Spreading Love with Tommy Cappel of Beats Antique
Written by Lauren Jones
Beats Antique, an experimental band out of San Francisco, produces an enchanting array of electronic and world-fusion music. They also put on quite the show, performances that blur the lines between theater, dance and live music. The Grand Bizarre, the latest from Beats Antique, is like something out of the world of Cirque Du Soleil with extravagant costume changes, belly dancing, plenty of props and even a flying ship that creates a show that is equal parts mesmerizing as it is an impressive display of talent. Songwriter, drummer and producer Tommy Cappel, better known as “Sidecar Tommy,” is all about spreading the love each time he plays. He even has an arrow tattoo with a heart to prove it.
“There’s so much bullshit and hate in the world,” he says. “On a daily basis, people feel negative energy maybe more than they feel kindness, and yet kindness is so simple. I want my music, and any sounds I put out there, to inspire and support people. For me, every note is like shooting out love.”
Cappel, who graduated from Boston’s prestigious Berklee School of Music, got his start in New York City yet felt disconnected to the music scene there.
“People there were doing some amazing stuff, but I wasn’t on the inside of it and it was a really hard nut to crack,” he recalls.
After a few years in the Big Apple, Cappel made his way to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he immediately felt a kinship with his fellow creatives.
“People were so welcoming and wanted me to be a part of their community,” he remembers. “It was the supportive structure I was seeking my entire life and I landed into it without even trying,”
There, Cappel was also introduced to the underground music scene.
“Yard Dogs Road Show and Extra Action Marching Band, [which I was a part of], were these two enigmas that had this weird underground bubbling popularity,” he says. “It definitely wasn’t sellable but creating music for that kind of environment was amazing.”
While playing with Extra Action Marching Band, Cappel met dancer Zoe Jakes. And at Burning Man he met musician David Sartori. The trio went on to form Beats Antique in 2007. In the beginning, writing and playing music was nothing more than a joyous experiment, a platform of beats for Jakes to dance to.
“We didn’t seek out or try to do any of the stuff we are doing,” he says. “Zoe happened to get a record contract [with Miles Copland] that helped us do that.”
“It’s totally crazy, but at its root, the entire thing was an experiment and we didn’t have any pressure from anyone,” he adds. “We were able to say this is how I want this moment to feel, not this song, album or show. It was us; it just flowed.”
Now, 12 years later, Beats Antique continues to put on magical performances, and for Cappel it’s all about further establishing a supportive community and sharing positivity.
“I don’t care how many records we sell,” he says. “In fact, some of my favorite shows are when there’s no one there but 10 people. It’s more personal. I just want people to understand that the three of us, as well as anyone else that comes onto the stage, has this love inside of them they want to share.”
With the growth of social media, Cappel has also seen the Beats Antique fan base transform in the way they interact with one another.
“If you take a bunch of people living the best versions of themselves, it’s very powerful,” he says. “When online communities developed, I saw people acting differently at our shows. They would all get together and suddenly you have a whole section of the crowd [in matching outfits].”
On the Role of the Creative in Society
For Cappel, creativity is at the heart of society. “It’s the foundation,” he says. And even if you are in a job that is not necessarily a creative role, there are always creative ways to do things.
“My advice [for someone who wants to get into a creative industry] is to just take it all in and see what pops out,” he says. “To have patience, you have to have confidence and to have confidence you have to have support whether that’s coming from yourself or an outside source. I think the biggest thing is that life is stressful and it’s going to be stressful, but every moment can have either a positive or negative outcome.”
On the Importance of Societal Support and Self-Care
“When I moved to the West Coast, that’s when things began for me,” he says. “I learned to take care of myself, live more simply and be less stressed. I was able to get off my meds.”
Cappel, who suffers from epilepsy, turned toward natural medicine to heal his body.
“I’m 45 now and in my earlier days there was this funny sense of rebelling against any system you can,” he says. “It caused me not seek the right kind of healthcare. My experience with doctors previous to California was that they didn’t understand me and what was going on with me. It was like this 4-million-pound blanket that was draped over me.”
For Cappel, having support is everything.
“My whole life has been a challenge to be a musician,” he says. “You’re barely rooted anywhere. I think we’re taught not to ask questions, not to care or seek something deeper with someone, but we are learning.”
“Being able to afford my rent, my studio and being able to focus on music and creativity [wouldn’t be possible] without support,” he adds.
Guayaki Presents Come To Life Austin: The importance of art goes beyond its ability to connect and inspire. It is the conduit that spreads important ideas when barriers are present and words simply are not enough. Unfortunately, creators often do not have access to fundamental basic needs. During our time in Austin we are partnering with local groups that are solutionary in ensuring artists’ needs are met so they can not only continue to be makers in their community but movers as well. Join us on cometolife.com, and at our many events over the month of April as we explore this theme.