Mar 2017 07

With the release of The Mute Gods’ second album, Nick Beggs graces ReGen with a cautionary reminder that hope for change without the will to carry it out will only speed up mankind’s already imminent demise.
 
The Mute Gods

 

An InterView with Nick Beggs of The Mute Gods

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Nick Beggs versatility as a musician and his proficiency as a bassist and songwriter simply cannot be understated having spent the last 30 years honing his craft in various bands and outlets and working with some of the biggest names in pop and progressive music. Having formed The Mute Gods with producer/multi-instrumentalist Roger King and drummer Marco Minnemann, two musicians of equal renown, the 2016 debut album Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me was an album that was as remarkable in its juxtaposition of catchy pop sensibility with complex compositional structure as it was weighty in its subject matter, addressing many issues relating to mankind’s continued decay and obliviousness to the oblivion we are setting up for ourselves. Government suppression and surveillance, internet trolls, the prevalence of religious dogma, the unsustainability of the food industry were all topics foremost on Beggs’ mind, culminating in what was one of the year’s most darkly prophetic and musically rich albums. This year, the trio follows up with a leaner, meaner record, Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth. Surpassing the debut in virtually every respect from its dense and intricate production values to the lyrics and delivery taking on a harsher, more urgent tonality, it’s clear that Beggs and company have no intention of allowing mankind’s self-imposed downfall be a quiet affair. The Mute Gods pontificate without preachiness or pretense, and while it may already be too late for humanity to turn the tide on its own demise, we at least have a band like this to scream in our faces, “Don’t say you weren’t warned!” Nick Beggs now speaks with ReGen Magazine about the process of creating The Mute Gods’ second album, providing a cautionary and condemning commentary on just what we as a species are doing to ourselves and our planet.

 

Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth is certainly a heavier album than Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me, and there are less guest performances than the first album. How did the production process of this album compare to the first one?

Beggs: Well, I wanted to write the material on my own this time. I had four or five other guest composers with me on the first album, which I think was my attempt to sort of find the right direction musically. I figured that between all of those other helpers, I would be able to focus in on one direction. Having done that now and once I knew which way that was, I could actually take the helm from there more effectively. So, the difference primarily is that I wrote everything this time myself.

You’ve worked with Roger King for many years, and you’d previously spoken about how you wanted his production touch. In what ways would you say his abilities strengthened the songs as you originally wrote them? Did the music change in any way once he put his stamp on them?

Beggs: I think he helps put a production sheen across stuff; I think he added some interesting countermelodies. On a creative level, he’s very good at that – countermelody. For instance, where there is a lead line playing, he might have a secondary part on guitar playing, and he’ll often be the person who will play that part. I like his production style as well; it’s quite stark and machine like, which works with the sound.

From what I understand, he did pen the opening overture, ‘Saltatio Mortis.’

Beggs: That’s right. I had said to him that I need a ’21st century funeral march for mankind, so could you write something?’ So, he wrote that piece, and I think it’s a great opener.

It definitely sets the tone quite well, although it’s also easy to tell that it’s Roger’s piece since it bears a resemblance to the opening track on Steve Hackett’s Wolflight, which he also co-produced.

Beggs: Yes, very much so.

As far as the subject matter, it carries on in a darker and heavier direction from the first album, with everything going downhill for humanity, how we mistreat the Earth, and similar topics. You’d also previously said that you could pontificate on these topics for two or three albums, but has anything at all changed in your outlook?

Beggs: In a word, no. Nothing has uplifted my spirits, and in fact, I think the world’s a darker and more stupid place than when I started. Because of that, I decided to make an album that is an acknowledgement of that fact – of our fragility, our stupidity, and our impending demise.

And the album ends with ‘Stranger Than Fiction,’ which you wrote for your wife, and that seems to end things with a ray of hope, and having your daughter as a vocalist on both albums, it seems that the family elements is the saving grace at the end of such a dark road.

