Sunshine electro poppers Capital Cities already have a sizable resume of accolades under their belt (playing on nearly every major US festival, an MTV Video Music Award, a Grammy nomination), however they’re currently on their biggest outing yet. The LA-based duo, comprised of Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, are serving support duties on Katy Perry’s Prismatic World Tour, which will be hitting up our very own Wells Fargo Center on August 4th and 5th. I recently got a chance to catch up with Ryan Merchant to ask him about the experience and the experiences of the band itself, which has been at it since 2008. At the time of our chat Merchant and Simonian were in the middle of their run with Katy Perry, something that they have been both having fun on and taking away a lot from.
“It’s been a very interesting and different experience for us. It’s the first time we’ve played in support of such a big and accomplished performer on a regular basis, getting to see her perform every night. It’s been a learning experience, more than anything, where your job is to warm up the audience who’s there to see someone else. It really pushed us with our performance techniques.”
I ask Merchant about his favorite experiences of Capital Cities so far and he tells me that the open air festival experiences tend to be a highlight, but also that the traveling in itself can be quite uplifting: “The highlights so far have been the festivals we’ve gotten to play, like Coachella and Bonnaroo, and then also the international travel we’ve been able to do and see just how far our music can reach.”
Capital Cities’ debut album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, dropped last June. And the collection of 12 songs proves to be a hyper-soulful and slightly postmodern take on dance music that would seem to be not only sugary sweet in its accessibility, but also a bit intellectually complex. When I ask Merchant about the band’s most significant influences, this all adds up quite nicely: “For me, Michael Jackson is a very big influence for me. And for my partner, Sebu, I think Pink Floyd would probably be his biggest influences. And we’re also really into French acts, like Daft Punk, Air, and Phoenix, and also seventies stuff, like Stevie Wonder.” This same sentiment would be in-line with their music videos, which provide clever juxtapositions, which Merchant explains to me is certainly not accidental: “We like to tell stories with our music and I think it’s important to convey that story, or just some story, with the videos. But we also like some contrast. We like creating videos that are very fun and light on one hand, but have maybe a darker message.”
After their dates with Katy Perry wrap, Capital Cities have quite a bit of additional touring that they’re looking forward to, but Merchant tells me that they’re also hoping for some new music: “We have a lot more touring in the works. We’re going to Russia, South America, Puerto Rico, and we have a US headlining tour in October. We’re also writing a lot of new music and contemplating a new album for 2015.” But for the time being, and those of you who play to come see Ms. Perry in South Philthy, Merchant tells me that it’s well worth your time to show up early.
“People should definitely come out early. We just have such a passion for performing live and we really take pride in it. We’re very spontaneous. You’ll see a live band and we move in ways with the atmosphere of the show. We try to project a sense of fun and a sense of movement.”
And finally, before getting off the phone with Ryan Merchant, I have to ask his thoughts on the city, as it’s a place that Capital Cities have played quite a few successful shows and he assures me that the city’s affection for the band is mutual.
“I love the city. I love the architecture. I love just getting to spend time in Philly. It’s one of our favorite cities to play. The crowds in Philadelphia have been some of the best, and I’m not just saying that because this is a Philadelphia-based publication. We’ve played the Electric Factory and we’ve played the TLA and it’s always great.”
However, his most amusing memory of the city has him describing a cinematically comic and tragic scene from Capital Cities’ first Philthy stop, which actually has nothing to do with Capital Cities as a band whatsoever: “I remember the first time we came to Philly and we were sitting on a bench near the Liberty Bell and I remember us seeing some kind of bird of prey swooping down and picking up a baby chipmunk, like picking it up and taking it to its nest and eating it, and it was in front of all these children, which was kind of disturbing, but also just the kind of thing that you don’t forget.”