Nick Beggs has come into prominence in the progressive rock world through his constant touring with Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett in the past 10 years, along with his bass playing having graced albums from Lifesigns, Fish on Fridays and many more. He originally made his mark in the 80’s with Kajagoogoo and continues his touchstone with the pop world by touring with Howard Jones this spring.
A master of the Chapman Stick, Beggs has a forthcoming solo Stick album to be released later this summer. Amongst these many activities, Beggs put together a band specifically as a vehicle for his own songwriting and performance: The Mute Gods. Joining him are drumming sensation Marco Minnemann and multi-instrumentalist and producer Roger King. The band is readying to release their third album Atheists and Believers on March 22nd, which is likely to be their most accessible and rewarding album yet – check out our review of the album here.
In this interview, Scott Medina talks with Beggs about many facets of the new album and also delves more deeply into issues such as: are we alone in the universe, and Beggs’ personal philosophy. Alternating between jokester and serious critic of religion and politics, Beggs is always a captivating musician to listen to, whether he is speaking or playing. Enjoy this interview on streaming audio, or in the printed transcript below.
We’re very excited to talk today with Nick Beggs, who is talking to us from London…is that where you are, Nick?
Well, actually I’m about 45 miles north of London in a small medieval market town called Leighton Buzzard.
Well, don’t give too many details out, we don’t want any stalkers showing up on your front doorstep.
Yeah, they won’t get across the moat with the alligators and fire breathing dragons. So it doesn’t really bother me, to be honest.
You’ve got the moat well-stocked then?
Yes, I have. Yes. And with trolls and all kinds of nasties.
Oh, feed the troll, there you go. Yeah, it figures. (both laugh) Well, we’re going to talk a little bit about the new album from The Mute Gods and hopefully some other deep and meaningful subjects as well. The new album is called “Atheists and Believers”, your third album, and this new material is down-right catchy, isn’t it?
Yeah, I think I wanted to carry a theme on really. I started off pissed off and now it’s just getting downright evil.
Downright evil, yes you’ve been hanging out with in the moat too long there, I guess.
Yeah. Feeding the trolls.
But melodically, were you aiming for a hit song here? Because the material is certainly there.
Well, thank you very much, Scott. I appreciate that. I wanted to make a record that was different from the proceeding two. I think each one of them has its own footprint and that’s very important. I didn’t want to duplicate three records. I just wanted to extrapolate something slightly different each time. And so if it’s more melodic and more akin to pop-dom, then that’s just a rather fortunate requisite.
I like the image of you listening to a ton of Tears for Fears albums before writing this material or something along those lines.
Well of course I was in the 80s.
Yes, you were there weren’t you?
I was, I actually used to hang out with those guys. I did a lot of TV with those guys, but I think we’ve all been influenced by what we listen to. I think we’ve all been listening to decades of music. So it wouldn’t surprise me if some of that stuff hasn’t filtered through. You’re not the first person to say it reminds them of Tears for Fears. I don’t hear that myself, I’ve got to be honest. But, it’s not a bad stable to be a part of.
Steven Wilson said his last album “To the Bone” was influenced by some of the great pop art albums of the 80s. Did that focus of his consciously influence you on “Atheist and Believers”?
No, I think that my pop genes and credentials have come out a lot earlier in The Mute Gods material to be influenced by a turn of course at this stage. I just followed a natural path, to be honest with you. I think all three albums have aspects of pop-dom them, as well as other things.
To what extent are Roger King and Marco Minnemann involved in the writing and arranging process?
Well they’re not involved in the writing and not really involved in the arranging either. Roger is sometimes called upon to do orchestrations, but they’re based on orchestrations I’ve already done. So he will kind of extemporize my idea or just facilitate it a lot better because he is a trained classical musician. But I write everything, I record everything, and then I send it to Roger and he plays with it and he’ll redo aspects of it. And then we send it to Marco and Marco will play drums and on occasion add guitar.