Beggs: Yes, I think that’s right. I’ve been very much a family man during my life, even though I’ve had a divorce. My children have always been very central to my life and how I conduct it, and I think they have been my saving grace as well. They are the things that you want to make an effort for. They are the things that make you try to be a better person. They are the people that make you hope for tomorrow and make you strive to change the world, but in light of everything that we’re experiencing, no amount of hope or prayer is going to change the path that we’re on. It’s going to take an act of will, but there is no will. There is no will to change the way we’re going.

I personally have had many discussions where people like to think that more progressive attitudes towards different ethnicities, the LGBTQ community, and debunking old religious dogmas have taken root. Of course, the opposite viewpoints still exist and seem to be the ones in power the world over.
Do you see any way that that can change? What would you see as necessary to strengthen the will and make people actually try to live up to their potential for the better?

Beggs: If the best that we can offer ourselves is hope, then we have no hope. It’s going to take an act of incredible unified singularity to move us from the path we’re on. We have people pulling in all directions, and yet, there’s one big issue that governments do not want to acknowledge. They do not want to talk about it because they know it’s a vote loser. They cannot address the fact of the exponential population growth, and that is like a huge millstone around all of our necks being thrown into the deepest trench in the ocean, and we’re all being dragged down by it. We’re living on a finite planet and we’re using up our resources at a terrifying, terrifying rate. And even if we wanted to, even if we all started pulling in the same direction, it would still take an incredible act of will to change the path we’re on, and frankly, there is no real desire on the part of politicians or industry to change the path we’re on. There is still so much petrochemicals tied up in the Earth, and so much money connected to them that you will never change that lobby to keep those resources locked up. New technologies are just bought and shelved all the time by these big companies and that is just one issue. There are so many issues in relation to that that I do not believe that we will survive, and I don’t think that hope is an answer for anything. You might as well go to church and pray.

On the deluxe edition of the new album is a song called ‘Hallelujah,’ and you had mentioned that you wanted to put the song ‘Jesus Thinks You’re a Fuckwit’ on this album when we last spoke. Did that song change title or shape, or will we still hear it sometime?

Beggs: I’m going to let you wait and see.

(Laughter)

I’ve also noticed that there are more purely instrumental tracks on this album.

Beggs: Yes, but they are shorter. There may be more of them, but they are shorter pieces. I think that I had more of a lyrical idea of what I wanted to say, and therefore I felt that keeping the instrumentals as scene changers or reflective moments was more suitable. That’s what I tried to do with this record.

It certainly does seem that once ‘Lament’ kicks in, then the record shifts tone with ‘The Singing Fish of Batticaloa.’ And that does call attention to the fact that with other songs like the title track and ‘Animal Army,’ that there are three songs with animals specifically mentioned in the titles and thus the album has a greater connection to the natural world, thematically. Was this just another progression of the same issues, or was there a special prominence for a reason?

Beggs: I think the biosphere per se is in a dreadful state, and obviously, we only make up one percentage of the organisms in it. We have dominion over this whole planet, and all of the animals in it are feeling the repercussions of our lifestyle, our policies, and our arrogance. So I felt that it was important to write songs from their perspective as much as from my perspective. I’m a vegetarian for various reasons, but one of them is because of the untenability of the meat industry and also the incredible pernicious nature of it. We actually could feed the world time and time again if we stopped using our land to raise cattle and grew soy protein or other crops that were more efficient and made better use of the land. But we don’t; we choose to continue to pollute the world and treat these creatures in such a bad way just as commodities. These are living organisms, and in many levels with quite complex nervous systems, and they are subjected to the most heinous and barbaric treatment at our hands. My hatred of the meat industry is quite luciferous, and so ‘Animal Army’ is a mad yell on behalf of the animal population at us. With that in mind, with ‘The Singing Fish of Batticaloa,’ I put lyrics to the concept of these organisms that really exist in Sri Lanka, and I used a bit of poetic license to say what they might be singing about, and they’re singing about our imminent demise. That’s what they’re warning us of, as I’m sure many creatures would attest to, could they speak. But ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth’ is a metaphor; ‘the meek shall inherit the Earth’ is one of the attitudes that Christ was supposed to have uttered, and I’ve taken that and played with it in two ways. First of all, scientists tell us that in the event of a nuclear war, the cockroach will be the most likely survivor because of the way their bodies are structured, but the Tardigrades are very much becoming part of popular culture and becoming more prevalent. That’s not least of all because they’ve been found living successfully on the outside of the International Space Station, and they’ve also been found living inside nuclear reactors, and also in deep trenches in the oceans at incredibly high pressures. They’re also used in adverts on British television and various other things. They are becoming quite prevalent, and so I used them as a metaphor to be the superior being once we make life so bad for everything else on this planet that there will be nothing left. So, that’s the whole idea of that – there’s a Biblical context, and I’ve played with it as a social observation. But that’s not so empathic as much as poetic license you might say.

