Capital Cities on Touring With Katy Perry and Life Getting "Chaotic and Crazy"
Capital Cities' Sebu Simonian (right) and Ryan Merchant (left) are opening for Katy Perry, but they aren't trying to wear her whipped-cream bras.
One minute, you're writing commercial jingles with your buddies. The next, you're touring the United States as the opening act for Katy Perry.
Alright, a career jump like that doesn't really take 60 seconds. It actually took Capital Cities' Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian about four years, following the release of their debut EP Safe and Sound, but even that's a pretty fast track for an up-and-coming band.
What makes them so successful? They found a way to fuse art and pop in a fun, intelligent way -- never too serious, but always with a touch of the unexpected. We here at Crossfade spoke with Merchant to learn more about working with Andre 3000, Capital Cities' crazy music videos, and how to make pop sound smart.
Crossfade: How has the tour been so far?
Ryan Merchant: It's been really good. We played like four or five shows already, and every one has been pretty cool. We've gotten better at performing in front of such a big audience, performing in front of people that are first and foremost there to see Katy Perry. We've just learned how to catch their attention which has been really fun. We've been to some good cities, like Nashville, Washington D.C., so I can't complain.
I've realized pop shows are head and shoulders above any other type of show you can go to. The production on these things is insane, and Katy Perry is obviously a larger-than-life figure. Do you guys get to dabble in that on this tour?
Our show is definitely bright and visual, in the sense that we have a pretty substantial light setup on the stage. We're wearing very colorful outfits that are a new addition to our set p. But it's definitely not Katy Perry's level. She is absolutely insane. Sometimes, I think for her, it works having all that production and it goes with her show and her persona. But for us, it's more about being a live band, playing in front of people and I think people appreciate both sides of performance. It's fun to see just an outrageous light show and video and dancers, and everything's synced up, and then it's also just cool to see a band play for 30 minutes.
It seems like you guys are a smart, arty kind of dance group, but you also bring that really fun pop sensibility that's easy to relate to. Do you strive for that?
I think the sound of our music is just a reflection of Sebu's and my taste in music in general. We both are in our 30s, we've written a lot of music, consumed a lot of music, traveled a lot in our lives. We like a lot of more sophisticated music, but we also really appreciate pop music. So whenever we write a song, we love coming up with melodies that are catchy, things that people can grab on to because that's just our natural inclination and it's fun. We also just strive to give our music more complexity, so that someone that's maybe a more sophisticated music listener can appreciate the nuance of us using a more interesting chord progression or chord voicing, just coming up with melodies that are a little unexpected. Also, incorporating a lot of trumpet in our sound. We're both fans of jazz, so the trumpet is very jazzy element that we bring into our music.
In the past, you had experience writing commercial jingles. From a critical standpoint, that seems almost like a dirty job. But from an artistic standpoint, how do you see it?
I think writing for commercials can be a very artistic, interesting pursuit. We did do that for a long time, and a lot of the jobs you're asked to do are very mundane and they don't really lend themselves to a very creative piece of music. But every once in a while, a job would come to me where they really wanted something out there and weird and a lot of the people that were composing alongside of us were really interesting. Some of the music I heard these people make in a day was pretty incredible. It was kind of a really interesting music boot camp. We wrote constantly, we were always coming up with different melodies, writing in different styles, and that really had an influence on what became the Capital Cities sound. I think the playfulness that you hear in our music is kind of a result of writing for commercials and fusing different styles is also a direct result of that. I feel it was a very positive experience, we learned a lot.
I guess the biggest difference would really be that when you're writing for a commercial, obviously it gets played on that commercial, but what is the lifespan of that song. And now your writing is going to last, it can really resonate with people.
I definitely am happier now that I'm in a band that's successful and I can do that. As much as commercials were fun, I'd much prefer playing in bands, playing live shows, and working on albums. It's more satisfying.
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