In terms of guitar on the album, all three of you are credited. Are you doing the bulk of the guitars yourself, both the rhythm and lead?
Well all the guitars were recorded by me initially and then some of them will have been re-recorded by Roger. Some of them will be added by Marco because he came up with a few initial ideas as well, like little counter melodies here and there, which were very interesting. And he takes a solo on one song, the track called “The House Where Love Once Lived”. He takes a sort of a solo during that section. So it’s a mixed bag.
That’s good to know. “The House Where Love Once Lived” is such a beautiful song, that’s one of my favorites on the album for sure.
The song “Sonic Boom” is a unique instrumental on the album with Craig Blundell on drums. Any reason you gave him the spot instead of having Marco play on the whole thing?
When I wrote that piece, I kind of imagined Craig playing his drum and bass electronica. Obviously, Marco would have been a great person to have on that track. But I kind of felt at that point I just wanted to add a slightly different color. And having been touring with Craig for as long as I have, I wanted to have him on the record in some shape or form.
And where did that title come from, “Sonic Boom”?
I kind of just felt it had an acceleratory kind of aspect to it, a rush of getting faster. And strangely actually it goes to half time in the mid eight, it goes to sort of Ska reggae back-beat. But it keeps the same tempo but goes to half time. It just felt like a a track called Sonic Boom. But I also found out whilst reading a book when I was on tour that Jaco Pastorious had a band called Sonic Boom for a while when he was in Florida. I didn’t know that.
I didn’t know that either. I hadn’t heard that.
No, I, well I kind of liked it. Well, I read it after I had written the track and then I thought, yeah, I like that serendipity. So maybe it’s retrospectively a tip of the cap, to Jaco Pastorious.
You know, here in the States, in Colorado where I live, there’s actually an electronica festival called Sonic Bloom. So when I first saw that title and heard the song, I was actually wondering if it was a play off of that as well. So you have a number of serendipity there for that, right?
There’s a number of possibilities. Yes, that’s right.
Do you enjoy handling most all of the vocals in this band?
Yes. I haven’t really been in a situation like this before because all the other projects I’ve been involved with, I’ve had writing duties with other people. But to be writing the material and singing and performing and arranging the whole thing – being in control of the direction of it – is unique for me. And I’m kind of enjoying it because it’s pushing me in areas which maybe I’ve been a little bit sedentary. So it’s exhilarating.
And you don’t pull many punches in your lyrics! How do you expect your listeners will respond to such an onslaught, particularly being called knuckleheads and all of that?
Well, I think we are all knuckleheads. I don’t hold anyone up for preferential treatment. In fact, I’ll put myself against the wall and pull the trigger, too. We’re all in this boat together. The difference is some of us are drilling bigger holes in the boat than others. We need to call out the dangerous knuckleheads. And we need to act accordingly if we’re to survive as a race.
Let’s talk about some of the subject matter in a song like “Atheists and Believers”. Can you share a little more what’s behind that?
The song “Atheists and Believers” is written from the position that NASA and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) are embarking on the search for intelligent life in the universe when they know it exists already. And the song refers in part to the media and the way the media deal with people who speak out on the subject.
And is that including yourself? Have you spoken out about the subject yourself in the past?
I’m speaking out on the subject by releasing a track called “Atheist and Believers” and by having this subject matter at the heart of it. I’m speaking out now about it. It creates an interesting response, a Pavlovian response, which has been programmed into society by the media and by the powers that be. And usually it is met with incredulity and disdain, and then people just come to the conclusion that you’re insane. But that is the way in which the media has programmed people to respond to the subject. It’s not open for debate. In the UK some years ago, maybe two decades ago, the government embarked on a drink-driving awareness campaign because people were drinking and driving regularly and almost wearing it as a badge of honor. So they put together a media campaign to vilify people who did it. And it was very successful in quite a short period of time. People got the message that it was not cool to drink and drive and that if you did it, you were an idiot. Well, it’s my belief that the media and agencies that have a vested interest have brought about an international attitude to this subject in the same way. If you speak out about it, if you hold an opinion on it or if you make statements that don’t fit in with the recognized status quo, you are made to feel like you’re a lunatic.
