Interview: Capital Cities talk writing jingles, dark humor and Katy Perry’s audience
2014 has been a good year for Capital Cities. Riding high on the success of their inescapable hit “Safe and Sound,” they did two weekends at Coachella before holding down the opening slot on Katy Perry’s ridiculously lucrative Prismatic World Tour. This month, the Los Angeles duo made up of Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian embark on a headlining jaunt, dubbed The Sky is Falling Tour, which rolls into the House of Blues next Tuesday. Vanyaland caught up with Simonian this week before the opening night in Miami where he discussed the outfit’s biggest hit to date and winning over stubborn crowds.
Michael Christopher: It’s well known that you guys worked in advertising and jingles before Capital Cities made it big. How did doing that prepare you to craft not only fully realized songs, but an entire album?
Sebu Simonian: Writing music for commercials is great practice. It also allowed us to create a very large repertoire of material; lyrical ideas, melodic ideas. That gave us the material for more music that we could flesh out and create whole songs that would work well with the album we finally ended up releasing after we compiled all of our songs over the course of two to three years. Ryan and myself had been making music since we were teenagers in other bands and solo projects and whatnot, so it was natural for us to want to start a band and put out this album. It just so happened that for two to three years before it came out we were writing jingles as a day job.
Did knowing what advertisers wanted from you help the songcraft?
Not really. The commercial world was a great experience because you have to be able to write in a wide variety of genres and you have to be able to write and produce really fast because the turnaround times are really quick. So that just helped us write better for our own material, particularly in making our sound eclectic and incorporating different styles and different direction.
“Safe and Sound” came together in pieces. What was the composition process of it like?
It took a while for us to write that song. When we first wrote it, it was just kind of an idea, a demo. We had one verse written and it was a slower but more electronic vibe in that the trumpet line you hear today was originally a synth. We kept going back to it as it sat on the shelf for months at a time. Finally we just wrapped it up, added trumpet to it and released it ourselves in 2011.
What I find most interesting about the song is it is so poppy, so catchy but there’s parts where when you’re talking about being safe and sound, and it’s “six feet underground.” It’s reminiscent of The Beatles, how some of their sing a long songs are really, really bark. Like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” or “Run for Your Life.”
Absolutely. Those are the best songs, the ones that twist it and make the listener think more deeply about it. When you juxtapose the dark and the light, the light becomes brighter and that was our intent. You can go way back, even farther from The Beatles; it you listen to “Rock-a-bye Baby,” the lyrics to the sweetest lullaby ever talk about a cradle falling off a tree and that’s not really a pleasant scene to be singing to a baby…but it puts them right to sleep, doesn’t it? [laughs]
Humor is always a subjective thing…were you ever worried that people wouldn’t get it or that it might just go over their heads?
It’s kind of surprising that people don’t mention that aspect of [“Safe and Sound”], the fact that every verse is actually describing doomsday scenes; they just latch onto the positivity of it – which is great. I think people like to listen for the positive elements of any piece of art, and “Safe and Sound” has a lot of that. It’s great to hear somebody point out the twists and turns of our songs and the dark side as you mentioned.
You toured with Katy Perry this summer; did you feel like her audience got you?
The parents did [laughs]! The great thing about Katy Perry’s fanbase is it’s a pretty wide demographic and she has such young fans that the parents have to come to bring them out. So if we all of the sudden play a Bee Gees cover, it actually goes over really well.
Now that you’re headlining your own shows, what’s been the biggest difference in the audience?
Generally our demographic is pretty wide; we have seven year old fans and 77 year old fans who reach out and connect with us all the time. It’s really a good feeling to know that we can reach out to such a wide demographic. At our concerts, on our own headlining tours, it seems to me that they all share one thing, that desire to smile and sing along and let go for about an hour or an hour and a half. We really do feed off of that energy and enjoy the shows that much more.
Do you feel more comfortable because it’s your crowd?
Yeah…I enjoy playing every show, whether it’s our own headlining show or a festival or an opening situation. When you’re playing in front of your own crowd, it’s obviously a little easier to get the party started early in the set. For us, we’ve been lucky enough to do well with our shows, and by the end of our set everybody is up on their feet singing and sweatin’ and dancing and having a good time.
When you’re an opener and you’re trying to win over a crowd, what do you do when it’s not working?
That’s a good question. I think every show is different, so depending on how the audience is responding or reacting, we might improvise and do something twisted…I’m not sure; to be quite honest, we haven’t really had too many situations where it wasn’t working out.
CAPITAL CITIES + SNEAKY SOUND SYSTEM + NIGHT TERRORS OF 1927 :: Tuesday, October 28 @ House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St., Boston :: 7:00 p.m., all-ages, $28 – $38 : advance tickets