Maybe you’ve seen the video: All-white jumpsuits. Chelsea boots. Infectious dance moves. And, of course, the jangly slow jam melody of their single, “Artificial Sin.” But local indie-pop band Super City is so much more than last summer’s quasi-viral mini-film.
The band's second full-length record, Sanctuary, out later this month, shows off their staying power. Its 10 sensational songs are the kind of rock-star-worthy anthems and power ballads that just don’t get made anymore, featuring searing guitar solos, all-out soprano vocals, thunder-and-lightning drums, and full-blown shimmering fun.
Earlier this month, we sat down with frontmen Dan Ryan and Greg Wellham to talk about the new album, the band’s friendship, and, of course, their fancy footwork. Catch their record release show at the Ottobar on September 29.
I hear the two of you go all the way back to high school.
Dan Ryan: We met in biology class.
Greg Wellham: Dan sat right behind me. We first connected by playing music on our desks together. Dan would start tapping a pencil and I would hear it and then tap my fingers. We would transfer beats back and forth and then get yelled at by our teacher.
D: We eventually played some random gigs together, like someone’s house party at an indoor pool, but we were never in the same band.
G: All throughout high school, and even into college, when we both went to Towson University, we never had a band. We didn’t start writing music together until our senior year and the first song was actually “Find You” off our first EP.
D: I think it worked out though. We developed our own individual styles and skillsets and then finally brought the two together.
Speaking of styles, what were some of your initial influences? We definitely hear some ’70s icons in some of your songs.
D: Definitely. My dad was a trumpet player at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He was a huge influence. After my parents split, my brother went off to college, so it was basically just me and my dad, hanging out, talking about all kinds of music all the time together. I think I always knew I wanted to be a musician. I would fantasize about performing in front of people. I played trumpet and also had this little Cassio keyboard that I would put on the guitar setting and use to write little riffs before I ever learned how to play the real guitar.
G: My dad was really into classic rock. Sabbath and all that. My mom introduced me to a lot of Light FM stuff—Patsy Cline, Whitney Houston, Gloria Estefan. I played saxophone in middle school but coming into high school, I discovered the guitar and realized that was all I ever wanted to do from there on out. The singing came way later for both of us.
Is it hard having two frontmen?
D: It’s a constant clash of power! [Laughs.] No, we’re a unit.
G: In writing our songs, we take turns, which keeps things interesting. One of the hardest parts about being in a band is just getting along. I don’t want to jinx it or anything, but we really just enjoy each other’s company and respect one another. Everyone is a full-time musician so we’re all on the same page with professionalism and work ethic and just honing our craft. Plus these guys are really funny—we’re constantly making each other laugh.
With your live shows, Super City exudes an old-school level of showmanship. Where does that come from?
D: Nowadays people see it as a gimmick, but dance is a very integral part of music and the arts, and it’s the best thing in the world to do. We don’t tell people that we’re a dance band so there’s always this element of surprise at the beginning of the set where the audience is questioning: “Do I like this?” People have expectations of what a rock show is going to be, but there are no rules to our set.
G: And why wouldn’t you want to dance? We just really like the feeling of bringing people together. There’s nothing more exciting than when you finally catch the audience’s attention and then you see it start to spread. By the end of the set, the entire place is sidestepping, which is really fun to watch.
How did you come to include choreography into your shows?
D: I started incorporating dance moves because we had a lot of pedals and it was too hard and awkward to keep switching them over from section to section. Out of that, I thought, wait, everyone needs to dance! We then went and saw St. Vincent who was doing her own kind of David Byrne thing, and by our spring tour in 2016, we had our first two moves. Now they’re incorporated into almost every song.
How did it feel after your “Artificial Sin” video took off the way it did last summer?
D: I don’t think we expect things often. We always hope it goes well, whatever that means, but we just wanted to make a cool video and share it with our friends. It’s weird sending yourself out into the world like that and seeing what people will think of this version of you, especially wearing all white and spinning around with your guitar. I think that single was also really exciting because we finally had something that really represented the direction we wanted to go.
And where is that?
D: There’s this certain thing that we have live that’s hard to capture in a recorded song. It’s kind of this grittiness—these well-polished songs but with an edge. But now we’re letting ourselves open up and do crazy things, like we’re going to have more guitar solos and we’re going to dance and do all this stuff that we were kind of afraid to do before.
What freed you up to do that?
D: Honestly, recording most of our songs on our iPhones.
G: On the first album, we were constantly trying to recreate the demos, which proved to be impossible. It was so frustrating to try to recreate some single guitar solo or special vocal, but then we realized that we lived in an age where we didn’t have to. Coming to that realization was a game changer.
D: Recording on our phones, we’re capturing the first point of raw inspiration, which is not something you get to do often in the recording process.
G: I definitely feel like the first album was us trying to figure out what we’re all about, and on this second album, we have such a good idea of who we are, and where we want to go. I think it’s a really accessible album. I’m really looking forward to having all types of musicians listen to it. I think there’s something for everybody on it.