So I’m curious to find out a little more about what your beliefs are around it.
Well, I’ve done a lot of research on this subject. It’s one of the subjects I find fascinating, not only from a sociological viewpoint and position, but it’s a very interesting political subject. It’s psychologically very interesting and as where we are as a race, it’s very interesting. But also there is a tremendous amount of very high ranking people from all walks of life and all areas of society, including the military, the CIA, the astronauts for instance, pilots, military people have all come out and made some incredible statements. Members of Parliament. Paul Hellyer, who was the head of the Ministry of Defense for Canada, has come out and said some extraordinary things. I would challenge anybody who has time or is interested to know what’s going on to look into this and do your own research and draw your own conclusions because I think you might find the scales fall from your eyes.
Do you think there will be a full disclosure of the truth in the coming decade?
No, I don’t. I don’t believe it’s in the interest of the people who are in control for us to know anything about this because it would change every aspect of our lives. There is not one person on the planet that would not be affected by it. And it would change industries. It would take a lot of money away from a lot of very pariah-based industries like the petrochemical industries, and it would revolutionize the whole of humanity. It would change our ideas about religion, politics, commerce, everything. They don’t want that.
And by “it”, are you referring just to that we’re not alone in the universe? Or are you talking more about their engagement with the earth, or are you talking more about different modes of free energy and things that could change things on an economic and environmental scale, or all of the above?
All of that and so much more.
Well you’re being nicely vague about that. So I guess you’re encouraging listeners to go out and do their own research, first and foremost.
Yeah, I’m not going to tell people what to believe. It’s up to them. I’ve done my research, I’ve spoken to people, I’ve spent time talking in depth with people and finding the right kind of literature. There’s a lot of people out there that you don’t want on your team, that’s for sure. But, there are many, many very compelling statements and eye-witness testimonies that needs to be looked into.
The followup song to that one is called “One Day” and here we find you singing “life is but a chemical reaction”. So tell us a little about what these lyrics say about how you view your own existence.
Well, I wasn’t brought up in a religious household. It was, I suppose, agnostic. But I spent my adolescence bombarded by Christian doctrine from Christian based schools. And obviously in a Christian based society, one of the things they did during the 70s was to sell the idea of Christianity to the children. And you know what? Moralistically there’s nothing wrong with that. But in later life I actually went through a period of very evangelical conversion, based on some very big traumas that happened to me around the age of 17. I was introduced to people who thought in a certain way and gave me answers to questions that I felt was suitable and sufficient. And so I ran with that philosophy and I was quite militant about it actually for about 20 years. I looked into it very deeply again, studied and was very much a part of the church.
But when I became a father, it revolutionized my thinking process because I felt that no God, as a father, I didn’t feel that any father could justify throwing a percentage of his children in the dustbin because they did not adhere to his beliefs or fall into line philosophically. And I’ve gone through my being a parent adhering to the same idea. I’ve come full circle and I look at the way in which we are discovering things about the universe and the way that life seems to have seeded itself throughout the universe. If you extrapolate simply the way in which our solar system has formed, there is a high propensity that there are other earth-like planets scattered throughout the universe, millions of them. Some of them will have made it, some of them won’t. But it’s all chance. It’s completely random. It’s not some divine plan. We are no more divine than termites. And they get trodden on or burnt up, destroyed in random ways such as which any other organism on earth or in the universe will get destroyed. So I wanted to state that in a song and I believe – hand on heart – life is chemical reaction. Everything we do is governed by balance of chemicals. And then our bodies, our thinking, our consciousness, and I suppose spirituality is a perception, caused by these chemicals. And in perfect balance we flourish in the same way that in perfect balance, goldilocks planets, the right distance from an active star, will create life. And that’s my philosophy.
