Capital Cities interview
- By Ali Hussain -
- Mar 26, 2012
L.A. electro-poppers Capital Cities talk to Red Room about their modern day meeting on Craiglist, musical influences, the state of the music industry, and the story behind the enormous, blue shades on their EP cover. Their single, ‘Safe and Sound’, has been spreading like wildfire across the blogosphere, with its vintage synths, California sunshine, indie stylings and retro vibe mixing together with some stellar horns to make a potent mix…
How did you guys get together?
Ryan: Commercial music is how Sebu and I started collaborating. We sort of fell into it and we have a music production company called Lazy Hooks and we do a lot of freelance work for bigger music houses and we work directly with some ad agencies, and we’ve done stuff for Home Depot to Wal-Mart to Honda to smaller projects and big campaigns.
How did the commercial music collaboration start?
Ryan: I had some songs and I was looking for a producer to help me complete the songs. Sebu had a posting on Craigslist offering his production services because he had been producing bands for a long time. I really liked his songs and his various production techniques, so we started working together in that capacity at first. Then we liked our musical chemistry and then I fell into TV commercial writing and asked him to start collaborating with me. As a team we were pretty successful doing that. Then that ultimately led to Capital Cities because we started writing songs together and decided we should start a band and start playing live.
How do you feel about the commercial work now that you’ve formed a band and had some success?
Ryan: To me it’s become a little bit of a chore to be honest. I think we try to get through it as quickly as possible so we can get back to working on Capital Cities. And we’re trying to transition to be able to live off of Capital Cities. We still have respect for the industry. To be honest, doing commercials has been a really good training ground for us, for writing songs, and being able to produce really quickly, exploring different styles. It’s a good musical exercise for us to be doing commercials. But we’re trying to steer away from it and focus on Capital Cities.
What is your musical background?
Ryan: I personally have been in a couple of different bands. I had an electronica band called Shorthand, also had an electro 80s cover band called Neurotic City for a while with a friend of mine. It was all updated electro versions.
Sebu: I was in three other bands before this one starting in ‘98. They were local bands. We did pretty well locally. I produced a lot of stuff, just random things, nothing too significant.
What’s next and what’s in the works?
Ryan: At the moment we are planning on releasing singles, that could be remixes of songs, covers, brand new songs, we released a cover of Madonna. The idea now is to just continue releasing as much new music as possible and keep ourselves in the conscious of bloggers and fans and give people new material and not stress about completing this full album. I think at some point we will do a cohesive album but at the moment we don’t want to stress ourselves out and when we have something that’s finished and that sounds goods we’ll put it out there. Right now our goal is to get as many fans as possible, play more live shows, hopefully play some festivals. I think releasing music as it comes is the best way to do that.
A lot of bands fall to the pressure and hype of releasing an album after a successful EP and the quality doesn’t live up to the expectations. How do you feel about that?
Ryan: I think with an album a lot of good songs end up getting lost in the mix because they just don’t get the attention that they deserve. We don’t view any of our songs as throw away songs so we want each one to be special and have this little world built around it and this excitement in the way that its released, a spotlight on it.
Now that it’s been completed and released, as an artist, do you listen to it sometimes and think you could change it a bit more or are you pleased with the final version?
Ryan: Yeah there’s always times when you listen to it and think does it stand up to other songs sonically. That’s the only thing that crosses my mind. But in general I’m very proud of it. We recently heard it on the radio in Los Angeles and hearing it on the radio just confirmed we got it right.
What are your thoughts on the changing music industry? Mp3s are being shared freely. It has a dichotomy where you’re not making money off of the songs but they spread so quickly so you have access to people across the globe. How do you feel about that?
Ryan: I think ultimately it’s a good thing that it gets shared. We’ve taken the approach in that we’ve given away “Safe and Sound” but we also have it for sale. And we’ve found that people are buying it. On a weekly basis we’ve been getting quite a few downloads. So it’s not like giving it away for free doesn’t mean you’re not getting sales. I think in this day and age you have to accept what’s going on in the industry and realize people are going to be sharing mp3s and there’s nothing you can do to stop it and there will be new forms of revenues for bands. Licensing is a big thing now, playing live, bands are doing deals with corporations where they are spokespeople. I think ultimately we’re in a very cool time in the music industry where you’re able to accomplish a lot without a major label. You’re at this crossroad where it’s become feasible for bands to really breakout on their own without having this mass marketing machine behind them, because the labels are doing pretty much the same thing anyway, they’re getting it to bloggers. But if you have really good music and keep promoting the hell out of it eventually people are going to start writing about you and it’ll come to the attention of the right people and good things will happen.
What is the inspiration behind your sound?
Sebu: I think Ryan and I are most excited by good pop songs. And some of the best pop songs were written in the 80s. So it’s interesting there’s this electrop pop 80s retro movement that’s been going on for a while. But I think we’ve always referred to the 80s when we’ve written to songs during our careers even if the production is outright retro or 80s. It’s really about the melody, about the song, and I think marrying that with this retro production movement works really well. And we fell into that world naturally. We’re also influenced by a lot of funk from the 70s and also a lot of rock from the 90s and the British rock movement. Kind of a mixed bag.
What are the bands that inspired your sound and shaped the way you look at and listen to music?
Ryan: Personally for me my first musical obsession, which is a very obvious one that most people share, is Michael Jackson. In the 90s I never really got into Nirvana. I appreciate them but I never took to them like some people did. I was really into Jamiroquai in the 90s. In my personal musical taste there’s been this undercurrent of stuff that airs on the funkier side, like Stevie Wonder, the Motown music. In modern times some of my favorite bands are a lot of the French artists, like Phoenix and Air. That kind of sound where they infuse those funky elements that’s done in that modern, interesting way.
Sebu: And dreamy.
Ryan: Yeah, dreaminess.
So what’s the story behind the large sunglasses on the cover? They’re pretty awesome.
Ryan: One of us had a pair and we wore it to a show, right?
Sebu: Well actually the cover was a photo shoot and we had brought those glasses with us as a joke thinking maybe we’ll wear them.
Ryan: But it started before that because we started bringing them and wearing them when we would play “Safe and Sound” at shows and we started giving them out to people. People just liked it and it was a fun thing to do to engage a crowd and it kind of became this thing at our shows where we’d bring them and give them away. And at this photo shoot we brought them and that particular picture was really cool because it kind of married the silliness of the glasses with the serious pose, which we felt encapsulated what we represent; serious music but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
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