In 2014, an eighth-grade earth science teacher in Virginia Beach, Virginia, assigned a group capstone project. Usually a capstone project represents the culmination of learning and life experiences. For Ryan Holmes, Jonathan Gragnano, Thomas Squires and Kasun Gunawardena, it represented the beginning of their friendship.
Inspired by their shared love of music, the four bonded instantly, and in the ninth grade, they decided to form a band. The members had little experience making music at this point. Wanting to find some way to retain the word “capstone,” they named themselves Capital 4. Shortly after, Holmes and his family moved 1,800 miles away to Colorado. It would’ve been easy to call it quits, but the band kept going.
“No sense in giving up what sounds like a cool band name,” Holmes said.
Five years later, Capital 4 put out two EPs, a handful of singles and soon, “Alone in the Crowd,” their first full-length album. Capital 4’s grown big enough to be played on Phoenix FM in the United Kingdom. Capital 4 never performed a live gig or did traditional band promotion, yet it has hundreds of followers around the world. Fans have streamed their biggest hit, “When I’m Drunk,” over 19,000 times.
Ryan Holmes is a 20-year-old music composition major at UNC. He’s the frontman, multi-instrumentalist and one of the main creative forces behind Capital 4. Holmes tends to be a bit shy but is extremely passionate about the craft of songwriting and storytelling, going on at length about the themes and story behind “Alone in the Crowd.” It’s a concept album about a young man looking for love and feeling, as the title says, alone in the crowd.
This story-based approach contrasts with Capital 4’s previous work. The band spent the formative years experimenting. For example, Holmes raps on the song “Align” from the first EP in 2016. He’s not proud of that song, along with a lot of his early work, because of how directionless he felt when writing it.
“My best work is when I have something to write about instead of writing something,” Holmes said.
Since then, Capital 4 settled on a synth pop style inspired by indie fixtures like Foster the People and fun., as well as massive pop stars like Lorde and The Weekend. Those inspirations are fused in “When I’m Drunk,” the first single released off the album.
Gragnano, the other main creative force behind Capital 4, wrote “When I’m Drunk,” which he considers one of the most fun songs he’s ever written.
“It was a really fun vibe, even if the lyrics are semi-serious,” Gragnano said. “It’s really easy to sing along to.”
Gragnano, as well as the other bandmates continued to live in Virginia after Holmes moved away. He attends Old Dominion University in Norfolk as a political science major.
So with one member living in Colorado and the rest living 1800 miles away, how do they make music?
“That’s the main stumbling block over the years,” Gragnano said.
Holmes and Gragnano are the main songwriters. One of them will start writing either the drum beat or bassline and upload it to the band’s shared Google Drive. After that, they’ll hold a video call to gather feedback and ideas as well as delegate the rest of the work between the other members. After that, Holmes flies out to Virginia Beach to record vocals in a studio.
This process of meeting remotely and flying cross-country to record vocals isn’t without difficulties. Besides the time constraints of recording with his band in-person, the process actually delayed “Alone in the Crowd’s” release significantly. The vocals for the album’s closer, “Where Else Can I Go,” were lost because of a mix-up. After months of silence from the studio, they were eventually found in January 2021, but by then, the album’s planned fall 2020 release wasn’t possible.
Another difficulty is promotion. Even before Covid-19 shut down venues, all four members have yet to perform live together. Holmes did perform a free outdoor concert at Old Town Square in Fort Collins on March 28.
Instead, the band makes extensive use of social media and word of mouth, heavily promoting themselves on their personal Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Being in two states also helps. Holmes cites his friend DJ Crawford as the reason why Capital 4 has a significant following in Crawford’s hometown of Littleton.
“It had a strong sound. I’ve always listened to small musicians and thought they were interesting,” Crawford said.
Capital 4 is aiming to release its first LP, “Alone in the Crowd,” in June. “Small Talk,” the second single off the album, released on March 26. That song, and the rest of the band’s music, can be found on all streaming platforms.
After “Alone in the Crowd” releases, Capital 4 hopes to play live concerts in Virginia and Colorado. The four plan on living closer together to make more music, and possibly make a career out of it.
“My dream is for Capital 4 to play in a sold-out stadium, holding the mic and letting the crowd sing,” Holmes said.