If you ever get the chance to talk bass with Nick Beggs, I suggest you take it. His career has seen him play bass for and with a host of stellar musicians and he’s led his own bands too. That’s not to mention his fascinating, esoteric worldview.
As the conversation flows, we discuss the fate of humankind, the elaborate prank that is being played on us by the international military-industrial complex and the discovery of alien life – and that’s before we get anywhere near the subject of the excellent new album from his band the Mute Gods, not to mention the phenomenal feats he continues to pull off on bass.
Tell us about your new album, Nick.
It’s called Atheists And Believers, and is the last of the trilogy which began with Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me and then Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth. The name Mute Gods has a quasi-sociopolitical and religious overtone, and the title of the album fits into that theme. The title song was written specifically from the perspective that NASA is already aware that intelligent extraterrestrial life exists. It’s a big PR scam on their part, and we’re being played massively, on that subject and just about every other one.
Do people ever accuse you of being nuts when you write about this stuff?
They certainly do, but there’s an extraordinary body of evidence from very high-ranking people in the military and government to back this up. But I write about other things as well – love, grief and loss among them. It’s my worldview. I made a deal with myself that if I was going to embark on a solo project, it had to be about subjects that I felt passionate about. I wasn’t going to be scared of nailing my colors to the mast.
The new album comes after a busy few years for you.
Yes. I did a whole bunch of Genesis Revisited tours, which was a lot of fun. I was with Steve Hackett for 10 years, on and off between stints with Steven Wilson, who I toured with a lot in 2018 on the To The Bone album. We did three nights at the Royal Albert Hall, which was lots of fun. Between those gigs I was writing and recording these Mute Gods records. It’s been surprising; they’ve sold reasonably well, and there have been a lot of plaudits. Prog magazine have been very supportive, and so have you. I feel very grateful for that after 35 years of doing this, and very lucky too.
What gear are you currently using?
I still use Spector basses, which are extraordinary, and I use TC Electronic amps. I have four- and five-string fretted Spectors and a fretless that they built for me. I use Spector strings on the bass guitars and Chapman’s own strings on the Stick, because they’re designed for the instruments and they have a lot of upper-mid bite. The instruments themselves have a lot of glassy mids and deep lows, too.
Do you ever play other basses?
No. For me, the Spectors have everything I need. If I want a Music Man or Rickenbacker sound, I can get that, and the instruments are so ergonomically pleasing that the playability is perfect. In practical terms, when you find a bass that really works for you, and a company like Spector who are so welcoming, that’s a career-defining thing. Add the Stick to that, and I’ve got everything I need.
Many bassists fear the Stick. Should we?
If you have a grounding in any instrument, I challenge you to pick it up, because it will revolutionize whatever you’re doing, as well as expand your vocabulary. If you’re a bass player, you’ll do things on it straight away that will give you another palette. If you’re intimidated by something, that just means you haven’t looked into it yet. Pick it up and play some major and minor scales. Just have some fun with it!
Any effects in the chain?
I use the Roland V-Bass amp-modeling system, because it’s so sturdy, and I’ve been augmenting that with Analog Man stompboxes, which are great. Analog Mike Piera is his name; he’s a cool hippie who works out of Miami. The effects have that great Haight-Ashbury, Grateful Dead vibe. All his pedals are great. Lee Pomeroy uses them, and I think Tony Levin’s got a few. Check out Analog Man FX.
Governmental mind control aside, things seem to be going well for you.
As an artist, I’m supposed to be angry with the world, and I am – but I’m also very happy in my skin. I’m very happily married and I’ve got a wonderful family, with five children aged 17 to 27. Two of my daughters are getting married to excellent chaps, and I have a granddaughter who is wonderful. These are the important things when you get to my age, 57. These things are the skeleton of life, everything else is the meat on the bones.
Have you made any terrible mistakes over the years?
It depends what you mean by terrible. My worst crime was naivety, as is so often the case with young musicians. I negotiated my way out of problems that had been visited on me by people that I trusted. You never think that your friends will do that to you. And the people who you pay to do their job, take your money and don’t do their job, but do something else with that money instead. The industry is precarious by nature; musicians tend not to have a safety net.
Will you ever write an autobiography?
I’m doing one now. The working title is Didn’t You Use To Be Nick Beggs? It’s going to be an almanac of that era, with a side margin of my own angst and adolescence and all the mistakes I made. Not to mention some truly amazing anecdotes from the Eighties...
Share one with us?
Well, I always remember when my band Kajagoogoo were at Nomis Studios in west London, we’d see everybody there: Culture Club, Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet, Level 42, Spear Of Destiny. And Motörhead were there too. I remember that Lemmy walked in and said ‘Oi! Nick! Where’s this Chapman Stick I’ve been hearing about?’ I said ‘Here you go’ and handed it to him. He picked the Stick up and said ‘That’s not rock and roll. Come here! Come here!’ so I followed him into Motörhead’s studio next door, where all these rock chicks were sitting around. He gave me his Rickenbacker, put it on me and handed me a pick. The drummer started playing, with all these frantic double kick drums that sounded like a bomber coming in to land, and I tried to play along, but the neck of this Rickenbacker was like a bow. I swear, it was as much as I could do just to fret a note. I couldn’t play it, and he was standing there laughing at me. I walked out with my tail between my legs. I heard later that Lemmy had a new bass tech who came in, dressed the frets and set up the bass perfectly – and he sacked him!