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Catching Up with Ryan Merchant Before Capital Cities Performs at Made in America

By Sabina Ibarra on August 27, 2014

Living Out Loud recently had the chance to chat with Ryan Merchant, one half of the dynamic duo that is Capital Cities, the band behind the catchy tune “Safe and Sound” (Yes, now you’re singing it in your head.) and their latest single, “One Minute More” which is featured on the soundtrack for The Giver. The singer-songwriter shared the story of what led him and Sebu Simonian to form Capital Cities, their music, performing, what it feels like being one of the headlining acts on this weekend’s Made in America Festival and their future plans for the band.

Living Out Loud: What were your aspirations growing up, and how did they lead you to responding to an ad on Craigslist for a musical collaborator?

Ryan Merchant: I grew up in San Francisco and moved to Los Angeles when I was 18 years old to attend USC. At the time I decided to pursue a degree in English literature, and I had some big notions of getting into the film business. Then I got sidetracked, did a lot of music while I was at USC and played in bands. That continued after college, I got into writing and here I am having a career as a musician.

LOL-LA: Were you going through anything that inspired a search online to make music? What about the ad made you feel it was legit with, you know, all the interesting Craigslist ads out there?

RM: I’ve actually had a lot of success through Craigslist meeting people, collaborators, roommates. So, it’s not a website that scares me even though I’ve met some strange people. At the time that I met Sebu, I was writing songs and looking for someone with more skills as a producer to help me flesh them out and make them sound good. I just happened to be perusing the musician section, and I found the ad that Sebu put out. There was nothing remarkable about the ad, but then I checked out the link, went to his website, listened to work he’d done with other people, and I was very drawn to it. I thought it was great. I thought he’d be a good person to help me work on my songs. We got together, became collaborators, and it’s been about six years since we first met.

LOL-LA: Can you tell me a little bit about the concept of your debut album (In a Tidal Wave of Mystery) – how did it come together?

RM: The first real song that we put out as Capital Cities was ‘Safe and Sound.’ It started to get a lot of attention on the internet, people seemed to be liking it a lot and the record labels started to contact us. We recorded other songs to release the EP and kept on going, kept on promoting ourselves, releasing covers. We only had the idea that we wanted to put out an album while we debated whether we should continue putting out singles and covers. Did we really want to spend all of our energy promoting an album? We held out for a while, waited until we got signed by Capitol Records, and that’s when it seemed like the right time to put it all out.

LOL-LA: Which song has been your favorite to perform in front of a crowd?

RM: We have a song called ‘I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo,’ and I think that’s probably my favorite song. I really love the lyrics; I think they’re really unique and interesting. It’s not been on the radio, so some people don’t know it, but it’s just one of the songs that comes across so well live. It’s so much fun to sing it and perform it. It really has these great moments where you can rile up the crowd and get them to jump in the air. We’ve had moments on that song where it’s almost more addictive than ‘Safe and Sound,’ even though it’s not as well known.

LOL-LA: As an L.A.-based band how do you feel about being one of the acts for this weekend’s first Made in America Festival in the city?

RM: I’m really excited about it because we’ve never played a festival in Los Angeles. We’ve played a lot of festivals – Coachella, all kinds of things – but we’ve never done FYF or any of the other L.A. festivals. It’s exciting to be playing a festival live in your own hometown. I think it’s going to be really fun, and I know the crowd’s going to be great.

LOL-LA: Are you excited to embark on your first headlining tour this fall?

RM: I’m really excited about it. The past couple months we just opened for Katy Perry, and that was a good experience. It’s definitely a different vibe when you’re opening for a massive pop act like that. People, they enjoy it and get into it, but it’s a different ballgame when you’re playing your own headlining show. When you have people that are there because they bought tickets and they want to see you, it’s a different energy. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m really looking forward to working on our live show: stepping up our sets as far as lighting is concerned and messing around with the songs, rearranging them, is definitely a fun process.

LOL-LA: Lastly, are there any plans in the horizon for the next album?

RM: We’re always thinking about it, but it’s probably not going to start happening until 2015 because the rest of the year is really booked up. We don’t really have time to get into the studio and really work on a song for hours at a time. Being out of town, you’re tired and you want to rest for a little while. I think it’s best for us to wait until we’re relaxed and in a good head space to really dive in.

Capital Cities perform Aug. 30 at the Made in America Festival at Downtown’s Grand Park. For more information, visit capitalcitiesmusic.com.

Sabina Ibarra is a Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering lifestyle and entertainment. Follow her on Twitter: @Wicked_Phoenix