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Sounds like a party: Capital Cities bring synth-pop around the globe

Matt Sullivan

Before "Safe and Sound" was a multi-platinum single and had a Grammy-nominated music video, it was a random hit in South America.

"The first radio station to pick up on it was an alternative station in Lima, Peru, and it shot to number one on that station," said Capital Cities' Sebu Simonian, one half of the Los Angeles synth-pop duo responsible for the single. "We used that to convince the rest of world and the music industry that this song has a lot of potential."

Capital Cities released the song on its own in 2011, made a DIY video and shopped it around on the blogosphere. "We continued to keep in touch with whoever would support us -- radio stations, blogs and whatnot -- and it just grew organically," Simonian said. And as soon as the first chance to play shows outside the U.S. presented itself, Capital Cities knew exactly where to go.

"We went straight to Peru," he said. "It was worth it to us to just pick up and go on our own."

In 2012, Capital Cities fittingly signed to Capitol Records and repackaged the song on the band's full-length debut, last year's "In a Tidal Wave of Mystery." The album takes the dance-oriented synth-pop of "Safe and Sound" and expands it on tracks like the hook-laden follow-up single, "Kangeroo Court."

Simonian and songwriting partner Ryan Merchant honed their knack for catchy melodies before forming Capital Cities. The partnership got its start when Simonian posted an ad in 2007 on Craigslist offering his production services. "I rarely posted ads back then," he explained. "It was probably just one of a handful of ads I posted around that time looking for work."

Merchant was the only person to reply to the ad.

"We appreciated each other's musical taste, so he came over and we've been working on music ever since," Simonian said.

For three years, the pair wrote jingles for commercials and TV spots, but eventually turned their attention to Capital Cities and recruited more musicians through Craigslist. As the band's notoriety continues to swell, the group is making its first trip to Alaska. After that, it's off to open for Katy Perry on the pop star's Prismatic Tour.

If there's a song on "Tidal Wave" that offers a parallel to Capital Cities' first success, it's the carefree party-pleaser "Farrah Fawcett Hair." The song includes guest appearances from OutKast's Andre 3000 and National Public Radio's Frank Tavares, which came about simply because the duo decided to take a stab in the dark and ask them.

"I think the first idea was to list off the undeniably awesome things in life -- which are Nutella, Michael Jackson, the movie 'Back to the Future 2' -- and we thought, how cool would it be if one of our favorite voices, Frank Tavares of NPR, narrated it," Simonian explained of the song's gestation. "That was the first piece of the puzzle, and after that, anything we threw against the wall kind of stuck."


By Matt Sullivan
Daily News correspondent