Nick Beggs: Artist to Sideman and Back

May 2, 2017

Nick Beggs’ Resumé makes it kind of hard to believe that he hasn’t considered himself much of an artist for quite some time. He is a musician’s musician who’s toured and recorded with everyone from pop icons Gary Numan and Belinda Carlisle to prog pioneers Steve Wilson and Steve Hackett. He’s even backed John Paul Jones on Chapman Stick in support of the Led Zeppelin legend’s Zooma solo tour in 1999. But for Beggs, there is a clear distinction between being an artist and being a sideman. He’s been predominantly focused on the latter since his band Kajagoogoo helped define the MTV new-wave era with the hit 1983 single “Too Shy” [White Feathers, EMI]. “You take on a different kind of mantle when you’re somebody’s hired gun versus your own creative force,” he explains. “I had put that part of myself into hibernation and concentrated on working for other people.”

Three years ago, however, Beggs’ artistic self came out of hibernation when InsideOut Music approached him with the idea of putting together a project that reflected his own creative vision. He recruited colleagues from his other gigs, including keyboardist/producer Roger King (Steve Hackett) and drummer Marco Minnemann (Steve Wilson), and the Mute Gods were born. They released Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me in January 2016 and followed that up with this year’s Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth.

Beggs covers a lot of territory on Tardigrades, playing Chapman Stick and guitar and singing lead vocals, but his bass playing is what elevates the prog-inspired material into otherworldly places. He creates smooth, infectious sub-hooks with cascading bass lines that skip and glide along the verses on “Animal Army” and in the bridge section of “We Can’t Carry On.” His fretless glissandos introduce the songs “Early Warning” and “The Andromeda Strain,” revealing a melodic sensibility that evokes the nuanced phrasing of his fretless 4-string heroes, Mick Karn and Percy Jones. All of the record’s guitar-like solos are performed by Beggs on Chapman Stick. Check out “The Dumbing of the Stupid” or “Windows onto the Sun” for his skill on the instrument.

Lyrically, Beggs’ songs have a cerebral quality not unlike some of his earliest influences, such as Genesis and Rush. And his subject matter reflects his vegan/pacifist worldview—he’s deliberately appealing to one particular audience while agitating another. “I know at least 50 percent of the population sees the world in the way that I do. That’s my audience. The other 50 percent will think I’m a fruitcake or they will be outraged by me. I like to outrage the outraged.”

How did the Mute Gods come together?
Thomas Waber, the CEO at InsideOut, said to me, “You’re doing all of this stuff for other artists. Why don’t you do something of your own?” And I said, “I don’t know if anyone would be interested.” And he said, “Let us worry about that. Put a record together, we’ll put it out, and we’ll see what we can do.” It sounded like a good challenge.

What does it mean to you to be an artist?
Putting on the garments of being an artist again forced me to think of how I wanted to present myself. I thought, Who’s going to listen? One of the challenges I threw down for myself was, “If you’re going to do this, you’d better make sure you’ve got something to say.” I didn’t want this to be just a bunch of songs that don’t have any message.

Being the main lyricist, what’s your message?
I decided it was going to be the zeitgeist. I was going to take the world and what it represents and make it a commentary from my perspective. It’s the world according to me. There are certain institutions, ideologies, and dispositions that I’m going after; they antagonize me because of their existence and the way that they do things. It’s very strong subject matter.

When writing, do you tend to lean on a particular instrument?
It depends on what idea I have for a song. I can approach a song from a Chapman Stick/bass point of view, or I can approach it from a Stick/lead or melodic side. Both are completely different from a bass guitar point of view. The most important thing is, what does the sonic picture require? What’s needed at this point? What idea do you have about moving the song forward? It has to do with putting the right textures in the right places.

How did you cut your bass parts on Tardigrades?
It’s all DI into Logic Pro X. I process it afterwards. Nothing was amped. Logic Pro X has a huge number of plug-ins that have endless parameter possibilities, so I’ll experiment with amp modeling. If I get something approximate, Roger [King] will tinker with it until it sounds better. I just need to get the thumbnail down.

So, no outboard gear?
I did buy a piece of hardware last year, which is unusual for me. It’s a Korg Kaoss Pad. It’s basically a screen with oscillators that respond to wherever you put your finger on the pad. I put my Chapman Stick through it on the solo section of “Tardigrades,” and it made it really nasty. It has an otherworldliness to it.

What’s your advice about tracking bass and vocals on a record like Tardigrades?
In the studio, you very rarely record more than one thing at a time, unless you want to record as a band, but we haven’t had that luxury [Tardigrades was recorded remotely]. And to focus and get the optimum effect, you want to be doing one thing at a time. It doesn’t matter how good you are at bass or vocals, one of those will take a hit when you’re focusing on something else. You can practice to get it good enough for live, but it’ll always be better if you do one thing at a time.

When gearing up for a tour as a sideman, what goes into your preparation?
With Steve Hackett I often record my parts as I hear them, and I send them to Roger and Steve to make sure they are as they want them. I went through a period of writing everything down longhand, but you must then go through the process of forgetting all that.

Hints of Rush and Genesis abound on Tardigrades. Was it a conscious decision to channel those influences, or do they seep in unconsciously?
I think we’re influenced by everything. It’s like eating something and saying, “That hasn’t affected me.” You’ve already assimilated it into your body—it has affected you. And music is the same. We are the sum of the musical diet we’ve been on.

INFO

LISTEN

The Mute Gods, Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth [2017, InsideOut Music]

EQUIP

Basses (all Spector) NS-5H2 buckeye burl top (lined fretless), Coda4DLX, Coda5DLX, Euro4LX, Euro8LX, Legend5 Classic (lined fretless), Forte5
Amps TC Electronic RH750 Compact Head, TC Electronic RS212 & RS210 cabs
Strings Spector Nickel Plated Steel (.045–.105, .045–.130)
Picks Planet Waves Black Ice .80mm

 
Photograph By Joe Del Tufo 
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