“To me, guitars and synths are equal," says Ryan Merchant of the band Capital Cities. "Both can be used in great ways to make great music, and both can be used in shitty ways to make shitty music. I don’t really care so much what you use, as long as the quality is there.”
Merchant and his Capital Cities partner Sebu Simonian have a giant summer hit on their hands with the song Safe And Sound. Music fans entranced by the track's bountiful hooks have also reveled in its artful blend of synth textures, the majority of which were performed on a Roland Juno-106. "That's kind of the basis of our sound," Merchant says. "It's so big and rich, with a warmth you can't get on anything else."
Describing himself as more of a synth programmer than a player, Merchant also says that he's not a giant gearhead. "I'll go through periods where I'll do some research into what people are using," he says. "I'll read articles on synths or I'll watch a couple of videos and try to learn what somebody did or what they used to create a sound. For the most part, though, I try to just concentrate on my writing and do what I do naturally."
When compiling his list of 10 essential synth songs, Merchant says that he focused on melodies and harmonization, not cutting-edge innovation. "Like anybody else, I find it exciting when an artist breaks new ground," he says. "But to me, it's still about the groove or the aura of a track. The combination of interesting chord progressions with cool, syncopated bass parts also comes into play. Wrap that up with a creative approach to synthesizers, and you have the basis for something that’s going to grab you."
Read Merchant's picks for 10 essential synth songs on the following pages.