Mots-clefs

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Avant sa venue le jeudi 09 novembre pour un concert exceptionnel dans le sud de la France, nous avons fait parvenir à l’inclassable Chuck Prophet, une interview. Une façon de préparer notre prochaine rencontre. Nous espérons que cela permettra à certains de mieux connaître ce grand artiste américain, suscitera l’envie de s’intéresser à sa discographie, notamment à son fantastique dernier album Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins , de venir le voir, le revoir, le découvrir en live, avec son groupe The Mission Express.

 MEET CHUCK PROPHET…”SONGWRITER OUT OF TIME”.

At beginning of this year, Chuck began his big tour all around the world, with The Mission Express, Prophet’s band.

ATS/TPWe want to start out by saying we really enjoy your new extraordinary album. How are you, Chuck?

CP – I’m doing well, thank you.

PAST…

What kind of the music did your parents listen to?

The radio. We spent a lot of times in cars. It seems like. And the radio was always on. Plus we had some cool records in the house like Charlie Rich etc. But it was my sister that had the coolest records. Or maybe it was her boyfriend’s records. Bowie, Mott etc.

I come from a pretty average, nonmusical, Catholic family. I begged for guitar lessons, got golf lessons instead. However, my Dad does appear in Blackboard Jungle, the godfather of all juvenile delinquent films. Once I asked my Dad, « Don’t you ever feel like throwing a TV out a window or something? »

   

What kind of music did you first listen to? And nowadays?

The radio was big for me. When I was 12 my girlfriend bought me a copy of Hunky Dory. And that was a real gateway drug for me. Still is. I have a pretty decent appetite for music. There’s a new band called Clinic. They’re pretty cool. Also The Subsonics, Beach Boys, Link Wray, The Troggs, Kelley Stoltz, Johnny Cash, Beatles, Nick Lowe, Ike Turner, John Cooper Clark. . .  Tim Hardin, Springsteen, Dylan, Flamin’ Groovies, Beachwood Sparks, Moby Grape. . .  that kind of stuff.

What did you study at school?

Financial aid. I kind of sleepwalked through school. I missed most of 9th grade because I was in hospital. So, I never really got into gear. But I did attend college. Although I never caught the fever. Was never religious about it. I was mostly interested in avoiding having a full time job. That was the big fear.

Do you remember what the first record you bought was?

I think it was a Jackson 5 single from the drug store in Cleveland Ohio.

Did you become a collector of records?

Yes, I have always enjoyed record stores. And that hasn’t really changed. In my younger days I moved a lot. And the records got left behind sometimes. Warren Zevon said that when we buy books we are subconsciously buying the time to read them. I feel that way about records too.

Who was your first guitar hero?

Possibly Hendrix, I suppose. But I liked the guys who had the whole package. Tom Verlaine. Richard Thompson. Buddy Holly… Dylan.

What were some of your favorite singers, musicians, bands?  Who are some of your influences?

I dug Waylon Jennings. The voice. The drama. The sound. The Fender Telecaster. He was an instant hero to me.  That Dreaming My Dreams record had a mighty influence on me. There’s so many more. I loved London Calling by the Clash. That’s where the Clash showed what was possible. It’s all in there. The straight up disco of Train In Vain. The Bo Diddley goes to Jamaica of Rudie Can’t Fail. Rockabilly of Brand New Cadillac.  And they were OUR band. Not our older sisters’ band. That record is still to this day a kind of gateway drug for the kind of records I aspire to make. That record is ultra-distilled – London Calling is the Clash’s 200 proof masterwork. The ultimate proof of anything.  Then again, if I name one I leave out a thousand. All roads lead to Dylan.


What was the first song you learned to play?

Maybe it was Heart of Gold by Neil Young. Or Polly Wolly Doodle.

When did you decide to become a guitarist, a singer-songwriter and producer? Did you dream to become a renowned guitarist?

I just loved music. I loved the records. They were mysterious to me.  I would have been happy to be a roadie for Iggy Pop or something. I didn’t plan this life.

