For a hard-touring band — especially one with a habit of releasing its albums in the fall — a winter at home with few professional obligations is a rarity.
But that's exactly what the three members of Beats Antique have enjoyed over the past few months, drummer Tommy "Sidecar" Cappel says in a telephone interview from his residence in Oakland, California.
"It's been really nice. I've been growing my hair out. My beard was all messed up," he says with a laugh. "But I'm starting to feel that mojo coming on."
Of course, time away from Beats Antique doesn't necessarily mean time away from making music for Cappel, who co-founded the globally inspired electro-roots band with multi-instrumentalist David Satori and belly dancer Zoe Jakes in 2007. Cappel lives four blocks from his studio and says he goes there every day, either for work or for play.
"My favorite coffee shop is in the same building, so of course I'm going to go there. And if I go there, I'm going to walk in and I'm going to do something," he says. "Every time I walk into the studio, I create a folder of stuff, and that stuff just sits around until I find it again. I have thousands of [recordings] of me just messing around for a couple of hours ... and when I'm stumped, I go into those folders and start getting un-stumped."
Last October, Beats Antique released Shadowbox, its 10th studio album in 10 years. Like the nine before it, the record is a fat-bottomed fusion of big beats and booming bass, cinematic grandeur, gritty hip-hop, organic funk, Burning Man vibes and cool sounds from around the world, particularly Africa and the Middle East. Live, the group augments its music with Jakes' beautiful belly dancing and other visual treats.
Beats Antique is nothing if not singular, but its special blend of styles has found a large audience, first on the West Coast and then, slowly but surely, beyond. The band headlines festivals and fills theaters across the world, and that demand heavily influenced the making of Shadowbox, Cappel says.
"When you're invited somewhere, you end up being there in a much more enlightened way. You have locals showing you things, introducing you to people, bringing you to parties you wouldn't have known about at all," he says. "So when these opportunities came up, we just took 'em.
We've done that our whole career, it's just that it happened that this album had a lot of different places represented."
For Shadowbox, Beats Antique recorded in an industrial part of Moscow and one of the finest studios in Tel Aviv, as well as London, the Bay Area and New Orleans. Guest performers include Oregon MC Lafa Taylor, NYC progressive brass band Too Many Zooz, Indian classical musician Alam Khan, Russian folk singer Tatyana Kalmykova and New Orleans' legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Cappel, Jakes and Satori initially came together to create accompaniment for one of Jakes' dance productions, but it didn't take long for the trio to realize they'd stumbled onto something more. Of course, they had no idea just how much more Beats Antique would become.
"There are times as a musician that you sense something, and you go toward it because you sense something, but also because you don't really have much else going on," Cappel says. "So it was kind of this moment where it was like, 'Well, of course I want to pay my rent by making music.'"
These days, the band is well past paying the rent. Just don't ask Cappel to treat the opportunity any differently than he always has.
"In a lot of ways, I feel the same as I did then, which is, 'Cool. I get to make music? This is awesome,'" he says. "I get to make music with my friends that's just totally beautiful and weird and strange and nobody tells me I can't do something. That's really rare." ♦
Beats Antique with Mr. Bill • Tue, April 18 at 8 pm • $22 • All-ages • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • sp.knittingfactory.com • 244-3279