TNL talks with Ryan Merchant from Capital Cities

Elliot Lee Hazel

Sebu Simonian in 2010 posted an ad on craigslist advertising his music production services. Ryan Merchant responded to the ad and the two started working on TV commercial jingles. Soon after their friendship blossomed into the two forming the band Capital Cities. The group has since become known worldwide with their song “Safe and Sound,” hitting Billboard Top 100 hits at No. 8. Ryan Merchant answered the following questions about making music, touring and rising popularity over a phone interview with TNL.

TNL: What made you guys (Merchant and Simonian) decide to start a band together?
Merchant: Well, we had a couple songs that we thought were really strong, so we thought it was a good idea to start a real band and start promoting the songs and start playing them live. That’s how Capital Cities was born. Plus, both Sebu and I had been in bands many times before, so we always wanted to be in another band — and we had these great songs so it seemed like a good idea to try it again.

How did you guys come up with the name?
The name was born out of a brainstorming session that we had one day. We were chatting and trying to come up with a cool name, and we were sending names back and forth. We were just trying to come up with things off the top of our head and I wrote Sebu, “How about Capital of Maine?” And of course that was a terrible name, but he responded ‘How about just Capital Cities?’ I just thought that’s a perfect name. We both just instantaneously felt like it was appropriate for us.

What’s the best and worst parts about making music?
The best part, I mean there really is no worst part, making music is just fun. There isn’t really a downside to it unless you are being forced to make music that you don’t find interesting. That’s the only downside to it. Which we don’t really experience, because we just make music that we want to make. Most of the time when we are writing music it’s pretty fun.

Did you guys do your own self-promotion before you guys got the record deal?
Yes, we did a lot of self-promotion.

What was that like?
It was a very good learning experience, and it was important to do because it taught us a lot about the modern music business.

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Was it stressful at times to be promoting yourself?
Yeah, it was stressful because you didn’t have the resources. So you had to be creative and there were times you would get frustrated because things were not happening the way you wanted it to or expected it to. It can be a little frustrating sometimes, but it was fun too.

If you could do it all over again, would you guys have done anything differently you think?
Not really, no. It all kind of worked out perfectly, to be honest. I couldn’t ask for any other way for it to happen.

What was it like when you found your song “Safe and Sound” was being played in Peru?
That was very encouraging, actually, because that happened before our song became a hit in the United States and before we really had a lot of activity happening. Somehow our song made its way into the musical director of a radio station down in Peru, and he started playing the song and it became a pretty decent-sized hit in Peru. … As a result we went down and played a couple shows. It was a really important experience that… gave us confidence to know our song could do well on radio. So it helped to form decisions that we made down the road.

How did you guys find out it was being played in Peru?
We found out through social media, actually. We were on Facebook and we noticed that there were a disproportionate number of people leaving comments in Spanish and mentioning Peru. So we did a little investigation. We saw these Peruvian people commenting on our page, so we got in touch with a promoter down there and went down there and played a show. That was the beginning of our international travel.
The reason we found out about the radio station was because we found a forum where people in Peru were discussing songs and this radio station, and we found out the name the radio station was. We got a sense of how big the song was getting there from detective work, which is one thing I think we’re good at — finding out who’s talking about us and getting in touch with them. It’s a very important part of music nowadays.

Did you ever think before that you would be making Billboard Top 100 hits?
Not really, no. That’s not something you can predict or will into existence. It’s sort of a matter of luck and hard work. We knew that we had something special in our hands when we wrote “Safe and Sound,” but I don’t think we realized quite how massive the song would get.

What’s it been like gaining fame from the song and the music?
Well, I don’t know what it’s like to gain fame because people know our music — not who we are — but it’s very nice to have a song that’s doing well. It opens up a lot of doors to getting to travel, getting to work with people you want to work with, getting free clothing from time to time. There’s a lot of perks that go along with it as well.

How’s it feel having your music being known worldwide?
It’s cool. It’s pretty cool. It’s awesome, better than not having your music be known. It’s great — I get to make a living traveling the world and creating music. It’s the best thing ever.

What’s it like going on tour?
I like it sometimes. But sometimes it’s not fun because you are in a city for a brief moment and you don’t get to really experience the city. At the same time it’s fun waking up in a new place and going on a walk and getting to play a different show every day in front of a brand new crowd. That’s really fun. It can be a little bit monotonous sometimes.

It’s funny that having so much change every day can get monotonous.
I know, I know. It’s just hanging out backstage. There’s just nothing glamorous about it. You’re trapped in a specific part of a town that maybe isn’t the coolest part of town. But it’s what you make of it, so this year I’m going to put a lot more effort into exploring more and making the most of it.

What’s some of the coolest places you have gotten to travel to because of your music?
I would say Portugal. Portugal is just a very beautiful country. The food is great. The weather’s great. It has a very relaxing nice vibe. Then Seoul, Korea, is another great cool city. Those are the two places that I really enjoyed a lot last year.

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