You had Alex Lifeson playing guitars on that song. Did he comment on the lyrics of the song at all?
No, he said he just really liked the song and he wanted to contribute to that one in particular.
And was bringing him in Marco’s suggestion, since I know he’s been working with Alex lately on other projects?
Well, I’d worked with Alex earlier on a project with Steven Wilson for 2112, the anniversary release of that famous Rush album. And what they did was that the band decided to invite numbers of their favorite artists to rerecord individual tracks from 2112 and then they would be put together as a compendium and released as an anniversary album. Dave Grohl did one. And Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins did one and Steve Wilson did one and we recorded “Twilight Zone” one afternoon while we were sound checking and we sent it to the band and they really liked it. And then Alex came to see us at Massey Hall in Toronto. I got to hang out with him and we drank wine and had our photograph taken together. And he was just so sweet, so I had that sort of connection to him. But when I was recording The Mute Gods album I said to Marco, listen, drop Alex a line. I know you guys are doing some stuff. Just drop him a line and see if he wants to chuck some tracks down on anything. And he was totally up for it. So it was, it was a lovely natural development.
Yeah, it just naturally evolved like the lyrics in “One Day”…it was that perfect meeting it sounds like. And he added so much on that track with all of those guitars, you must have been very pleased with the result of that.
Well, the funny thing is that track was finished when I sent it to him, most of the guitars were recorded. Most of the guitars you can hear on that track, like the lead guitars, the solo in the middle eight, are me and Roger and Marco! So when I sent it to him, he played some mandola, a 12 string acoustic part and some ambient guitar on the second verse. And I liked what he did so much on the outro section of the strumming guitar that I edited it to make it the intro, too. So, the outro created the beginning of the song with Alex’s acoustic guitar strumming. And then the outro became like a reprise of what he’d done in the beginning and it just seemed very natural. And remarkable when you think that all the guitars were in place already and yet he found his way in between all those instruments and really brought the thing alive.
Yeah, that is remarkable because just listening to it, it sounds totally natural for his 12 string guitar to be starting the song there.
So that was very good editing work!
Yeah. Well, in the beginning it started off with, “bum bum Dadda Dadda Dadda”…it starts off with that downbeat. The 32 bars before that weren’t there.
Well, hopefully he was happy to hear the twists and turns of how it ended up, too.
Yeah. He loved it.
Nice. So given the approach of the lyrics of “One Day” that you just explained to us and your stance in the world based on that, how important is it to you to be working with other musicians who share the same relative views that you do of the universe and everything?
It’s not important. I know that not everybody agrees with what I think. And I have some extreme views in certain areas. I don’t expect people to agree or believe what I believe or accept what I accept. But I have to be honest: most musicians have a very humanistic kind of outlook on the world. I get on and meet musicians all the time and they’re very like-minded people. We get on, we see things eye to eye. They don’t agree with a lot of the bullshit that’s going on in the world. And I think it’s just a dispositional thing with creative people. Maybe painters are the same.
Yeah. I imagine you and Steve Wilson being happy as clams onstage together, you know, atheists in solidarity there.
(laughs) Yes, yes indeed! Ha ha ha! But that’s not a reason for me being in his band.
Right, right. But does it impact your enjoyment of the projects when there is that alignment?
Well, we can talk about things on the same page, but there’s certain things that I don’t necessarily agree with Steve’s viewpoints on. And likewise, he doesn’t agree with me on everything. I think it’s healthy, isn’t it? It’s healthy to be able to discuss things. I mean, he doesn’t necessarily hold my views with the nature of life scattered throughout the universe. I don’t think he finds it as fascinating as I do. Though I think the world would change its attitude if suddenly there were, as you say, disclosures.
So now we’ve got three albums from The Mute Gods in three to four years. Is this mission accomplished or might there be more?
