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DATE OF INTERVIEW: 5th March 2019
A self-professed opportunist, Nick Beggs' long and varied career has, thus far, taken him on a journey from bassist for 80s new wave sensations Kajagoogoo, to session work and collaborations with various musical luminaries, right up to his current work, for the past eight years, as a recording and touring member of Steven Wilson's band. And, since 2014, he's somehow found the time to work on his own project, The Mute Gods, alongside Steve Hackett keys man, Roger King, and the seemingly ubiquitous and ever in-demand sticksman, Marco Minnemann. With two albums to date - 2016's 'Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me' and 2017's 'Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth' - and a third, 'Atheists and Believers', about to be released, his latest musical exploits have already transpired to be something of a creatively fertile and prolific venture. With lyrical themes on 'Atheists and Believers' steeped in metaphorical cogitations, embedded in philosophical and introspective pieces, as well as more universal ruminations on the state of humanity and speculated conspiracy theories, Metal Discovery had a half hour natter with Nick to find out more about his incredible new album...
METAL DISCOVERY: An amazing new album… but you’ve been busy with Steven Wilson, Roger’s been doing his Steve Hackett stuff, and Marco’s been playing with everybody, it seems…. probably people called Steve as well… so, was it difficult setting some quality time aside to actually work on and record everything?
NICK: I think this one, as with each of the records, took progressively more time. The first one took about… I had to rewrite it three times; the second one, I had to rewrite it three and a half times; and I think, this one, I had to rewrite four times. And there’s a tremendous amount of material which got binned. And it’s all because you don’t want to repeat yourself; you don’t want to make the wrong statements or be untrue to the way in which you see the project. With that in mind, it’s essential to… you know, the knee jerk is not a good idea. You have to be mindful and I suppose that’s what I did. But I was very lucky to have Marco and Roger at my disposal, because they’re both very busy and very talented… but, with that in mind, modern recording techniques and technology afford us so much in terms of time management, that you can maximise everything by file sharing.
(Nick Beggs on humanity's innate flaws)
"...humanity has developed over millennia by making mistake after mistake...We slide back into the same malaises. And ‘Knucklehed’ is written from the perspective that we, as an organism, are stupid to our core, and that we are hardwired to fuck up everything."
The Mute Gods
Photograph copyright © 2019 Hajo Müller
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Yeah, doing it remotely.
NICK: Yeah, that’s the way it’s done now. It’s too expensive to do it the other way, anyway. Everyone’s got their own home setup because it’s cost-effective, and going to a recording studio is very expensive.
MD: I guess it gives you more breathing space rather than having two weeks of expensive studio time booked and the pressure of that.
NICK: Yeah, but I have to be honest, when people ask me if I want to record with them, I usually say, “Yes, but in my own studio." I want to be left to my own devices; “Send me what you need me to do and I will do it, but it’s got to be in my time.”
MD: There’s a great, naturally progressive flow to all the material on the album, so do you see progressive like that; as an attitude to creativity, rather than a contrived genre? I think, for me, having a genre called progressive is a bit of a paradox, anyway.
NICK: It certainly is, and so many people have said in the press, recently, that if you refer to yourself as a progressive artist, you’re not. To be progressive is to think outside of all of that. And all of those bands thought like that, too.
MD: Well, that’s what progressive was originally, it was an attitude towards creating music. It was only labelled as a genre later on, I guess.
NICK: Well, in the same way, classical was only made up by the record companies because, before, there was only one type of music. It wasn’t called classical music; that became a brand name for labels to sell when the technology afforded labels to exist. We’re talking about something very retrospectively, which is dangerous, really. I don’t kind of really see myself as a progressive artist, actually. If that’s the way I’m seen, I have to say I’m an imposter. I don’t belong in it.
MD: But I think your attitude is progressive, which is the essence of what those guys were doing originally, I think. You’re doing something which is innovative and it sounds refreshing and different. For me, that’s the essence of progressive music.
NICK: Thank you very much.
MD: You’ve played with a lot of different artists over the years, so would you say that’s helped shape your development in those terms; in terms of being able to think outside of the box; to approach playing the bass in different ways; and compose music in refreshingly different ways?
NICK: Well, I’m just an organism and, like all organisms, I’m an opportunist. You have to be an opportunist to survive, and I just took what came along. As my career ebbed and flowed through thirty seven years, so far, I was in certain places at certain times and seized the nettle, so to speak. So, you know, I went through a period when I was teaching; I went through a period when I was lecturing; I went through a period when I was an A&R man; and I went through a period when I was playing pure pop; or I was producing. And each one of those situations is no different, really, in ethos, because you’re simply taking what comes along, providing it suits you.
So, I suppose where I find myself now is after a long line of accepting offers from various people who are seen within a certain idiom, within the genre progressive music. Even though I grew up listening to that music and adore it and it’s very important to me, there’s no way I could’ve found my way into those inner hallowed halls during the eighties… even though I was running into people like Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford and John Wetton. I was rubbing shoulder with them, but there’s no way they would’ve said, “Come and be in my band.” I remember Keith Emerson coming up to me on German TV once - I was playing with a band called Ellis, Beggs & Howard - and he came up to me and said, “You’re that guy, aren’t you”, and I said, “Well, so are you!”
