albums have been leaked, not for up-and-comers.

"It's been fun the past couple of months because I feel like I'm a little kid on an Easter-egg hunt," Merchant says. "Each day, I get something new in my inbox that's more exciting, like hearing that song is doing well in Germany or someone wants to license the song or there's a great gig to play. There's a constant stream of good news, and we're super fortunate."