Not to make light of it, but it does take on a similar comedic tone as Douglas Adams’ So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish from his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Beggs: Yes, quite! I wanted the song to be ironic, and in a way, it is ironic and it is kind of humorous, and I am making a semi-humorous video for that, although it does have some sobering content. The message is quite sobering, but I wanted it to be ironic, apocalyptic, and catchy, and I think that’s what that song is.

It absolutely is all of those things. I’ve been humming it to myself for quite a few days now.

Beggs: Yes, it is a bit of an earworm, isn’t it?

It really is – it’s wonderful. I’m glad you mentioned the video too, because you made five videos for the first album, and you have the lyric video for ‘We Can’t Carry On.’

Beggs: Yes, the record label had suggested the lyric video because they are quite economic to make, and the people I worked with at Crystal Spotlight have got tremendous resources. So, I told them what I wanted, because the actual text of that song is very powerful as it makes an observation of where we’re at politically right now. I wanted there to be no misunderstanding here; this is what I’m saying, and it nails it to the mark, I think.

 

 

Oh, absolutely, and it’s a song that I think is very much needed. It seems like every day in the U.S., there is some new scandal, some new criminal activity…

Beggs: Oh, don’t worry about that because we here in the U.K. have our own group of dickheads!

My parents are Turkish and often return home to visit family and such, and last year, they returned home just before the attempted coup. It was almost literally, ‘Welcome home, and did you hear what happened?’

Beggs: I was out there a few months before that coup, but there was a curfew that night because there had been some shootings, and the riots were right outside of our hotels. It’s a shame, because yet again, it’s quite a classic example – the people are so lovely and the food is wonderful; it’s such a great country, but you have these political idiots who just… how in God’s name do they get to be there? It’s unbelievable.

Getting back to the videos, one thing I’ve noticed in the videos and in the band photographs, you do not have any tattoos, but…

Beggs: Yes, they’re not tattoos. They’re special sleeves, which I own quite a few of, and I wear them underneath my waistcoat.

Do they have any special significance to the songs they’re featured in or to the band in general?

Beggs: They don’t signify anything. They’re just there to create an image and an interesting visual hook. The fact that you picked up on them means that they were doing their job. It’s like when you’re an artist, you try to present yourself in a way that is eye-catching or different to get people thinking or talking, but there was no significance to it. I don’t have any tattoos; I just have one piercing in my nose, but I don’t have any other body augmentations. Actually, I don’t really like tattoos to be honest with you. That’s why I just wanted to wear those sleeves, because I thought they looked interesting and I could change them up whenever I wanted to.

Also related to the artwork of The Mute Gods is the image of the box head, which appears in both albums. How did this image come about?