I had to follow the natural path that presented itself to me and I’m here because I’ve simply done that. And if you spend long enough doing that, that’s where you end up, I suppose.
MD: It’s been a varied career, then… and you’ve arrived at what you’re doing now, with The Mute Gods, which is amazing stuff! Marco’s a multi-disciplinary drummer, as he’s done everything from laidback stuff, to extreme metal, to very weird shit. Would you say he brings lots of different elements from his diverse background into The Mute Gods?
NICK: Yes, everybody does. Everybody brings their speciality. But, of course, that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t met him and worked with him in Steven Wilson’s band. Obviously, I had some kind of idea about him, who he was and where he’d come from, but it wasn’t until we actually sat down on the tour bus, one night, drinking Jack Daniels and playing each other’s demos, that we kind of crystallized the idea of doing something together. And he was so enthusiastic and supportive and I thought, well, you know, how amazing is that; that somebody like that would be prepared to invest time and energy in my project. So, you know, it felt like, again, that was the universe saying… or the biosphere, saying, “Here’s an opportunity for you - are you going to take it or are you going to let it go?” And I suppose it’s easy to do that, too; I’m sure I’ve passed up some opportunities that have come my way by not being ready, or nervous, or scared. I’m damn sure I have. I’m damn sure I have passed up opportunities.
MD: Taking that opportunity on the tour bus has now materialised into three albums.
NICK: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, he encouraged me; he basically said, “I really think you should do this.” I had a number of labels who were offering me a deal on a project and I thought, okay, I have to conceptualise it, based on the enthusiasm. I suppose, in some ways, that was the fuel. The enthusiasm and positivity of people around me was catapulting me forward. When I spoke to Roger about it, I said, “What do you think? Would you be prepared to fulfil the role of producer and keyboard player?” And he said, “Alright!” [Laughs]
MD: An opportunist himself, maybe!
NICK: Yeah… well, you know, Roger’s also somebody who should be working on his own solo album. He’s a very gifted man and I think he probably is making inroads with that now. And I think he’s probably learnt something from working on this project, on how he wants to do it.
MD: He’ll be phoning you to play some bass, no doubt.
NICK: Well, I don’t know about that. We made a joke about that when we were doing the videos and he said, “No, I won’t call you, I’ll call… because I’ve got Lee Pomeroy and Jonas Reingold now!” That’s fine, that’s fair enough, you know!
MD: I gather the title track deals with a speculated conspiracy theory to do with NASA and SETI looking for extra-terrestrial life when they’re already aware it’s out there. Is that analogous for anything within the real world? I ask, because the whole ‘Atheists and Believers’ paradox could be applied to so much of what’s going on currently within the world… and closer to home, with the whole Brexit debacle.
NICK: Well, it’s multi-faceted. You know, if you take the Drake Equation that there’s hundreds of millions of Goldilocks planets in the universe, and then there’s another scientist who will say, “Okay, well, if there is hundreds of millions of Goldilocks planets within the universe, where are they all? How come we haven’t heard from them?” And my answer to that is, we have. We have heard from them. In fact, our government know about it. Our governments have been working with them and have been keeping them from the public eye for decades. Maybe longer. There are a lot of people who’ve actually come forward and stated that to be the fact, as well; people who are very high ranking in the military and government and intelligence services. And if you do your research, that data is out there. And, when you’re scouting around, looking for material to use in songs, that is a very interesting subject.
MD: Definitely. And very multi-faceted, like you say, in that in can work on various metaphorical levels.
NICK: It is a metaphor but I liked it because it works within the metaphor of The Mute Gods, but it also works very well in the metaphor of the Zeitgeist. We are, how technology is, and where we’re going. So I jumped on it.
MD: ‘One Day’, I gather, is a kind of a secular anthem about the inanity of religion. Would you describe yourself as more of a secular person than a spiritual person?
NICK: It’s a humanist anthem. It’s an anthem that supports the notion that we’re nothing special. We are only here by virtue of an incredible sequence of events. Random events, but events, nonetheless, that have duplicated themselves time and time again throughout the universe. And this is, again, the Fermi Paradox; that if they exist, where are they? They’re there, we know about it, but the government don’t want us to know it, because if we found out that it was true, there is not one single aspect of any of our lives that would not be changed.
MD: Yeah… interesting… interesting! And I gather ‘Knucklehed’ is about how people don’t really care about the harm they’re inflicting on the planet and fellow man. But do you think that’s an innate part of humanity, or do you believe that people are susceptible to, and shaped by, the time they’re living in?
NICK: Well, we’re all victims of our environment, every single one of us. And ‘Knucklehed’ is written about me as much as it is about humanity in general. I consider myself to be a tremendous knucklehead, so I’m not isolating anyone for special attention here. That fact of the matter is, humanity has developed over millennia by making mistake after mistake; making the same mistakes, consistently. And, often, the same mistakes take us back further. We slide back into the same malaises. And ‘Knucklehed’ is written from the perspective that we, as an organism, are stupid to our core, and that we are hardwired to fuck up everything.
MD: I had a similar conversation with someone else, recent-ish, in another interview and we concluded that humanity’s slowly regressing back to mediaeval times. You know, another five hundred years and we’ll be right back there.
NICK: The power of entropy.
MD: Yeah, exactly.