How Capital Cities Went From Jingle Writers to ?Radio-Hit Makers
Eliot Lee Hazel
As they sit in a conference room at Capitol Records, Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant can barely hide their smiles. The next day, they'll play KROQ's Weenie Roast before zipping up the freeway to Mountain View for BFD.
In less than two years, Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant have gone from hearing their instrumental compositions on commercials to hearing their hit song, the spunky pop anthem "Safe and Sound," on radio stations all over the world.
Having first met through a Craigslist ad in 2008, Simonian and Merchant have built a partnership that has allowed them to become full-time musicians at a time when it's difficult to sustain a career. Initially known as Lazy Hooks, the duo were writing jingles for commercials--campaigns for Honda, Muscle Milk and Walmart. Fusing upbeat dance-pop music with elements of hip-hop, the duo found a niche as writers and eventually used this experience to begin working on an eclectic non-jingle project, Capital Cities.
"The work we did on the commercials honed our craftsmanship," Simonian says. "Since we had to work on a wide variety of genres, we were able to learn what it means to produce music in different styles and how to do it quickly."
Releasing their self-titled EP under Lazy Hooks in 2011, Simonian and Merchant's songs caught on with a wide audience, just not where they expected. Radio stations in Peru of all places picked up their music, "Safe and Sound" in particular. Embarking to that country on a mini tour, they were stunned when their first performance there pulled in a thousand people.
After several shows in South America, Capital Cities returned to Los Angeles to bring that momentum stateside. Having success abroad is one thing, but hearing a prominent local station playing their song was surreal. "The first time I heard 'Safe and Sound' on the radio was on KCRW of all places," Simonian recalls. "I think it was Nic Harcourt's final show on that station, and it was one of the last songs he played. I had a nervous breakdown because it was a very exciting moment. [The station] never played it again after that."
Around this time last year, Capital Cities threw their proverbial chips to the middle of the table. After carefully considering their options, Simonian and Merchant decided to pony up for a radio campaign for "Safe and Sound" in the States. While they knew they had something on their hands before the song was on the air, they didn't expect things to go as they have. "It was a calculated risk," Merchant says with a smile. "But SiriusXM was the powerful catalyst for moving things forward. It was definitely an expensive risk, but it paid off."
"Safe and Sound" became the first song by an unsigned band to hit No. 1 on SiriusXM's Alt-18 weekly countdown, where it sat for several weeks and has been added to radio stations across the country, including KIIS-FM 98.7 FM (early supporters of the band) and KROQ. At press time, the song is No. 1 in Germany and Austria.
If reaping the benefits of a hit single and a sold-out headlining tour weren't enough, Capital Cities' first full-length on Capitol Records, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, was pushed up to June 4 in order to accommodate the demand. That treatment is reserved for superstars whose albums have been leaked, not for up-and-comers.
"It's been fun the past couple of months because I feel like I'm a little kid on an Easter-egg hunt," Merchant says. "Each day, I get something new in my inbox that's more exciting, like hearing that song is doing well in Germany or someone wants to license the song or there's a great gig to play. There's a constant stream of good news, and we're super-fortunate."
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