Around 2008, while searching for someone to produce one of his songs, Ryan Merchant turned to Craigslist, where he came across an ad from fellow singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sebu Simonian.
“Apparently I was the first and only person who responded,” Merchant recalls. “I can’t remember exactly what [his ad] said, but it linked to a Web site with a video of Sebu performing a song with his old band. I was sold right away.”
At first, Merchant and Simonian worked together creating jingles. Now they’re making dance-pop music under the billing Capital Cities. The Los Angeles-based duo’s debut album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, is due June 7 via Capitol Records/Lazy Hooks. Among the album’s 12 songs are “Safe and Sound” (a recent Top 10 hit on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart) and “Farrah Fawcett Hair” (featuring OutKast’s Andre 3000).
In the days leading up to Capital Cities’ first North American tour (which begins April 23 in Phoenix), Merchant checked in and talked about some other important firsts — music and otherwise — in his life and career.
* First concert ever attended: “Smokey Robinson around 1986 at the Silverado Country Club in the Napa Valley. I went with my parents and was more interested in climbing a tree than watching Smokey.”
* First artist who inspired him to pursue a career in music: “Michael Jackson. I would watch the ‘Thriller’ video every single day when I was 5 years old and try to emulate his dance moves. I even owned a single silver glove like Mike. He taught me that when onstage, you are there to entertain people and not be too cool for school.”
* First big jingle project: “The first big jingle [Sebu and I] landed was for Walmart. It took us about three hours to write. The coolest commercial job we ever landed was for a company in Canada called Shaw Communications. We did a cover of ‘Space Oddity’ that was approved by David Bowie before going to air.”
* First song written with Sebu as Capital Cities: “ ‘Safe and Sound.’ The main hooks of the song came very fast, but the production took forever. We’ve done about 10 versions of ‘Safe and Sound.’ Finally we landed on what felt like the perfect production and decided to add trumpet, which was a great decision.
“Lyrically, the song is a love song to the human race — an ode to our ability to stay optimistic and progress as a society despite the perception that things might be getting worse.”
* First thoughts that come to mind when thinking about the late Farrah Fawcett’s classic hairstyle: “How much I would love to be transported back to the 1970s for a crazy weekend in L.A. or New York.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Capital Cities on tour (schedule subject to change):
* April 23: Crescent Ballroom — Phoenix
* April 24: Solar Culture — Tucson, Ariz.
* April 26: Brazos Hall — Austin, Texas
* April 28: House of Blues — Houston
* April 30: House of Blues — New Orleans
* May 2: New Brooklyn Tavern — W. Columbia, S.C.
* May 3: The Fillmore — Charlotte, N.C.
* May 5: The Jewish Mother — Virginia Beach, Va.
* May 8: Paradise Rock Club — Boston
* May 9: Irving Plaza — New York
* May 10: Theater of the Living Arts — Philadelphia
* May 11: The Bayou — Albany, N.Y.
* May 14: House of Blues — Cleveland
* May 15: The Shelter — Detroit
Photo by Eliot Lee Hazel