Veteran roduction trio and wholly interactive live event spectacle Beats Antique visit Washington, DC’s Echostage on October 22nd for their “Creature Carnival” tour. Speaking with Tommy Cappel, Zoe Jakes and David Satori is as much about gaining a sense of what “worldtronica” or what “global fusion” music even means as much as it is about learning about the types of human beings (and their personalities) responsible for the unique mixture of style and sound that create the touring threesome. From working with Indian classical legends, guitar gods, American pop stars and a plethora more, their tracks touch people because of their passion and creativity. Attempting to dig to the bottom of what motivates Beats Antique is hard work, but once at the core, entirely worthwhile. Enjoy!
Beats Antique has a significant connection to the DC region, so I was pleasantly surprised to note that you had a remix of your latest track “The Rift” done by Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation, who I view as the groundbreakers in the style and sound with which the three of you are so closely affiliated. How does it feel to come back to the area?
Tommy: I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia. My mom, my sister and a lot of my friends from high school come out to our shows and stuff. I have a lot of history here. Every time I come back there, we have awesome audiences who have a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it. Thievery Corporation are pioneers in putting together dance music with world fusion music. We definitely follow in that vein, so they’re definitely influencers of our [sound]. We’re glad that Rob could do a remix.
Zoe: About 13 years ago, the first dance that I ever choreographed was to a Thievery Corporation song.
With so many “moving parts” in your creative circle, how do you get the right balance of everything in your productions? What goes into that process?
Zoe: Sometimes I feel like what ends up happening is we have a bunch of ideas and we do a lot of stuff, but there’s always too much, and we realize we’re trying to do too much, so we chip away at it.
Tommy: We’re really excited whenever we start making something. All of us have completely different influences that we want to tie together obviously, but once we put it all into the mix it seems kind of vast. Sometimes we like to focus it in more, but when we’re chipping away, it makes it easier to digest for everyone – unique, different, exciting and fun.
The double album A Thousand Faces was your latest project. What about its creation and development separated it from your past material, and why? What have been the most significant changes in the production process for Beats Antique over the past seven years?
Tommy: A Thousand Faces has to be the most ambitious musical project we’ve ever done. It was a double album, and a full hour and a half show. It was fully conceived from start to end with intention, and followed the story of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” It was a good concept album, and the concerts had multimedia with projections. It was a huge undertaking, and we’re taking a step back from that and performing something else, going back to some of our older music right now. It was a huge endeavor. [Insofar as what has evolved], with our stage show,we have better lighting, huge inflatables and more props.
Zoe: We’ve discovered how many interests we have as artists, too, and we’re trying to juggle all of them. There’s video, there’s performance art – from belly dancing, to Indian, to pop-locking – so, we’re finding ourselves learning how to work with more tools than we ever expected to have to work with.
Tommy: This is the first time that we tried to connect all of the songs. Previously, our albums were compilations of songs that we were working on throughout the time that we were recording. This one was very intentional. It changed us as artists.
You’ve already had an incredible array of artists that have played and or recorded songs with you. Who were the ones that stood out the most, and who would you be most intrigued by working with in the future?
Tommy: We had a meeting one night about who we wanted to collaborate with and how we wanted [the collaboarations] to work out. We said we wanted to work with Alam Khan (who the trip later worked with on the track “Kismat”) , and I get home from the meeting and on Facebook, Alam Khan had actually reached out and said that he wanted to get in touch and collaborate with us. That was a really awesome experience. We got to work with an Indian classical musician who has a really strong lineage in that music. We wanted to go in that direction for a song, and it was the perfect opportunity to work with an awesome musician and a good guy – but also someone who could teach us a little bit about it and be sort of validating to what we were working towards. It was really cool. We’ve also played with Les Claypool (on 2013’s “Beelzebub”) who obviously is an amazing musician and has become somewhat of a friend over the years. Being able to collaborate with him was really fun.
I wanted to ask about Burning Man, and the recent pop phenomenon that the festival has become. I know all of you have been several times (and the group is associated with the culture). Thoughts about the evolution of that scene of late?
Tommy: We were all going to Burning Man before we met each other, and it’s had an influence on us all individually as artists. We bring a bit of Burning Man in every show we do, from our antics, to our wildness and craziness, too. The cool thing about Burning Man is that we’ve all had our first time, and that it changes everyone who goes. I feel like it’s really awesome when people can experience that place. Someone responded to a Spin article recently where people were talking shit like “blah blah blah millionaires [attending Burning Man],” and our friend said “Burning Man is an event that brings in everyone. Why are so many people talking down [to millionaires]? You came once for your first time, too.” I think that the more people who can experience it and understand it for what it is for them, it furthers them in their life. It’s a really beautiful place to go.
Zoe, I wanted to ask about choreography and dance routines. Are your routines largely pre-planned, or do you get a feel for the crowd and energy and freestyle from there? There’s so many styles involved in what you’re doing onstage that it intrigued me.
Zoe: Well it depends. Things start from nothing, and I go into the studio with no ideas and then we’re practicing, from which comes a basic idea of the choreography. Sometimes I’ll bring something to the group. In the case of when we were working with Alam Khan, we were all working together on the arrangement, and I suggested something that felt good in the song, and that inspired choreography. It comes from all different angles. I don’t think I’m the most organized person, so it does feel very organic.
Which sets did you play recently that you felt the people’s energy in response the strongest? Where were you, and what about those places made the sets unique as well?
Tommy: We were just at the Austin City Limits festival, and they’re a crowd of music lovers so we had a really supportive response and I felt like [the crowd’s] responses were really supportive and authentic. They were in the moment, very present with us. That was fun. The High Sierra Music Festival was amazing. It was a really good crowd. The best shows are the ones where you play for people who love music and want to have a great experience.
David: We also played Preservation Hall in New Orleans, where we got to sit in with the house band there. We played Voodoo Festival and the after-event was [at Preservation Hall]. [The house band] learned a couple of our songs and we got to collaborate with them on some of their songs. It was so out of the box for us and for them. It was really neat and really fun, and it was one of the highlights of the year. The Preservation Hall Ball with Ani DiFranco, Alain Toussaint and a bunch of people was a bunch of fun, [too]. To collaborate with people on an acoustic level was something we had never really experienced.
Tommy: Frank Zappa, uhhhh…wow, that’s a difficult question.
Zoe: Here’s something about musicians that’s kind of weird. When you’re touring non-stop and you’re in the studio for 12 hours, you actually don’t have a good understanding of the music around you anymore. It’s like, we’re working so hard that we don’t have the same understanding of music or the scene as we used to. I don’t know? “Cats: The Musical?” I don’t know.