DATE OF INTERVIEW: 5th March 2019
THE MUTE GODS
METAL DISCOVERY: ‘Iridium Heart’, I wanted to ask about, as well, as it’s one of the more unsettling lyrics on the album, as it’s about the rise of populism and what you’ve described as, “the shift of perceived reality in the face of political lies” So, are we primarily talking about the corrupt, orange dictator, Trump, in that one?
NICK: He’s part of it, but it’s not solely about him. The theme, the fanfare, the rhythm synth that plays at the beginning, the portamento synth line, was written as a fanfare, based on an idea I had about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. That was my starting point and I wanted to write a herald; like a fanfare that was opening the Berlin Olympics. So it was originally going to be a five trumpet fanfare, but Roger converted it to a rhythm synth. And then, the sort of marching jackboot sound is supposed to be the Brownshirts and the Hitler Youth. And it echoes where we are now, with populism; with racism; with Brexit; with the orange oaf. It’s all a cycle and it feeds into the same narrative that history teaches us nothing.
(Nick Beggs on 'Iridium Heart' and the cyclical nature of history)
"...it echoes where we are now, with populism; with racism; with Brexit; with the orange oaf. It’s all a cycle and it feeds into the same narrative that history teaches us nothing."
Photograph copyright © 2019 Hajo Müller
Interview by Mark Holmes
Official The Mute Gods Website:
Thanks to Freddy Palmer for offering and arranging the interview
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MD: Yeah, it’s incredibly scary, isn’t it. The world’s at its most unsettled for decades. Yeah, so I did find that a more unsettling song on the album.
NICK: Well, I’m glad because it was supposed to be. It’s not supposed to engender good feeling.
MD: It’s the kind of thing people need to think about and be more aware of.
NICK: Unfortunately, lots of people are aware of it and that’s why they voted Brexit. Or that’s why Brexit was sold on the basis of nationalism and racism.
MD: And, basically, lies.
MD: ‘Twisted World Godless Universe’ has a very filmic feel during certain passages, which nicely reflects the theme of light and dark in that track. Were you aiming for a more epic film score vibe in that one?
NICK: I wanted it to be a kind of masterwork of the album; a big thematic piece, because I wanted it to represent the wrestling between light and dark within a man’s… the soul or the spirit is a hard nebulous term, because I don’t know whether I believe in the soul or the spirit anymore. But consciousness… the wrestling for light and dark in a man’s consciousness. Because, if we were to stay true to the concept that light is nothing more than a chemical reaction, I can’t start talking about the metaphysical world of the spiritual. Life is a chemical reaction and you and I have consciousness because of a balance of hormones and chemicals that are absolutely, precisely balanced. And, if that balance is out of kilter, you become mentally ill; you become unstable; you become sociopathic; you require all kinds of other chemicals to balance that…
MD: I guess you’re describing Trump there, as well!
MD: I was like, hang on, everything you just mentioned, that’s describing that orange man with an over-elaborate comb-over again!
NICK: [Laughs] Or is it an overactive thyroid?!
NICK: So the ‘Atheists and Believers’ theme is also part of my history and narrative of trying to find meaning in the universe and being very actively involved in the church, and being a very committed, born-again Christian, and trying to live that life for very many decades, and coming full circle and calling it out. Calling it as I see it. Calling it as fear-based, apocryphal, based on hearsay, without proof. We are prepared to live in a world where one person’s imaginary friend is deemed more important than another man’s imaginary friend. We’re prepared to go to war over this, on whose imaginary friend is better.
MD: Which has been the case for centuries, unfortunately.
NICK: Yeah. We’re prepared to kill each other over whose imaginary friend is better.
MD: When you put it like, which is what it boils down to, it’s insane.
MD: ‘Old Men’ seems to be a more introspective piece on the album, about being in control of your own mortality, and not letting general perceptions of age dictate who you are and what you’re expected to be. On those grounds, I have to say, I’ve seen the latest promo photos, and you don’t look anywhere near your age, so I guess that’s a healthy mindset you have there that’s obviously working?!
NICK: That’s very kind of you. I don’t know how long I can fend that off. Are you familiar with the phrase, “The bullet with your name on”?
MD: Yeah, I read your blurb about that, actually, and the first thing that came to mind was Baldrick from ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’, where he’s carving his name on a bullet, because he thinks if he owns the bullet with his name on, he won’t get shot by it.
NICK: It’s precisely that, precisely that. You’ve summed it up perfectly. That’s a metaphor… it’s a cliché, isn’t it… I think it comes from the Wild West. In those times, there were so many gunslingers around that it was lawless all the time, and it was said, apocryphally, that there’s a bullet out there with everyone’s name on. And if you own the bullet with your name on then you have cheated death. In this case, in terms of this narrative, the bullet is old age. And I felt that by writing a song about old age, about being an old man, I would own the bullet with my name on.
