A Sit Down With DJ Capital Cities

Capital Cities is an American indie pop duo from Los Angeles, California, formed in 2010 by Ryan Merchant (vocals, keyboard, guitar) and Sebu Simonian (vocals, keyboard). Their debut EP was released on June 7, 2011, with lead single “Safe and Sound” which became their first top ten hit single.

The dynamic duo were part of an important movement in electronic music in the early 2010s, helping spur a global acceptance of house music into popular culture alongside acts like Duke Dumont, Disclosure, and Route 94. While America may have taken an extra moment to come around to this new sound, the movement has become intercontinental, with a ubiquitous presence in clubs and at festivals. Singles like “Ready For Your Love” and “All Four Walls” have definite mass appeal, though ultimately it would be unfair to pigeonhole the artists into their approachable sound.

 

“We might have a bit more commercial aspect to our brand but we’re still in that scene, in the UK house music world and we definitely feel part of it.”

 

Where did the name Capital Cities come from?

That was just a random brainstorming session between myself and Ryan. We were chatting online trying to come up with a band name. Ryan suggested Capital of Maine. I thought it was silly, but then it prompted me to suggest, “How about simply Capital Cities?” And it stuck.

You’re a relatively new group so you missed the heyday of the traditional music industry system decades ago. Are you satisfied with how music is delivered, especially with streaming services like Spotify and Pandora?

As a user I love it. I use Spotify all the time and it’s amazing to have everything I could possibly want at my fingertips at anytime. So, I think it is the way forward as far as how music is disseminated and how people consume music. I just think the model hasn’t figured out how to compensate musicians fairly for that yet. But at the same time, to be honest, most bands make most their money from live shows. So really, it’s just about getting your music into as many ears as possible through any means possible. And that’s what then allows you to make an income playing shows. Spreading music far and wide whether it’s free or not I think is a good thing for bands.

What are your favorite cities and venues to play, and are there any specific places you’re excited to return to?

We always have an amazing time in San Diego; we’ve got an amazing following there. I don’t really know why, we just feel very welcome there and our shows sell out really fast every time. I think it might have something to do with CRSSD Festival, we’ve always had an in with those guys, and we did a great headline show a couple years ago there, maybe that helps. Also, we love playing in all the major cities, like New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago. And also we loving coming to Austin, Texas. We love touring in America, and I can speak for Kye as well, I know he’s really looking forward to this tour. He can’t wait to get back out to America, so we’re really looking forward to it. It’s gonna be a big one.

What is the biggest influence or inspiration for Capital Cities and your sound?

Music itself. I’m a huge fan of music, and we love all kinds of music from every decade really. I think our main interest is good songwriting with good melodies and interesting lyrics. Some of our favorite acts, from the Beatles to the Bee Gees to modern electronica, if you follow the common thread, you will hear timeless songwriting.

You guys seem to be a tech savvy group. What do you think of U2`s new album ending up on millions of people’s iTunes account without their permission?

I think it was a marketing stunt because they claimed this was the largest distribution of an album in history at one time. Even though it was given away for free, it was actually received by users who didn’t necessarily request it. I saw it in my library but I haven’t had a chance to listen to the album.

You guys have released a huge amount of official remixes of your stuff, and you guys remix a bunch of stuff on your own. Do you ever play out remixes of your own work?

We definitely do, we’ve been playing the Solardo remix of “Real Life” a lot this summer, we always play the Weiss remix of “Imagination” in our DJ sets. There are certain tracks that we really love. The reason that we choose these artists to remix our tracks is because we’re big fans of them. When they deliver a banging remix we support it and play it a lot. It’s amazing to get our favorite acts to remix us; we’re really lucky.

How’s it been traveling and touring all of this time?

It’s been good. We’ve been really busy. We play pretty much everyday, nonstop. We’re on a bus at the moment, but sometimes we’ll have to get on a plane and do a random show in a different part of the country. The traveling and logistical part of it is definitely grinding, but when you end up on a stage in front of fun-loving, loyal music fans, it’s totally worth it and very rewarding.

Speaking of your music in general, your quality songwriting has led to popular success that many electronic artists do not reach. However, your mentality for your music and shows seems very club oriented. So, when you’re kind of straddling that line, where do you guys see yourself in the scene?

We love being able to do both sides of it. We love to be able to do a track that gets on the charts and the radio and the BBC playlist, but also we love playing at Amnesia every Tuesday and playing techno and house to thousands of people. We don’t really see ourselves in the commercial scene or the underground scene, we just see us as Gorgon City, like the act in itself. But we love being in the house music kind of family of DJs that we’re friends with. People we see in Ibiza every week, people like MK, Duke Dumont, and Solardo and people like that. We’re part of the same scene, we play together all the time. We might have a bit more commercial aspect to our brand but we’re still in that scene, in the UK house music world and we definitely feel part of it.

Is it hard to create a melody for a company that sounds contemporary but at the same time not ripping anyone off?

To be honest, in that world right there, a lot of times they ask the composers to create songs that are kind of inspired by very popular songs because they can’t afford to license those songs. It happens all the time but there are rules to what makes something a complete rip that you can sue people over. And I’m sure right now there are commercial jingle houses that are using ‘Safe and Sound’ as an inspiration for songs for commercials. It happens all the time but it’s not that big of a deal at the end of the day.

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