Mike Ragogna: Chuck, your new album is titled Night Surfer. Do you know how dangerous surfing at night is? Have you not seen Sharknado 1 and 2, even though no one’s surfing at night in either movie but that’s beside the point?
Chuck Prophet: Um, what? Ah, yeah? I don’t know what a Sharknado is. I’m a slave to pop culture as much as the next guy, but you got me there, Mike.
MR: [laughs] Your single “Wish Me Luck.” Is that with regards to surfing at night?
CP: Not exactly. But I will say this… Surfing at night, it’s not as farfetched or scary as people think. I surfed the Huntington pier many times at night back in the day. There are lights coming down from the pier. And it’s a good way to beat the crowds. If you’re up for it, me and you could hitch a ride for old times sake to the Huntington Pier. The Jack In The Box opens early like 8 AM. You can pick me up. I’ll be in the parking lot waiting for you.
MR: I’m in…love that pier, oh by the way. Dude, the album seems both universal and conceptual. Was there no coin available to flip?
CP: Yeah, I know. Kind of confusing, isn’t it? That’s my fault. I tried to sound like I knew what I was talking about when I whipped up a bio for the record. That was my first mistake. I was under the gun. Originally I asked the publicist, “Can’t you just go on the internet and crib bits and pieces from all the previous bios?” I don’t know where any of this is going when it’s happening. The way it usually goes is that if I’m lucky enough to tap into a few songs that take me somewhere, I’m more than happy to follow them down to their logical conclusion. All that puffed up rhetoric aside, there was a, dare I say, dystopian theme in some of the early songs. And that was something that was pretty easy to tap into.
Life in Startup City, USA is making me anxious, Mike. Look around. Landlords licking their lips, people getting evicted, people lying down in front of Google buses. I can’t help but wonder where we’re headed. Sure, technology is making great strides. But technology is not culture, no matter how hard they try to convince you. But just so you know I’m not a total crank, the photo on the cover was taken on an iPhone. And you know, I made the demos on my laptop too. So there, I’m not a total crank. The future might save us. But we have to get there first. That’s what I’ve been saying.
MR: Lately, though I’m not exactly yelling, “You kids get off my virtual lawn,” I’m sad at what we’re surrendering to tech. I love it, I hate, I’m with you. Hey, you worked with producer Brad Jones, recording Night Surfer in San Francisco and Nashville. San Francisco and Nashville?
CP: Brad has strengths I don’t have. He has an incredible brain. He’s fast. And he’s totally capable of anything. If I told him I wanted to record on the roof, but only on a full moon, he’d get out a weather chart and start crunching numbers or whatever it is people do when they stare at weather charts. And, lucky for me, he’s always up for an adventure.
MR: Which songs are the most revealing about Chuck Prophet’s current psychological and emotional states?
CP: Oh man, you’re not gonna make me do that, are you? It’s hard to pin down my emotional state. It changes daily if not hourly.
MR: Okay, fine. Can you go into, from your pespective, how Night Surfer differs from your previous project?
CP: It’s more layered. And thematically, the last record was all about San Francisco and was really raw musically. So, this one is a reaction to that I suppose. But if you’re not buying that, and want to tell me they’re all the same on some level, well, I won’t argue. Funny, my friend Greg Leisz who is an amazing musician and has a long rap sheet longer than your right leg, told me that the first song he learned was “On Top of Ol’ Smoky.” And he often wonders if that’s still all he’s ever playing. Only stretch as far as your blanket reaches. That’s what I say. Honestly, a few things are different this time around. Some dark scenarios, but where there’s music, there’s hope. Gospel, anyone?
The record is definitely a guitar album, with layers, replete with strings and horns and those prog guitars that border on straight-up arena rock. The vocals have that hard-earned phlegm I’ve never been able to get to stick to tape before. I think my voice changed. I like it better now. Another thing that might be different is that this time around, I’m also really going for it with promotion. I know I’m a little late to the party, but I’m giving it the college try this time for sure. I’ll get on the web most mornings and remind people I have a new record. That’s a challenge in and of itself. Fact is my records have never really sold that great. I guess I feel bad about it. But I keep making them anyway. Every time I’m done making a record I try to get my head around the concept of selling it. I flew out to North Carolina to the Yep Roc headquarters and suggested we get everyone together in a circle join hands and pray. And guess what? It’s all happening. Now here I am talking to you. It’s The Huffington Post, baby!
MR: [laughs] Yeah, although I’m just a lowly contributor, but thanks. So who is this “Countrified Inner City Technological Man” and was he fan of your band Green On Red?
CP: Honestly, I thought I’d treat myself to one of those long titles. I guess I’m a little late to the party as usual. Remember the ’90s? Weren’t long titles a big thing in the 90s? That seems like a Mark Eitzel kind of thing. You know the type… “Jim Rode West on a Pony to Find Mark Eitzel Cleaning Santa Claus’s Thorny Feet On a Bare Mattress on Capp Street” Those kind of titles.
MR: Chuck, Chuck, Chuck. Given your track record for having songs appear on HBO and FX shows–you freakin’ lucky dog–when should we expect to see “Wish Me Luck” proliferating on every broadcast channel?
CP: Yeah, well. I’m not exactly singing for Spuds. But, seriousness aside, the film and TV money definitely helps. I mean, I’d love to get up on my high horse and say I’d never license my music for anything or whore myself or whatever but it’s a little late for that. Honestly, I’ve been lucky to have music in some films and TV shows that I can really get behind. And for me beyond everything, sometimes the most important thing to do is to survive. So, anything that helps pay the utility bill is good with me. But, if people don’t want to lend their music, that’s cool too. It’s a personal thing, I suppose.
MR: So Spuds, what advice do you have for new artists?
CP: Just do it. If you’re an artist, be an artist. Making a decent record or playing a gig is a lot like coaching high school football or something. You’ve got to be smart enough to do it and dumb enough to think it matters. If it matters to you maybe it will matter to other people. That’s a good place to start. Also, I’d also suggest you surround yourself with cool people. Fact is, you’ll end up getting in bed with some good people and you’ll end up getting in bed with some people you’ll come to find you don’t want to wake up next to. And really, it’s hard to tell until you’re in the heat of battle who’s got your back and who doesn’t. So, in order to get your music out there, just do it. Most people are full of it. And even the best people out there are full of BS one-third of the time. I also think that good ten or fifteen minutes with the internet in the morning should be sufficient. But, that’s just me. What do I know about the music business? I’m still trying to break in after decades of trying.
MR: What don’t we know about Chuck Prophet that right after you tell us, we wish we never knew?
CP: Even though I’ve tried many times, I’ve never enjoyed playing poker. Being confined in a small hot room with a group of men using language like “hit me, flop me, slap him, hold him” has never really been my idea of a good time. Maybe it’s because I grew up with three sisters. I don’t know. Is that juicy enough for you? Probably not. I mean, I’ve done enough to embarrass my parents already. What do you want from me?
MR: Yeah, gonna forget all that real quick. Will you insist on continuing your reckless night surfing that you’re apparently not doing and if so, can we just wish each other our fond farewells now? Farewell, Chuck. I will miss you.
CP: Ah man, I’m not going anywhere brother. I’ll be out here long after I bury your ass. Don’t worry about me. I’ll still be out here somewhere. Standing over steaming manholes. I can’t live without it and I’ve never quite figured out how to live within it. I will miss you too. I enjoy our chats. I really do.