And, also, I have a bit of a deal with myself, and that is that I don’t intend to grow old. The centre of what I’m doing, musically, career-wise, is based on having the vitality of youth to perpetuate it. And if I don’t have the vitality of youth to perpetuate it, I won’t be able to do it. I have to look after myself; I have to be perennially the person I was in 1982; I have to be honest - is this really how I want to live my life? Is this really what I want to do? Because it’s not always easy. And I keep getting a resounding “yes”, I do want to keep on doing this.
So, I felt it was time to write a song about old men and imagine myself with other members of Kajagoogoo, sitting in a retirement home, drinking tea and talking about old triumphs, and imagining all of us growing old together, waiting for the sun to set. I mean, because I talk to the guys and we are friends, and we go out for beer, and we talk and we walk the dogs… and that feels like a familiar place. But, by reducing it to a metaphor, I feel like I’m owning it. I feel like I own it and it doesn’t own me.
MD: Yeah, and at the age of eighty, you might be on album number twelve with The Mute Gods. And who knows who else you’ll play with in the meantime!
NICK: [Laughs] Yeah, there’s a lot of great musicians still out there. I saw The Rolling Stones a couple of years ago in Mexico City with Steven Wilson, and I have to tell you, Mick Jagger was absolutely inspirational. His stomach was flat, his voice was amazing, his moves, his energy. I thought, that will be me. That’s where I’m going. And I was convinced. I’ve bought into it; I’ve got the mortgage; I’ve got the life insurance policy… [Laughs]… I’ve signed the dotted lines and that is gonna be me… unless something happens, a wild card, and I die in a plane crash or something like that.
MD: Yeah, you’ll still be rocking it out in your eighties!
MD: I have to ask about Alex Lifeson, as well, because you’ve got him playing on ‘One Day’. How did that come about?
NICK: It happened very naturally. Obviously, I was a massive Rush fan and listened to that music when I was growing up, so that was the background to that. But when I was working with Steven Wilson, Rush wanted to do a re-release of ‘2112’ for an anniversary remastering, and they got a number of artists that they liked to pick certain songs, like Dave Grohl and lots of different people. And they asked us; they asked Steve Wilson to do ‘The Twilight Zone’, which was a track on side two of ‘2112’. So, we learnt the song, and we recorded it during a soundcheck when we were touring.
MD: The final version… you tracked everything at the same time?
NICK: Yeah, it was recorded live onstage, during a soundcheck, and we sent it to them and they really liked it. So, then, when we were playing at Massey Hall in Toronto, ironically, Alex came along and I met him and we hung out, and had our photograph taken together, and we had wine and we talked, and I thought, what a super-sweet guy. Then Marco, some time later, was doing some projects with him and I said, “Listen, would you ask Alex if he wants to play on the album and pick a track.” I sent him a bunch of stuff and he said, “I really like this track, ‘One Day’, I really like that.”
So I sent it to him and, funny thing was, all the guitars had been recorded already. I’d already recorded everything, but he played this 12-string acoustic, which opens it. But it didn’t open it originally, because it was an outro section. And I liked it so much, I re-edited the song and put it at the beginning and used it as an intro section, so the outro becomes a reprise of the first. So he did that 12-string, and then he played some mandola and a little bit of ambient guitar on the second verse. So, most of the guitar is actually me, Roger and Marco, and then Alex plays this really kind of cementing acoustic guitar part. So that’s how that happened; it’s a really natural thing.
We’ve been working on another project, file sharing between Marco, me and Alex recently. I don’t know whether it will come to anything…
MD: I guess he’s not busy with Rush, anymore.
NICK: No, I mean, he’s a super-sweet guy and it was really lovely to have that opportunity.
MD: Finally then, I was going to say, I used to be a Kajagoogoo fan when I was eight years old, so I don’t know if that makes me sound old or you feel older… but I revisited ‘White Feathers’ recently, for the first time in many years, and was totally surprised to find that it’s actually pretty progressive. Almost like prog pop, I guess. So, did you see it yourself, that way, back in the day?
NICK: I think, as I said to you before, we were all influenced what we listened to at any given point in our lives and I’m sure, with all members of Kajagoogoo, apart from Limahl, the four of us were all listening to those progressive bands. We loved all of that stuff. But, in the eighties, you couldn’t really reference it… not intentionally. So, I think, if anything slipped through the net, it would’ve been unintentional. But, we were all massively into Genesis, Yes, Rush, Pink Floyd… and the rock stuff, too - Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. So you’re probably hearing the shared vocabulary.
MD: I was too young back then to even know what prog was. At eight, I was tunnel-vision pop music, but it was quite a nice surprise to listen to it again, now. It’s actually still pretty cool and hasn’t dated, as such.
NICK: Well, thank you.
MD: Right, thanks so much for your time, a really interesting chat.
NICK: Good to talk to you, Mark, and I appreciate your support and interest.