A true master of his craft, renowned bassist/songwriter Nick Beggs speaks with ReGen on his latest progressive brainchild, The Mute Gods.
An InterView with Nick Beggs of The Mute Gods
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Since the early ’80s, Nick Beggs has steadily built up an impressive repertoire to become one of the music world’s most well respected bass players. Since landing several hit singles with his first majorly successful band, Kajagoogoo, with “Too Shy” perhaps being the most recognized in the annals of ’80s hits, his precision and skill with the bass and Chapman Stick were readily apparent. Over the years, those skills would come to the service of some of the top luminaries in modern music; his talents span a wide spectrum of styles, from electronic, rock, pop, funk, and all points in between as Beggs would work with the likes of Gary Numan, Seal, Tina Turner, Howard Jones, and John Paul Jones, just to name a few. Renowned in the progressive rock community, he’s been a primary contributing member of such acts as Iona and Lifesigns, and has done extensive touring with such legends as Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett, and Steven Wilson. It was on his tours with Hackett and Wilson that the seeds were sown for his latest musical endeavor – The Mute Gods. As part of Hackett’s band, Beggs first began collaborating with keyboardist/guitarist Roger King in 2009, later meeting and performing with drummer Marco Minnemann in Wilson’s band in 2012. In 2014, Beggs began work on what would become the debut album from The Mute Gods; scheduled for release on January 22 via InsideOut Music, Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me presents a diverse range of sounds that transcends the categories of progressive rock, pop, and electronic music, with the music videos for the energetic title track and the somber and atmospheric “Feed the Troll” being but the first hints at what Beggs has described as “a rather disgruntled rant at the dystopia we’ve created for ourselves and our children.” Just prior to the onset of 2016, Nick Beggs was kind enough to speak with ReGen Magazine on the synergy that led to the formation of The Mute Gods and the creative process behind the album, expounding on the various roles each musician plays in the band, as well as the social and political topics presented in his lyrics, and the development of his craft over the past three-and-a-half decades.
Tell us about the formation of the band and how these particular musicians came to be part of The Mute Gods? What was it about the dynamic with them as opposed to other musicians you’ve performed with?
Regarding the themes that you explore on the album, such as the references to Dwight Eisenhower and the Military Industrial Complex, what sparked that? Were they themes you always wanted to pursue but couldn’t in your other outlets, or was there a specific instance that made you absolutely have to talk about it now?
Beggs: I had to decide what I was going to talk about when I made this record, and whether or not I actually had anything of value to say. I don’t see the point of making a record unless you’ve got something of importance that you believe and want to talk about. I looked at myself, you know? I looked at what it was that I was interested in and what I was passionate about, and one of those things I’m very interested in is political debate – I find political debate fascinating; I find religion fascinating, and on both occasions from an observer’s perspective, although I’ve had experience on both counts. Therefore, I have opinions on those things, and on many occasions, I find myself getting rather hot under the collar with those particular subject matters. So, I figured, ‘Okay, so that’s a good place to start, surely – my opinion! I’ve got a soapbox here, and if I really want to, these poor people out there can be subjected to my opinions.’ There are aspects of that, but there are also aspects of autobiographical writing, relationships, etc. I think you have to keep it… you can’t get too high and mighty in these subjects, because I think you have to bring it back down to the stuff that people can really relate to as well. Emotions are very important to the majority of people and if they can relate to these things. On a song like ‘Father Daughter,’ for instance, I think that’s a song that most parents could relate to in many respects.
On The Mute Gods website, there is a mention of the band trying to find a record label that was willing to put out a song called ‘Jesus Thinks You’re a Fuckwit.’
Beggs: Yes, I wrote a song called ‘Jesus Thinks You’re a Fuckwit,’ and I want to put it on the second album, actually. I wrote it for the Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t purport to believe in any particular religious affiliations. The best that I can say is that I live in the hope of God, but to be quite honest, I think it’s unlikely. I figured if Jesus is really alive, what would he really think about these people? They’re going around doing all of these awful things in his name! And then I figured that there’s a lot of that; we’re living in a world where people stand and pontificate in the name of deities that they cannot prove the existence of and they’re prepared to do terrible things, and yet all of the deities seem strangely silent perpetually. That’s where I got the name of the band from; the paradigm of The Mute Gods is the paradigm that we have created and that we respond to and say that we know what the word of God is… but we don’t know anything.
You are an artist who has rolled with the various changes in music – not just in the evolution of technology, but also in the way the industry has changed and how artists are finding ways to have their music heard; what are your thoughts on the progression of music in the future? Are there any advances or applications that are particularly exciting to you?
Beggs: You can either embrace the things that frighten you, or you can identify the things that frighten you and use them to your own ends, and if technology is something that frightens you, then you’ve got a problem. If you’re a musician and you’re a Luddite, then you must be playing folk!
As far as the applications of technology, the ones that I use are nothing unusual, really; it’s more in the way that I used them that I think most people would be surprised by. This first album was written on the road whilst touring with Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett, and Marco and Roger still haven’t yet met. It’s the 21st century and you don’t have to get together into a studio; this isn’t the ’70s and it’s expensive to do that! If you want to get together and be in the studio, you’ve got the geographical restrictions, you’ve got the financial restrictions (which are really at the top of the heap), and you’ve got the time restrictions. In a time where airlines will charge you for every kilogram you take on a plane, you’d better know that you need that extra guitar and you’d better know that you absolutely have to be in the studio to really get that synergy going. The truth is you don’t. You can do everything you need to do with a laptop and a soundcard and an instrument, and that’s what I did. I wrote all the songs on the road, I file-shared, and I incrementally moved the project forward. If you’ve got people who are not frightened of technology and, in fact, embrace it, then you can do the same.