 

Chuck Prophet is not a musician who is easy to pigeonhole. He’s sharp, open and funny (If I was Connie Britton / Jesus was a social drinker). He’s a traveler who used different musical roads: Paisley Underground, Americana, Country, Folk, Rock and roll. A sailor exploring literature, poetry, cinema, oddness, peculiarities, irony, noir films… and true-crimes. A witness of collapses, a photographer who dissects the realities. A prowling rocker…in our divided world.

If you are a smooth talker, how do you sell “Chuck Prophet”?

I’ve said before, but it bears repeating. People will have you believe we live in a time of cultural exhaustion. A lot of things seem to be coming to an end. But I’m not exhausted.  I’m still trying to re-enchant the world one gig at a time. I’m not sure if a great rock and roll gig can get people to vote for a sane person or be nicer to each other but we keep running battery cables into the audience, hoping to keep the circuit connected.

For those who are new to your music, what is a good starting point?

Just dig in. Use both hands. Tap into a vein. Anywhere.

Which of your song you are most proud of? Why?

No Other Love. It’s a simple elegant song. And those are the hardest to write.

 

Could we say your songs are stylistically rooted in naturalism and realism?

Sure. I like to capture the way people walk. I try to avoid MFA gobbly gook in the language. The poetry is in what’s left when you strip all that away. And I write for guitar so I think that makes the songs easy to play. I hope.

How would you describe your average working day as a songwriter now?

I have to show up. That’s half of it.  Sitting in a room by myself and waiting for the miracle has worked for me. Sometimes I like to take a hostage. Drag someone in there with me. I like to get together with someone. We can tell each other stories and eventually I might start banging the nearest instrument- stomping around the room; shouting at the walls. Before long, words are dueling around the room, sticking together, forming rhythms . . .  The rest is history. Or mystery. Or misery. Or high fives.  Later when you stand back and squint at it – some of the ideas or riffs would just spin in every direction and be kind of useless.  But there’s almost always something. Some seed to add water to.

Yours narratives are often dark. Do they express your interest for the disenchanted world?

If it’s personal I hope the song is doing its job. I just hope the songs connect with people on some level. I make political records for non-political people. I just sing about the things I see. I’m a photographer in some way. I see blood in the sand and I don’t stop. I just keep singing. I don’t really have opinions. And even if I did, I’d be full of beans at least 1/3 of the time.

Your new album was met with very laudatory reviews. Could you tell me about the recording process for the record?

A shoebox full of great songs. Go to the head of the class kind of songs. And a great band for a start. Me and James DePrato dueling it out on guitars. [James DePrato is a goddamn great guitarist. You could fit him in a thimble, but he’s a menace with that strap around his neck]. A 2” tape machine. A recording studio in the heart of the ghetto. State of the art technology circa 1968. A clan of co-conspirators. Difficult, intense people. Lots of parking tickets. I know I’m in the throes of a new record when I can’t remember where I parked my car.

Are you surprised people think it is your masterpiece? Could you offer some general sense of how your take on your new album differs from others?

I don’t know how to describe it. How about, it’s flat and it goes around in circles? But then again, that describes all of them. Am I getting warm? It was written in a year where we said goodbye to heroes –  Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Haggard, Lemmy, Muhammad Ali… and Harper Lee to name a few. And no matter who you are or what your deal is, we’ve all had our faith put to the test. There’s been a lot of “Burn this motherf—er down » and « Burn this bitch DOWN, » from all sides of the grocery aisles. These are strange times we’re living in and the record is a reflection of all that.

The singer and guitarist Bobby Fuller Four («I Fought the Law ») was found dead of asphyxiation in the front seat of his mother’s car on July 18, 1966. Died under mysterious circumstances. Various theories have been advanced about Fuller’s death: suicide, an accident following a bad reaction to LSD, knocked off by the Manson family, mafia retribution…


How did “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” become the title of and lead-off track on your new album?

It just felt right.

You have described your new work as « California Noir. »  Could you explain to French people what that means?

Yes. California has always represented the Golden Dream, and it’s the tension between romance and reality that lurks underneath the surface in all noir films and paperbacks, and that connects these songs.

Did you often play in grimy clubs?

