C apital Cities, the Los Angeles-based electro-pop duo behind summer smash hit “Safe and Sound,” owes much of its success to Craigslist. And Lima, Peru.
It seems like a Cinderella tale for Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, who met in 2008 through a classified ad, wrote commercial jingles and suddenly exploded with a song that has sold 1.3 million singles in the United States. Undeniably upbeat and catchy, “Safe and Sound” is certified platinum in the United States, Germany and Canada, and has gone gold in Italy, Mexico, Austria and Switzerland.
Hear it live – and probably remixed, too – at Radio 94.7’s Electric Christmas on Wednesday at Sleep Train Arena, where Capital Cities plays alongside the likes of Cage the Elephant, Grouplove and Alt-J.
Even though it seems like “Safe and Sound” blew up in just the past few months, the song has actually been around for years. In 2011, Merchant and Simonian released it online, where it slowly gained traction on the music blog circuit. “It was very much a DIY, organic rise to get to where it is today,” Merchant said.
And along the way, a radio station in Lima, Peru, got a hold of “Safe and Sound” and made it a fixture in its rotation.
“We started noticing on Facebook that we had just tons of people leaving comments in Spanish,” Merchant said. “And when you looked at the analytics, you saw they were from Peru.”
So Merchant and Simonian contacted the station and got their first international gig. And at 1,000 people, it was the biggest show they had ever played.
“Having that experience I think gave us this confidence, so that later on, we invested our own money into our own alternative radio campaign,” Merchant said. “We were confident the song would do well.”
And it did. Capitol Records signed Capital Cities and took “Safe and Sound” to the next level – it was the first single on the group’s June debut album “Tidal Wave of Mystery.” Rolling Stone praised the hit for its “unbridled optimism and joy.”
That was the intention – Merchant said he and Simonian immediately wanted to create warmth and fun. “The older I get the more optimistic and the more joyous I become,” Merchant said. “And I think Sebu would say the same thing.”
The record is full of synth-heavy, high-energy dance tunes, using an unusual and welcomed dose of trumpet. Billboard called “Kangaroo Court,” the second single, “a summer jam if we’ve ever heard one.”
The most experimental track, “Farrah Fawcett Hair,” is an ode to things unquestionably awesome, such as solar energy, Nutella and Fawcett’s hair. And it features Andre 300 from Outkast and Frank Tavares, the unmistakable voice of National Public Radio.
“The record is catchy, but it has a musical sophistication to it as well,” Merchant said. “It has moments that are dark and we hope to challenge people.”
Spin called “Tidal Wave of Mystery” a compilation of “breezy summer electro jams by guys who know what commercial means.”
Ah, commercial. Yes, Merchant and Simonian know a thing or two about commercials. Though the jingle-writing days are in the past, Merchant said they helped with Capital Cities’ current success. The members of duo learned to how run their own business, which could only help them as they navigate the industry. Plus, it was a different kind of music writing.
“It was learning how to hone in our skills as producers, and writing things that were immediately catchy and would stick into people’s heads,” Merchant said.
Capital Cities just finished up a national tour with funky dance band Fitz and the Tantrums. Looking ahead to 2014, Capital Cities plans to hit Asia, South America and Europe, and perhaps start thinking about a second album.
“It’d be fun to introduce a new instrument that becomes a centerpiece for our sound, experiment with something you traditionally wouldn’t hear in electro-pop,” Merchant said.
He mentioned visions of a slide guitar making its way onto a few tracks, and that the Capital Cities trumpeter recently bought a trombone. Either way, the Capital Cities live show is likely to maintain its energy, with choreographed dancing, crowd participation and giant, plastic sunglasses. Yes, they wear those sunglasses at night.
“It’s become an iconic Capital Cities thing,” Merchant said.