NICK BEGGS (THE MUTE GODS): Talks About ALEX LIFESON Playing On The Mute Gods Album And New Project With LIFESON And MARCO MINNEMANN

STEVEN WILSON (Live at The Sage, Gateshead, U.K., March 25, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

With their third album out in as many years The Mute Gods are on something of a roll. Mick Burgess called up bassist Nick Beggs to chat about the making of the album and having Alex Lifeson of RUSH guest on the record as well as an enticing snippet about a possible new project with Lifeson and Marco Minnemann.

Your latest album Atheists and Believers is out in a few weeks. How do you feel ahead of its release?

I feel that it’s ready to be released. I’m very happy with it. It’s the third record I’ve released under The Mute Gods banner now. It was quite difficult to make as I didn’t want to step on the toes of the other two records and didn’t want to repeat myself. I think it’s made a statement in its own right and I think it straddles the previous two quite well. It would probably have come out earlier but Roger King had been busy recording another Steve Hackett album so I had to wait until he was available.

Did you have any ideas left from the previous album that you could work on to get off to a flying start?

I had a lot of ideas that were left over from the first record as well but most of those just didn’t work for this album. My mesh was set quite fine so if the ideas hadn’t been right for the first or second record, they wouldn’t be right for the third. I actually wrote the first and second records twice and this one I had to write three times so there’s even more material that’s been relegated. There’s a few ideas that could be suitable with a bit more work on them so they may be useful for a future project. When I start a new project, I like to start with fresh material but sometimes I might dust something off and see if it works.

Do you do the bulk of the writing or do Roger King and Marco Minnemann contribute ideas too?

I do all of the writing. I write the songs and send them to Roger. Roger swears at me because he doesn’t like the way I send him stuff but that’s why I work with him as he’s a very organised and methodical thinker. He’s so technically capable. I’m an abstract artist and slap paint everywhere, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. I can’t get bogged down in the technicalities as I lose the creative force so Roger is very good at bringing that organisation to my writing. I write things very quickly and get them over to him and he does his voodoo on that. Marco will then add drums and guitars sometimes. I send over completed songs for them to work with. All of the parts are written but Roger will replace some of my parts. He’ll redo my guitar parts as he plays them better than me.

In the olden days Progressive Rock bands sang about wizards and dragons and stuff but 21st century Prog Rock is very different. The Mute Gods look at real world situations. What events and issues are inspiring you to write at the moment?

It is certainly a Socio-Political album due to the rise of Populism and this is the key subject on this record and the way governments are still spinning things the way they want them and Brexit is a perfect example. They are selling us lies and we take it hook, line and sinker. We should be revolting in this country and should show our disapproval. People have asked how Brexit will affect our life as touring musicians. We’ve travelled freely across Europe as long as I have been a musician so we don’t really know what will happen but the EU have said that people won’t need visas if they want to come over to work so that shows who is the bigger person. I suppose it gives us material to write about. If the world had been a utopia then we’d have none of the great protest songs by the likes of Bob Dylan.

Is there a thematic link across all three of your albums?

Yes, there’s a Globalisation construct there, there’s religion, there’s the question of intelligent life in the universe in there, the industrial military complex and the stupidity of humanity is quite central to the albums. There’s certainly shared territories across the albums.

Where did you record the album?

All of the stuff is recorded on the road and then I’ll redo them at home but that’s mainly the vocal parts as it’s hard to get a good sound with a condenser microphone in a hotel room.

Did you work with a producer?

I did most of that myself as when I’m working on stuff I’m producing it too. I’m panning stuff, using EQ effects so I set the template and Roger works off that. We were very fortunate on this record to have the additional help of Tom Lord Alge. He’s a multi Grammy award winning producer. He came to a lot of Steve Hackett shows and a lot of Steven Wilson shows and said that he’d like to work with me. He asked me to send him some stuff. I sent him the first three songs off the album and he remixed them for me and he set a template for the rest of the record. I wasn’t there when he did the mixing but I have been to his house before when he did some live mixing in front of me but he plays his cards pretty close to his chest. When I asked him how he got certain sounds on the bass he wouldn’t tell me. I don’t think he wanted me to know the tricks of the trade but those three songs set the sonic landscape for the rest of the album and when Roger mixed the rest of the album he followed in the footsteps of those tunes.

You have Alex Lifeson guesting on your album. How did you get him involved?

All of the people that have worked on these three records are people that I’ve had relationships with. It wasn’t anything like, let’s have Dave Gilmour on the album, I wonder who has his number? It was nothing like that. I’d worked with all of the people and Alex was no exception. I’d worked on the 2112 re-release where we did a version of Twilight Zone. He came to the shows and we hung out and kept in contact. He was really up for contributing to the record. He was such a lovely man and a very funny man too.

Were RUSH one of the bands you grew up listening too?

Yes, they were, big time. Geddy Lee was a big influence on me as was Chris Squire from Yes. Those records from that particular period brought me a lot of joy during an incredible period of darkness in my life and kept me very buoyant.

Alex played on “One Day.” Did you send him the track and did he add his own ideas to that?

I’d recorded all of the guitar parts already and I told him to do whatever he wanted. If he wanted to replace the guitar parts then he could but he did something completely different. He added Mandola, ambient guitar and 12-string acoustic and I liked so much what he’d done on the outro, that I edited it and made a whole new intro for the song so the first thing you hear is Alex strumming a 12-string guitar and me singing “Life is a chemical reaction”. His chord inversions made the whole thing sing and that affected the way I arranged it in the end. I’d like to feature him more.

Marco Minnemann and Alex Lifeson are working together on something at the moment. There’s a vacancy for a bass player. It sounds like the perfect job for you?

