Interview: Capital Cities on ‘Safe and Sound,’ Katy Perry and the law of the jungle

03.10.14 3 years ago

Capitol Records

Other than inadvertently scaring small children, Sebu Simonian, one-half of Capital Cities, feels the duo”s career is going pretty well.

He and partner Ryan Merchant certainly can”t complain about lack of radio play. The pair”s breakthrough hit, “Safe and Sound” has been all over the radio this past year, topping Billboard”s Alternative Songs chart, and crossing over to the Top 5 of the Pop, Hot AC, Triple A and Modern Rock charts. The global hit has sold more than 2.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. Not bad for a song the duo recorded in 2011 that took its time catching on with the public.

When Simonian hears the optimistic (despite the odds) song on the radio, “I grin and I”m always grateful when I hear it. It makes me realize the song is still relevant and I also hope that most people aren”t getting sick of it… I guess the good news is that even I”m not sick of it yet. I guess that says something.”  

The act returns tomorrow (March 11) with a deluxe edition of “In a Tidal Wave of Mystery,” which contains two new songs -new single “One Minute More” and a reinvention of the Prince-penned, Sinead O”Connor smash, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

The decision to release a deluxe version nine months after the original “In A Tidal Wave of Mystery” came out belonged to the label, but Simonian says he and Merchant got on board: “We had some extra tracks that we really felt needed to be released and instead of doing a separate EP for that collection, we decided it to bundle with the album.”

The shimmery, irresistible “One Minute More” is one such track. Simonian and Merchant felt it fit in with the album, but the song wasn”t completed by the time “Tidal Wave” was ready to go. “Every song has its own life and some songs take a really long time to get it right,” he says. “One of our strengths is stepping back and looking at our songs and realizing they”re not as good as they could be. We don”t like to release things prematurely. We revisited it and realized it needed to be a little bit faster. We wanted to get it right.”

For fans who are already familiar with the band, Simonian says he”s excited to give them new music to listen to and for new fans, “it”s a nice kind of book end to the album. It doesn”t take the album to a completely new place; it stays true to the overall cohesiveness of the debut.”

The fun, MTV VMA-winning music clip for “Safe and Sound,” which features Simonian and Merchant in a history of dance video, complete with their heads grafted onto female bodies, has garnered more than 77 million views on YouTube, an amount that Simonian admits he can”t get his head around.  “It”s really hard to visualize that,” he says. “When we first put out a video for that song, we had a D-I-Y version that we”d put together way before we were signed [to Capitol]. When it reached 200,000 views, I was ecstatic.”

Simonian and Merchant were jingle writers before they former Capital Cities, penning commercial music for Hallmark, HomeDepot and Honda, among others.  It”s training that still holds them in good stead: “When we wrote songs for commercials, we wrote catchy melodies and arrangements for about two or three years non stop,”Simonian says. “All that brainstorming and idea collecting helps in writing for an album.”

The duo head to South by Southwest this week, and will also play at Coachella, before hitting the road with Katy Perry in June. “The most exciting thing about the Katy Perry tour is we”re going to be able to play to so many potential young fans,” says Simonian, who adds his favorite Katy Perry song is her current hit, “Dark Horse,” featuring Juicy J. “It”s a good chance to reach out to youth. “

But not too young: Simonian recounts the story of a very young fan who viewed the pair”s very trippy clip for “Kangeroo Court” this fall. The clip, co-directed by Simonian, features Merchant made up as a zebra and Simonian as a lion. The zebra comes to a bad end, much to the dismay of one of his friend”s five-year old daughter. “She”s a huge Cap Cities fan and he regrettably showed her the video. I think she was too young to understand the irony or realize it”s not real and it traumatized her.  She asked, ‘Did Sebu just eat Ryan?” That put her over the edge….But I think the optimism in the forefront of our sound is more appreciated when you juxtapose it with the dark side of life… the King of the Jungle is always going to end up eating the zebra.”

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