Are there plans to take The Mute Gods on tour, or is it still too early to determine that?
Beggs: Yes, it’s too early to tell, but if people like the record and I start to galvanize an audience from this project… well, I’ve already started making the second record, but I’ll put that second record out and then I’ll probably tour with it. I want to have more than one album to reference live.
On that note, since you do have a large portfolio, would a show for The Mute Gods be only The Mute Gods material?
Beggs: Yes. I think that this is an opportunity for me to rebrand what I’ve been doing, and I think that referring to old material from other projects would be a huge mistake! I’ve got a lot of people saying to me, ‘Why aren’t you reforming this band,’ or ‘Why aren’t you touring with this project?’ I’m done with all of that stuff. I’m in a new place and I’m very happy to be there.
Excellent! Regarding your musicianship in general, and your bass/Stick playing in particular (of which you are a master), what do you find to be the major challenges in keeping yourself engaged with the instrument(s)? You obviously enjoy it, but in what ways do you maintain that enjoyment and keeping the challenge alive?
Beggs: I think Pat Metheny always speaks very eloquently on the subject of moving forward as a musician, and somebody like Pat Metheny is never happy with where he is musically because he always wants to be somewhere further down the line. I empathize with that, even though I am so far behind him as a musician. He is someone who I think is a great avatar and an example for how to keep your playing fresh and how to put time into studying. But the other thing is when you’re touring and at the behest of other people and being hired to do a job, you’re always listening to what other people are playing or understanding what it is you’re supposed to be playing. On the Steve Hackett tour for the Genesis Revisited II material I did with him, I had to learn how to play guitar; I had never played guitar before. I had three months to learn to play guitar and not only learn to play guitar, but I had to learn to play guitar on Genesis material – all those Mike Rutherford lines. So, that was a big learning curve. Steven Wilson is a fine bass player and will very often play stuff on his albums and want me to emulate it quite accurately. So, you’re always looking at the way people do things and you learn a lot by doing that. But when it comes to your own style, I suppose that’s part and parcel with why I put The Mute Gods together, because I have been playing with so many other people for so long and studying and teaching and lecturing on music. I wanted to try to extrapolate some really good songs from that experience more than anything. You can have the best chops in the world, but nothing really will do the job better than a great song. Also, it’s far better for the bank balance. (Laughter)
As far as the second album for The Mute Gods, what can audiences expect from that in terms of its progression from the first album? Will it be exploring the same subject matter, musically, lyrically, etc.?
Beggs: I feel that the subject matter I picked for this first album I could certainly pontificate over another two or three albums very easily; I could certainly rant on about these matters, and I think there will be an element of that and a continuation. I think that people will want to know what they’re getting, and if people like this record, people won’t want me to go off on a tangent. Or, if people don’t like this record, maybe they will want me to go off on a tangent. It’s still early days. But for the moment, I’m happy with this record, and therefore, I feel I will just extemporize on the subjects that I’ve picked already and continue along those lines.
Regarding the roles in the band, all three of you are credited with multiple instruments, and since the record was written and created via file-sharing, there must have been a great deal of good material to work from. How difficult was it to narrow down all of the material into the final compositions?
Beggs: Well, if I had a strong opinion on something, then I had the first edit. If I was unsure, then I might have made Roger do it – I’d say, ‘Well, this has two great takes, so you choose.’ If I was unsure, then that would be the only time. And that’s great, because when you have other people in the band whose judgment that you can trust so well, then you can relax a little bit. That was my rule of thumb, so to speak; if I really feel that strongly about it, then that’s what will go. And if not, just ask Roger.
There is an interview with you on YouTube on which you discuss food production and your choice to be a vegetarian due to the methods used in the meat industry and so on. Did any of that factor into your thinking regarding The Mute Gods’ music?
Would you say or would you hope that because of the proliferation of the internet and with people being more interconnected and having access to this kind of information, that the general public is more aware of these subjects? Do you see any evidence that people are taking a more active and informed stance?
Beggs: I think that information is power, and there’s a lot of information out there. But there is also a tremendous amount of disinformation out there. But there is also the demographic that will not change their mind, and they are happy to continue in the world that they exist in and they don’t want to change, and they don’t want things to be changed. So, you have all of these different aspects to people who are online. To generalize, I think, is dangerous – there’s a lot of great stuff, and there’s a lot of bad stuff too. I think that with the world that we have, surely, the World Wide Web is one of the greatest things, one of the greatest facilities we have for so many things, even though there’s the dark web too; we hear about this all the time. I deal with this on the album too. There’s a song called ‘Feed the Troll,’ and that’s what that song is about.
As far as music is concerned, what do you listen to when you’re not making music? Is there any new music that you find exciting?
Beggs: I listen to classical music! I listen to classical music all of the time. I’ve got a very, very big vinyl collection. I don’t really like opera, but I love choral music. I love Mozart’s piano concertos, and I listen to a lot of really great contemporary classical musicians like Karl Jenkins. Those people really inspire me and I like the ideas that these people have; it’s kind of a progressive headspace in that they think very much outside of the box, and I try to utilize that framework for my own writing. Craig Armstrong is just incredible! He’s really amazing – he wrote the Glasgow thing (the reopening of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery).