Ryan Merchant of Capital Cities Talks the Miracle of Craigslist, Taylor Swift Mashups + More [Exclusive]
Things are going smashingly well for Capital Cities. The duo released ‘In a Tidal Wave of Mystery‘ this month, and their single ‘Safe and Sound,’ which shares its title with a Taylor Swift track, enjoyed a stint at No. 1 on the alt radio charts. They’re also making their moves in the pop format. Who knew that two dudes who met on Craigslist would find their way to pop music success?
PopCrush spoke to Ryan Merchant about meeting his other half on the web, the possibility of a T. Swizzle mashup, the long and involved process it took to get ‘Safe and Sound’ to where it is today, and more.
You met Sebu Simonian on Craigslist, and now you’ve have a No. 1 Modern Rock single. You’re like the poster boys for Craigslist serendipity. Can you recount the story for us?
I was working on a solo project and I was scouring Craigslist, looking for a producer to take the songs to the next level. I saw Sebu’s ad, checked out his work and liked his songwriting style, so I responded. I was the only person who responded to his ad. We got together and started to work on my music for a couple months, focusing on that. Soon after, I fell into an opportunity to write music for TV commercials. I asked him to collaborate since we had good writing chemistry. We eventually had this repertoire of material that we wanted to use to form a band.
You can’t write a better back story!
I know! I have had [good] luck on Craigslist. I have found other opportunities in the music industry there. We met our bass player on Craigslist. He was the first to respond.
I sorta love how Craigslist is not pretty to look at nor is it overly designed. It’s so basic and sorta ugly, but you can get so much done on it.
I love that. It’s simple and to the point. There isn’t a lot of superfluous functionality. I love it.
It’s obviously working you!
Can you share a writing or recording story that puts us inside a Capital Cities song… Say ‘Safe and Sound?’
In some ways, it’s a boring process — it’s two guys in front of a computer, listening to the same loop over and over and trying to find inspiration. But ‘Safe and Sound’ took two years to get it where it is now. We produced it seven or eight times until we got it to the version you hear on radio. Getting that song right was a process. We knew it was special when we first wrote it, given how people responded to it. But we knew it needed to be done right before we unleashed it. So we spent so much time on it. We knew we’d play the main melodic line as a trumpet, which separated it from other stuff on the radio.
Watch the ‘Safe and Sound’ Video
It’s somewhat like Macklemore and ‘Thriftshop.’ There is a standout element. Did you ever envision, even if for a second, No. 1 success after all that time?
No. You can never predict it. A year-and-a-half before the song went No. 1, Peru embraced it. A radio station in Lima began playing it in regular rotation. We’ve gone and played twice in front of massive crowds there. When we saw that happen, we used what happened on radio as an indicator.
How did the song make it to South America?
It was very organic. I don’t know the exact story. A privately owned but influential radio station programmer found it and shared it digitally. He was tapped into what’s going on in the U.S. We found out since we had all these people commenting on our Facebook page, and started looking at our analytics.
Do you have skills or talents outside of music?
I have one talent. I am pretty good at imitating voices. I can imitate accents. It is related to being able to sing. I notice that people who are good at singing can manipulate their voices. So I guess it’s still a musically-related talent.
What accent are you best at immitating?
I like being the Whistle Guy from ‘Family Guy.’ I can do British accents.
What else is on the Capital Cities calendar for 2013?
We are going to be releasing a number of singles from our album. The next single is ‘Kangaroo Court,’ and we’re going to be shooting a music video at the end of July. That’s going to be interesting. There will be prosthetics and animals. We will be touring as much as possible. We’ll be back in North America in the fall.
Have you ever though about doing a mashup with Taylor Swift’s ‘Safe & Sound?’
Well, we released our ‘Safe and Sound’ before her. They are totally different songs. I don’t think there is any overlap in any way. I notice comments — like people go to find her song and stumble across ours and end up liking our version better, so thank you, Taylor. It’s symbiotic.
Do you think she has heard it?
There is this random video of her doing a photo shoot for Vanity Fair and the background music that was playing was our song. I am sure she is aware of the song. She is a good artist for how young she is. She actually writes her own music and can write catchy songs. My niece is 8 and is obsessed with her. I hope to one day meet Taylor so I can make an introduction to my niece. She would die and go to heaven.
I still think some crazy remixer DJ will figure out a way to mash these songs up!
I am down with it. I love mashups.
Give us one other song you recommend that fans or readers check out.
We have a song ‘Farrah Fawcett Hair’ that features Andre 3000 doing a verse. It gets a lot of buzz; we want people to check it. We have this guy Frank Tavares that does the funding credit voiceovers on NPR — he does all this narration. People will be surprised when they hear it.
Listen to ‘Farrah Fawcett Hair’