Yes. I like it. But the best gig I ever played was a society art gallery opening with Carlos Guitarlos. We’d been busking on the street in Union Square with a generator and Pignose amps when we were approached by the curator of the event. We set up in the corner of the gallery. Everyone was dancing: long-legged socialites in pearls, men in suits. In the middle of the solo section to « Maybellene, » the night popped open. Someone overturned the buffet table; Carlos was chasing women around the room lifting their skirts with the headstock of his guitar; it was beautiful chaos.

Is “Alex Nieto” your first protest song?

Yes, the new record closes with the blistering Alex Nieto. I call it my first protest song. People have listened to me rant about Tech City USA and how I believe San Francisco is under siege by techie man-children and billionaires. But still, I never dreamed I’d be in the middle of a culture war with real bodies. Alex Nieto was born and raised in the City, Alex Nieto was on his way to work as a security guard when he ended up with 59 bullets in and around him, all fired by the police. There’s a lot more to the story, and the details are available to anyone who wants to know. The song is a two-chord homage to a good man who should still be alive.

 

Have you really lost any illusion you may have had about democracy in your country?

I just sing about the things I see. And it’s looking that way.

People compare you to Tom Petty, Alex Chilton, Leonard Cohen, and Ray Davies. You’ve collaborated with some fantastic artists. You’re a big collaborator as far as songwriting goes. Which band or artist do you want to work with, but haven’t yet?

I keep waiting for Bob Dylan to call. I also like Margo Price.

How would you describe, in a word or short phrase, the following people?

– Chuck Berry: poet
– Prince: Midwesterner
– Tom Petty: laconic
– Ray Davies: rare
– Alex Chilton: hero
– David Bowie: magpie
– Kelley Stoltz: treasure

How and when did you and Kurt Lipschutz meet? How did this songwriting relationship develop?

I met him at a bar called the Albion. He was an off-stage member of Bone Cootes and the Living Wrecks. The Albion was a bar where we talked the owner into letting us take over the back room for music. We would play a gig one weekend and come back the next Thursday and do the songs differently. But people ended up borrowing each other’s girlfriends and guitars and refused to give them back so it couldn’t last forever.  Kurt and I have remained collaborators. And I’ve written a lion’s share of my favorite songs with him.

You said: “We live in a time of cultural exhaustion”. Could you explain this feeling?

People are burned out. They can’t even listen to new music. A lot of things seem to be coming to an end.


Ever thought of writing a song for very young band?

Sure. If it came along. And felt right. Can’t argue with feelings, can you?

What kind at kind of hints could you give young musicians or young bands?

Follow your heroes. What did they do to get to be your hero’s? Think about that.

Is there any chance that Green on Red might get together again for a project?

It’s not impossible, I suppose.

Bric-à-brac…

What is the funniest thing that happened to you on stage, on tour? What is the worst?

I was served papers on stage in Nashville. It was funny. It was the worst.

You wrote: “I wouldn’t make a good Scientologist. I’m too content with being a loser”. Is keeping a sense of humour vital to your own survival?

It’s true. They are selling some kind of mojo. I have my own mojo. No one can have it. And I’m happy being a loser.

 

Are you an optimist?

Yeah. Maybe.

What are you not good at?

Spelling.

Your main quality?

Loyalty.

Your favourite food? Your favourite drink?

I like a nice cup of coffee and a slice of pie.

What are you reading?

Re-reading Dispatches. I’ve re-ignited my interest in Vietnam.

Your favourite activities, hobbies apart from music?

Surfing.

Music is over-categorized now. Is it a stupidity? Do you listen to another kind of music than rock and roll?

Of course. Classical. Jazz. All kinds.

What do you think about rock and roll today?

It’s pretty healthy. If you look for it.

Your 5 favourite records? (I know it’s simplistic but which 5 records are you never tired of listening to).

Big Star’s 3rd. Hunky Dory, Tonight’s the Night by Neil. Dusty in Memphis. London Calling. Dreaming my Dreams.

How many times did you play in France already?

I’m not sure to be honest. (Manager note, at least 5-7 times solo and around the same with Green on Red)

Your favorite motto, your recurrent adage?

Be true to your school.

Do you have anything to add?

No, this was exhausting.


[Laughs…sorry]
Thanks for your time Chuck. Best of luck with the new record, your tour.
Postscipt: we must cook pies…

Thanks to Chuck, Chris from Decor Records, Magic C, James.