Well, actually the three of us are working on a project. We have been filing sharing for the past three months. Whether anything comes of it remains to be seen and a lot of water has to flow before something gets released. I don’t know if anybody else has become involved as yet but at the moment it’s just me, Marco and Alex. It doesn’t mean that anything will be released. We’re developing ideas at the minute but Alex has quite a lot of other stuff on at the moment and I have no idea if it’ll come good and get released but we’ll see. I was just very happy to have him on this Mute Gods record.

You’ve also got your daughter Lula on the album. That must make you a very proud Dad?

She’s wonderful. She’s always up for working on stuff. I get her sessions wherever I can and she’s contributed to other projects I’ve been involved with and she has a great voice and a great approach. It was a pleasure to have her on the record as well.

What about the art work? That’s pretty striking and very unique. What’s that depicting?

He’s the central character across all three records and he’s a visual metaphor for religion. The idea that we as a race try to find a meaning to everything and I believe that we have formulated something of our own creation. I believe that mankind is the constructor of religion and religion is a construct by which we subjugate others. The mirror man icon is a representation of that. If you look at the cube head, you see five different reflections. Five people could be looking into that mirror and each person will see something completely different and each will think that is their truth and their reality without having any idea what the other person is seeing. That’s why I wanted to use that throughout as I believe that we should break away from that kind of thinking.

What about live shows, do you have any planned?

I’m out on the road with Steven Wilson at the minute but I am talking to agents and promoters about playing some live shows. I’m hoping to have a mini tour later in the year but I need to work around Roger and Marco.

You’ve worked with Marco and Roger for a fair few years on various tours. When did you decide to collaborate and form your own band?

I’d worked with Roger in Steve Hackett’s band and he’s very gifted and forthright in how he sees music and I wanted to play with someone who’d play to my weaknesses. He’s technically really advanced and I needed someone to understand my very organic approach to music. We were walking along a beach in Portugal and I mentioned that I had a project and wanted him to produce it and play keyboards. I’d had labels offering me deals but it was still at the planning stage but I knew I wanted to do it with Roger. When I was on the road with Steven Wilson with Marco, we had a late night drinking whiskey and playing each other’s songs. I played him some of my stuff and he was so complimentary and he asked why I hadn’t released an album with me singing. He said that it was time and that he’d love to be involved. That’s how it naturally came about. He’s very encouraging and very cool to work with. He’s a very powerful, creative individual. He’s an incredible drummer and he’s really a lead player.

You grew up listening to Genesis. It must have been surreal working with Steve Hackett playing those vintage classics?

They are transcendental. He was such an influential player and a lovely man. He was so encouraging and I loved my time playing with him. There was a lot of work involved and there were a lot of bases I had to cover in terms of instruments, guitars, 12-string Taurus, bass and vocals so it wasn’t for the faint hearted. That’s without acknowledging the complexity of the music.

Why did you decide to learn the bass?

Actually, the bass wasn’t the first instrument I started with, it was the drums that I first played when I was 10. My father was a part time musician and he played saxophone in his own band. He left a drum kit in my bedroom and then he disappeared and I didn’t see him for a long time. When he came back I had quite a good notion of how it worked and I could hold a rhythm down. I could play them but I wouldn’t call myself a drummer. Then life moved on and things went from bad to worse. My mother had to move out and I had to sell the drum kit. Someone had left an acoustic guitar around my house that only had four strings so I just played the four strings. They were the same notes as a bass but just a higher octave and that’s how I learned to play the bass by playing along to my records.

How did you develop from there?

After I’d had some success in the ’80s, I realised that if I wanted to be a professional musician, I needed to know more theory so I went back to college to learn about theory. I ended up lecturing at The Guitar Institute and Bass Tech in London after that.

Later on, what made you decide to tackle the Chapman Stick?

My introduction to that was through Tony Levin when I saw him play with Peter Gabriel when he toured with the second album. I was really beguiled by it when I saw him playing. When I was in Kajagoogoo the guys said that if I became the new lead singer then they’d have a Chapman Stick built for me.

When you hit the big time first with Kajagoogoo with Too Shy. How did it feel being a Pop star and appearing on Top Of The Pops?

It was kind of surreal for a 21-year-old. We went there a few times with different songs and each time it seemed more and more strange. You had to dedicate a whole day to it for a couple of run throughs before the actual recording. There were all these Rock stars hanging out like Bono and The Edge, Morrissey, The Belle Stars, Spandau Ballet and Tears For Fears and all these different people. It was a strange kind of melting pot and there were a lot of very interesting people around at that time.

It’s amazing where Too Shy keeps cropping up these days?

It’s funny because Black Mirrors on Netflix used Too Shy on their latest Bandersnatch series. I don’t know if Charlie Brooker did it because he thought it would work but I have always been championing Black Mirrors for years and sending him messages telling him how great I thought it was so I don’t know if that’s his way of saying thank you.

Do you still play with your Kajagoogoo band mates when you’re all free?

Stewart, Steve and I are still business partners and they are good friends of mine. Steve just lives down the road from me so we get together for a beer quite regularly but we haven’t played together as a band for 9 years or so.

Your Mute Gods album is out next month and you have some live shows with Steven Wilson. Do you have time to fit in anything else this year?

Steven Wilson’s tour is coming to an end soon and then we’ll start work on the new album. I’ll also be going to America with Howard Jones as a trio with my Chapman Stick but I won’t be doing his UK shows as they are electronic shows. Howard is talking about doing more of the trio shows though as he quite likes the organic, unplugged approach so if he wants to do some of those shows in the UK, I might do that. I’m also going to release a couple of solo Chapman Stick albums later in the year and I also have a project with Craig Blundell and Adam Holzman developing. I have two daughters getting married as well so it’s going to be a busy year.

Atheists and Believers by The Mute Gods is out now on Inside Out Music.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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