Beggs: Well, again, it’s a way in which I wanted to trademark the band. I felt that by association, you need to have a strong logo or image, and three guys in their 40s and 50s is not particularly interesting, and I think we brush up okay, but who wants to see us standing around with our arms folded? I think if you can present something that has a visual allegory connected to it… it is metaphorical yet again. I wanted that image because I wanted to use something that represented religion, and so I can break it down to you this way – the mirror-headed man is a representation of God as seen from anyone looking at any one of his facets. He has five mirrored surfaces on his head. You can either look down on it, or you can look at any of the other four directions, and so you could have five people looking into those mirrors who would all see something completely different. They would see whatever they wanted to see reflected back at them; either themselves, or the way they see themselves. Yet, this individual, this mirror-headed man doesn’t have the ability to communicate. There’s no mouth, no eyes, there’s no method of communicating back, and I think it’s a perfect metaphor for the way in which mankind has created God and then interprets God’s dialog and uses it against himself. The Mute Gods is a representation of man’s desire to not be alone in the universe, and then to create what we think he is, and use it against ourselves. That’s what it is.

That is a marvelous description and, I dare say, one of the most beautiful descriptions of a visual motif.

Beggs: Well, thank you.

 

 

Regarding man’s desire not to be alone in the universe, does it ever come into your thought process to look at the stars and wonder what else might be out there?

Beggs: I’m 55 now, and at 55, I’m very fortunate really, because I have the opportunity to reinvent myself as an artist, which I didn’t think I would to be quite honest. But from the fact that I have, I can tell you that on the journey I’ve been on to get here, I’ve been through some very interesting times. One of the paths I’ve been down has been a constant searching for religious answers or spiritual understanding as a believer in God, or as a Christian, or as later on in my life as a pantheistic thinker – somebody who was embracing all religious thought. But now, I’ve come full circle, and I don’t believe in God at all. I believe that every choice I’ve made as a true searcher of truth was dependent on me making inclusions or drawing conclusions and finding significances that I felt were important. There wasn’t any spiritual intervention. There wasn’t any helpful example of God manifesting himself in my life. And yet, I could tell you and believe that he had at various times. But looking back now, I realize that it was my desire for that to happen that made it happen. It was my interpretation, my analysis of circumstances. God is mute; the gods are mute because they don’t exist. We put words in their mouths, and there is a long tradition of mankind putting words in God’s mouth, and so therefore, I’ve come to that place and I’m very happy about it. I realize that I’m more stable in my own emotions and psyche and happy to let go of the spiritual dimension as an anathema. It doesn’t matter; even if it is true, we don’t know. We’re not supposed to know. So therefore, I’ve changed my whole perspective. Also, religion is an incredibly dogmatic and divisive tool, and most countries where you have religion prevalent are countries where people are poor and have no choice. Where you have well educated and well protected and socially strong finances, you have a lessening for God because God is a crutch for mankind in times of trouble.

You are touring with Steve Hackett once again, and we had spoken before about the possibility of The Mute Gods performing live. Are there any plans to perhaps bring The Mute Gods live in 2017?

Beggs: I’ve got no plans to do anything with the band live. I have started the third album already, and my plan is to release the third album a year from now. Once that’s done and once I’ve got three albums under my belt, I’ll be in a position to see if there’s a market for us to play live. But until I know what the audience and fan base is like… you know, people have been saying to me, ‘Why don’t you tour?’ And that’s very nice; it’s very encouraging to know that people are interested, but it’s very expensive to put a tour on with a band, or even just to put a few shows on. It’s got to justify itself.

I certainly hope that it will.

Beggs: I would very much like to do it. I really would! What I would do if I did do it is I would augment the trio with a guitarist and do a sequence of maybe four or five shows that would be very special events just with us appearing. But we’re only a year-plus over, and perhaps two years away from that if it does happen, so it’s early days. But hopefully, I’ll run into you and I really appreciate your time on this. I’m also very grateful to Roger King and Marco Minnemann for wanting to be a part of it, and I’m very excited about where they are helping me to develop it. They’re both very extraordinary people in their own right, and I’m very lucky to have them working with me.

 

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Photography by Hajo Muller, Lewis Duncan, and Thanuwatt Mewone – courtesy of InsideOut Music

 

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