Sunday, February 16, 2014

Grammy-nominated group merges music with flashy imagery

(Published Feb. 2, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

"We loosely call ourselves a pop band,” said singer-songwriter Ryan Merchant, cofounder of the rising American band Capital Cities, during the press conference for its Ayala Malls shows last month.
“We can be a rock or an indie band,” he added. “The music has to speak for itself. We categorize ourselves but if it’s accurate or not, we don’t really know.”

Capital Cities was cofounded in 2010 by Merchant and Sebu Simonian, who were jingle writers two years prior. The Los Angeles musicians’ 12-track debut album “In a Tidal Wave of Mystery” was released last year.

Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant (Photo by Oliver Pulumbarit)
A video for one of its songs, “Safe and Sound,” was recently nominated in the Grammy Awards’ Best Music Video category. The video directed by Grady Hall features a chronological gathering of different dance styles, with Merchant and Simonian grooving alongside professional dancers.

The duo revealed enthusiasm for imagery that complements their music. “We like to create little worlds around the songs… we’re bringing a visual component that connects more with the music,” Merchant said. “When I was five years old, the first music video and song I connected with was ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson. The video was so iconic and it made me obsessed with music. With ‘Safe and Sound,’ we wanted to tell the story of the song and visually represented that.”

Merchant and Simonian got to be more involved with the video for “Kangaroo Court,” where they wore cartoon animal masks. “That was an idea Ryan and I came up with together and we actually codirected that video with another director, Carlos Lopez Estrada,” Simonian said. “That was exciting because we got to dress up in animal costumes.”

 As for the band’s music, Merchant said that working together on commercial jingles ultimately helped in creating new material for their own collection of songs.

“Music is music… once in a while you come up with something interesting and catchy,” he explained. “Some of them didn’t get used in commercials and ended up in a library or in the back of our minds. So we had a lot of material, all original work.”

Fans have responded favorably to their work, Simonian said. “Each show that we play is as exciting as the previous one. We’ve been blessed to have the kind of fans who are just always smiling, supporting and encouraging us.”

Counting Jackson, Air, Pink Floyd and Jeff Buckley as some of their inspirations, Merchant and Simonian admitted that they have mostly similar tastes and artistic tendencies. Simonian and Merchant treat each other “like brothers,” which made crafting music—whether it’s a commercial jingle or a pop song—smoother.

“It’s 50-50,” Simonian told the Inquirer after the conference. “We pretty much do everything pretty equally. In terms of writing melodies, production, mixing—in fact it’s part of our signature, the idea of dual vocals. We kind of have a chorus.”

“That’s how it works,” Merchant agreed. “We do a lot of the same things, sit down and do parts. It’s [an equal] collaboration.”

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