When a relatively unknown band like Capital Cities put out a single, and one million people buy it, they’ve got to be doing something right. As the L.A.-based duo’s tidal wave breaks over the British coastline, it’s maybe time to consider the principles of their credibility. I have taken it upon myself to force more truth than you’ve ever seen – and maybe more than you wanted to know.
The first thing you should know about Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, better known as Capital Cities, is that they share great musical chemistry. The duo, who met on Craigslist – a website for classified ads, formulates repartee light-heartedly through their music.
“We both have similar taste in music and a lot of overlap in influences,” says Sebu, “So when we decided to start the band in 2010, we agreed to share all the duties and combine our voices on all of our records.” Their music, on the one hand, is a different story. It’s more of an uneven element that can appear to be wordless of a brotherly bond.
The band’s new album, In a Tidal Wave Of Mystery, is filled with unusual themes, lyrical sharpness, and the kind of sparse arrangements that beg to be played in a murky backdrop. It’s an impressive unveiling, to be sure, and a startling pairing considering some people find houses on Craigslist; others trade items or even find romance. But their rationale is simple: “We decided to throw all the rules away and highlight the most wonderful things in life. Ryan and I reached out to Andre 3000 to work with us and much to our surprise, he agreed.”
Their songs function as a reflection to their overall expression. They command much attention to their grotesque type of songwriting. Farrah Fawcett Hair, a track on their LP, which features former Outkast frontman Andre 3000, among other things, signifies an arrival that showcases creative muscles. So how do they see the cult of celebrity, especially with Farrah Fawcett, both personally and musically? “Pop culture is entertaining and we like to recognise beauty and this song about Farrah is an opportunity that allows us to do that.”
It has always been that way especially for Sebu, who began making music as a teenager. But in an age where the industry either transforms you into a star or in some cases kills your dreams, Capital Cities is blossoming—in large part, by doing things differently. The energetic fusion of sounds on their hit single, Safe And Sound is a fine example of why they are making waves in America and beyond. The single was created over a period of eight months, and features the sort of liveliness which they are now becoming synonymous with.
“Music is our artistic outlet and we are blessed to have the opportunity to express ourselves. When we first wrote the song our intention was to write something utterly positive, joyous and that was naturally organic. As we demoed the song and played it live, we realised that it could be even more danceable, which is why we kept going back into the studio,” Sebu explains. “You know you are doing something exceptionally well when the question you’re constantly asked is: ‘How did you do that?’”
For your consideration: this is something of a craft that has given way to the monstrous element displayed in Kangaroo Court, another track from their album, which begins with hunting imagery featuring almost the entire animal kingdom. “We are not necessarily politically motivated but it’s important for people to be well rounded participants of the human race. Our music could easily serve as a tool to make some kind of commentary about what’s happening in the world,” he says when asked about their collaborative approach. They are clearly comfortable making music, but more intrigued by imaginative experimentation. But the problem with politics is that is can get in the way of your work, which is why they refuse to take themselves too seriously.
“If we have an opportunity to make people think and experience more than just a sugar coated music video – that’s a good thing. We want people to be forced to recognise that the world is a dangerous place and injustice still prevails.” And for the truly detail-conscious, Kangaroo Court, is an animalistic tale about an isolated zebra who, decides to disguise himself as a horse in order to gain approval. Appropriately, this can be seen as a mirror to the essence of their music, “Our lives have completely changed. It’s been a gradual and steady climb towards this moment. We’ve been working hard creating music to entertain people. We hope people will want to discover the rest of our music.”
Capital Cities are proving to be legitimate creative masterminds. Their music is propelling them to superstardom. Sebu in particular is well aware of the obstacles that he has had to overcome. He was born in Syria but later relocated to Los Angeles. “I’m not Syrian and I have no connection to the country. I’m Armenian and my parents were living in Lebanon at the time I was about to be born, but because of a civil war my mum had to flee and I happened to be born in Syria.” When asked about his background with the Middle East, and his feelings towards the ongoing crisis, he concedes, with a certain degree of gentleness, “It’s a difficult situation and to be honest, I feel helpless. I’m just hoping for the best and for people to stop killing each other.”
Capital Cities have flirted with Farrah Fawcett’s curls, transformed the allusion of the animal kingdom, and are navigating the tidal triumphs of being a band to be reckoned with, rightly or wrongly, in their own, peculiar way.
In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery is out September 30.