by JB Hyppolite
Springfield Township natives Ben Runyan, 26, and Scott Cumpstone, 27, are the musical magicians behind City Rain, an electro-pop duo who have become a buzz-worthy duo throughout the Philadelphia region and beyond. Both work full-time jobs during the day, but after work they break away from the “real world” to work towards their dream. The group’s hit single and video, “The Optimist,” has over 211,000 views and counting on YouTube. It has been voted to be featured on MTV’s college-oriented channel mtvU.
“It’s going to be on for the next month 30 to 50 times a week in rotation and over 750 colleges and universities,” said Ben, founder, lead vocalist and not flustered, only focused. “The Optimist” is the lead single off their upcoming album, “Songs for a High School Dance,” due for a March release. Ben belts “There’s an optimist in me” during the chorus as synthesizers blare in the background. Scott’s lead-guitar solo lifts the song to pop-anthem status.
The music video opens with the Philadelphia skyline and a quote from Alan Watts, a philosopher from England best known for popularizing Eastern philosophy for the Western world. Ben and Scott stand center stage in a dimly-lit room as lens flares light up each side of the screen. Meanwhile, there’s a narrative of Ben awaking to embark on a search to find his inner optimist.
“This was definitely a jump, we didn’t expect that … It’s great but not so overwhelming because it doesn’t really change our reality. At the end of the day we do need to go wake up and work,” said Scott.
Ben is a teacher at the Apple Store in Center City. He teaches a program that Apple users can access once they buy a computer called “One to One.” He teaches everyone from college students to disabled individuals how to use Apple products, while Scott is a chef at the Top of the Hill Café.
He was a chef coming out of college and used it as a creative outlet while being on a musical hiatus. The two work 40 hours a week each and then focus on recording, gigging and whatever needs to be done in order to pursue their passion.
Ben and Scott describe their emerging success as “humbling,” a “slow climb” and even“bizarre,” a testament to how driven they are. Most of the songs on the new album are what Ben describes as being “patched together.”
“We’ve had a lot less time to actually sit down together for any length of time and work on music … It was definitely a different experience than I was used to and I would say a lot harder, but I think very rewarding because it taught me a lot about songwriting,” said Ben, reflecting on the making of their upcoming album.
City Rain’s musical “raindrops” create an infectious and unique pop-electronic sound. Ben’s influences include classic New Wave bands Talking Heads and Joy Division. His “personal Jesus” is Talking Heads’ founder and lead singer David Byrne. Scott has a rock and folk background. The Beatles are his “heart and soul,” and he digs anything from singer-songwriters Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne. Scott loves the art of the pop song and how it comes together, without its being too “bubblegum.” Ben and Scott’s musical backgrounds merged when they found out they both loved the legendary rock band U2’s classic 1987 album, “The Joshua Tree.”
Ben started City Rain in 2007. It was originally a solo project that morphed into a band in 2010. The band name came from a random song title. The original guitarist left to pursue other endeavors, and Scott stepped in and has been with the project for about a year. “It’s been really the most fun I’ve had playing out live,” said Scott. “Ben uses the computer, the keyboard; then there’s the guitar. He has a really great ear, and he’s a great producer. When I come with these ‘little pieces’ and have no idea what to do with them, he can turn them into something really great. I have a blast playing.”
City Rain, who are not signed to a record label, have played at many of Philadelphia’s best known music venues and events such as North Star Bar, Underground Arts, The Barbary, The M Room, the XPoNential Festival, and more. Their music has been played on Philadelphia alternative stations Radio 104.5 FM and Penn’s WXPN 88.5 FM. Their musical journey is a reflection of the do-it-yourself times we live in with the real and digital worlds.
“I’ll speak for myself,” said Ben, “and say that I like the fact that we’re not signed right now … I’m a bit of a control freak, so I definitely like the amount of control we have over our art and our craft. I would have to hear a really good argument for signing to a label and have to pretty much assure that our album wouldn’t get shelved for years, and we wouldn’t have music that was signed but not used.” “Everything has changed,” added Scott, “especially the last 10 years, in how the industry works … We’re starting to see that you can have the resources that labels bring without signing to a label. The funding from a label to work on what needs to be worked on is the only true detriment to not being signed.”
Ben, a Wyndmoor native, graduated from Springfield Township High School, attended Dean College in Massachusetts and transferred to Temple University during his sophomore year. He studied Communications and Music Production. Scott, from Flourtown, went to Northeastern University in Boston and studied for a degree in Music Business but later changed to English.
City Rain’s discography, dates and other band-related information can be found at cityrain.info/ or cityraintunes.bandcamp.com. Their latest singles, “The Optimist” and “Join the Human Race,” are available on Amazon and iTunes. If you don’t catch “The Optimist” on mtvU during its rotation you can also see the video for “Join The Human Race” on YouTube.