For the time being, I feel like I’m putting a full stop after the third one. I never meant to do any more than three albums with it. I felt like I wanted to make it succinct. But I’m also looking at the possibilities of doing shows with the project. And with that in mind, one can never say never. You know, you don’t know what’s around the corner. I feel that it’s kind of branded itself and I kind of like the way people are reacting to it. So if I had an incentive to continue with it, I would. But at the minute I feel like I’ve done enough, and that all I have to do really is put it out and see what happens.
It seems it would be a shame to not have some live dates for the band, you know, to have a whole audience singing along to the chorus of “twisted world, godless universe!” I mean, how can you resist a chorus like that? Right.
(laughs) Ah, yeah. Thank you very much. I also would like to be in a situation where I could have giant Tardigrades come down over the stage. (laughs)
(laughing) That would rival Stonehenge for sure. Yeah.
Yeah, that would rival Roger Waters! Yeah. (laughing)
And in that situation, if you do get some live dates coming together, are you looking forward to being the front man there and singing lead as you play bass?
I will be incandescent with anticipation.
Any clues who you might pull in as a guitarist in that scenario?
Well, at the minute the blueprint to the band would be somebody like Dave Kilminster.
He would be somebody that I would speak to first about it. I mean, there are other are other great people like, you know, if Dave wasn’t available, people like Randy McStine would be fantastic. It depends on people’s diaries and also visas because, you know, you may have noticed that our country has a bit of a sort of political thing at the moment. And, uh, visas may become a bit of a problem after Brexit and I don’t know how it’s gonna play out.
No one seems to know right now, not at the moment of us recording this interview, at least.
No. It could kill the music industry.
So I could see some live shows happening at festivals, are you thinking or…
I think it depends. It depends what’s available. You know, I can’t really go picking my cloth off the shelf yet. I’ve been talking to promoters and agents. We’ll see what gives. If something happens the way I hope, then I’ll be able to sort of mobilize the army quite quickly. Fortune favors the ready.
Yes, exactly. And right now – as we’re speaking here at the beginning of the month of March – later this month you’ve got a short run of shows with Howard Jones coming over in the States. How did that connection come about? You’ve been friends for a while, right?
Yeah, I played with him in the 90s and toured with him on and off for about five or six years. I was in his band for a long time. Recorded with him, he’s a very dear friend of mine. He brought a lot of great things into my life, not least of all, my wife who I met through him. And to have this opportunity to be playing together again after so long, it’s just great.
How long has it been?
Since I played with Howard? Probably 15 years.
Will you be primarily on Chapman stick for those shows?
Yeah, I’m playing it all on Chapman stick.
Great, living out in Colorado like I do, hopefully I’ll be able to make it up to one of those shows in our neck of the woods here.
Yeah, well great, come and say hi.
Yeah, I definitely will. Do you have anything else in the pipeline for the rest of this year that you can share at the moment?
Well, to be honest, my touring world completely stops after Howard. I’ve got nothing else in the diary. And so at that point you think, “thank God for royalties”! (laughs)
But that must be nice because you’ve had a very intense 14 months out on the road with Wilson.
Well it’s been a very intense 10 years to be honest with you. I’ve been more or less on the road read constantly for 10 years. Maybe I’ve had six months off here or there. But it feels like a strange full circle, but it’s also rather…what’s the word…disarming, unsettling that the work completely stops during the month of Brexit, It’s a little bit unsettling. I like touring, I’m hoping some Mute Gods stuff comes along so I can actually get my teeth into that. But in terms of recording, I’m working on a new solo Chapman Stick album which I shall release in the summer. And I’ve got a couple of other little projects that I will put some time into it as well.
Well, let’s all hold our breath to see what the next several months reveal and hopefully new inspiration will be coming along, and new invitations. Certainly for The Mute Gods later this year would be fantastic.
Yeah, that would be fun.
Well, Nick, thank you so much for speaking with us today. Really nice to catch up and hear what’s behind The Mute Gods.
Yes, and thank you for your interest and your support.
We will see you out there hopefully with Howard Jones later, and all the best with the release of the new album, “Atheist and Believers”.
Thank you, Scott.