YEP ROC 15 (Pt. 4): CHUCK PROPHET

Appearing Thursday, Oct. 12 at Cat’s
Cradle in Carrboro, NC, at Yep Roc’s 15th anniversary
celebration. The festival’s schedule can be viewed online here.

 

 

BY BARRY ST. VITUS

 

In the midst of a West Coast tour earlier this year,
rocker Chuck Prophet took time out to chat with BLURT about the recent Yep Roc album
Temple Beautiful as well as the
now-legendary bus journey that took a caravan of fans and journalists on a
guided tour of San Francisco.

 

 

BLURT: Hi Chuck, I wanted to
first go back to your Green On Red days. Do you have a best memory of being in
that band?

 

CHUCK PROPHET: Uh, I couldn’t
particularly come up with any best memory….It was the best of times, it was the worst of times! Yeah, I mean it’s
easier to go on here (unintelligible),
but I remember it all pretty fondly these days. All of it.      

 

 

 I understand there wasn’t
originally a ‘concept’ for the Temple
Beautiful
album, the San Francisco theme, it just sort of fell into place?

 

I don’t know…I was writing
songs, along with Kurt (Klipschutz) and we were just hanging around my office,
fooling around, and trying to write some songs, and we looked at what we had
down, and I kind of thought, it kind of occurred to me that we had these songs
that somehow, we kind of had a shared experience of San Francisco, and all that
stuff and the contradictions, and after that I thought, oh, it’s a cycle you
know.  You just try it, and we got
excited about it…it was never hard to come up with material, but, it just kind
of exerted itself y’know? I’d like to think we kind of paying attention and it
just kind of jumped out at us!

 

 

 So, at
a subconscious level, it was all in there? I was wondering what your thoughts
were on your Yep Roc San Francisco Bus Tour and Record Release Party. What
comments or feedback have you heard about it?

 

 Well, no, I just enjoyed the fact that I made
a record that wasn’t necessarily about me, although you can see San Francisco
through what was my kind of perverted worldview. The record itself is not
strictly a singer-songwriter kind of “I wanna get out of here, my girl-friend
is wrong, my complicated cold” kind of record.  
I mean, it’s just some kind of bonus that I didn’t really see coming….to
get out and promote record, to have a party, and go out and play behind the
record! It’s not about me. A lot of people helped make the bus tour. It’s what
it takes sometimes to be able to make those kinds of things to work. It’s fun
to do new stuff. Well, it’s fun to find new ways to do the same old stuff. 

 

 

 Well,
it was quite an evening. I had a blast! Nobody knew quite knew what to expect,
and the surprises you guys had lined up along the way, definitely were surprises… your appearance up on
Twin Peaks, Stephanie and yourself joining the tour, picking up music writer
Joel Selvin at Janis Joplin’s old liquor store in the Haight, all those little
things.

        Little Steven, on his Underground Garage radio show called the
title song one his “Coolest Songs in the World.” There is a major push behind
you now for the album, which has garnered glowing reviews from writers. Do you
anticipate that this will be kind of a breakout album for you?

 

 
Well, I don’t know what it is that I’m trying to ‘”Break out” of?  I think there’s this real misconception people
have about musicians, or whatever, that somehow everybody is always looking to
“break out.” I mean, I don’t know if I’m living comfortably, but I haven’t had
a job! I think that I talked a little
about this in BLURT when R.E.M broke
up, and uh, the thing is really not if you’re going to break out or not break
out, I think the fear for me is, you know, that I would have to stop.

        When I say “stop,” I mean stop playing
gigs with my friends, and kicking my songs around, and getting a right sound and trying to get it to behave, and
turning it into records and pouring the songs from beaker to beaker to try and
trying to get some kind of credible performance, to get paid, and all that stuff. I mean, all that for me is what keeps me
coming back. So, you know, I don’t really have to focus on the next level, I
mean, I can sit here probably for a long time. I mean, if you’re lucky enough
to get up in the morning and you’re interested in what you’re doing, and lucky
enough to have somebody in your life to share it with, that for me is successful. You can kind of talk
about the next level, I think people just assume that you should be trying to
do, to just continue along and be a hit or go and get a job at Google or
something!

        I’m telling the truth… you gotta try! But, I hear they’ve got good snacks
over there!

 

 

 (Laughs) You may be getting too old to
get in the door there any more. I don’t think they take anyone over 25 or
something. So, after 30-odd years here in San Francisco, what would you say that
you like best, and dislike the most about it?

 

 Well, the great thing about San Francisco,
apart from the diversity, the culture and, uh, the arts and the diversity of
races, and all these things….it can really open your eyes if you come from
somewhere else. But, I think the thing that freaks me out is that, for these
years I’ve got to live in the heart of the “money belt”! Really! I mean if you
drive around a bit, you don’t see different ads…like Albany, Scranton,
Cleveland. You don’t see Yahoo! billboards
every 300 feet. So, it’s interesting, what the people in San Francisco have
economically and what the people in the rest of the country have. It’s, uh,
rough to be out there and see what happened in the late ‘90s when the economy
got so white-hot and so many people were driven out, and the real estate blew
people out – lot of the fringe element were pushed out, and that’s pretty
disheartening.

        But, you know, there’s always a new
crop of excited weirdos on the next bus, trying to change the world, so it
continues to reinvent itself. But, I think that was a rough time for me to even
keep my band up, around that period. It was so hot, a lot of musicians were
forced out, a lot of fringe element couldn’t afford the rent, so, you know, a
lot of people migrated up to Portland – a lot of my friends actually! A couple
went down to Texas or Arizona. It’s pretty disheartening how white-hot the
economy got, around the time of the big Dot-com scare. I don’t look back on
that as a fun time at all! I think money makes people stupid.

 

 

 I think that’s one reason too,
why there has been such an increase in the amount of artists and musicians over
in the Oakland area now. The art scene is getting really hot over here in the
East Bay. If you were forced to leave San Francisco, is there someplace that
you can see yourself moving to, like the East Bay or Portland or Austin or
someplace? Anyplace come to the top of your mind, “Boy, I could see myself
living here.”

 

Oh, a trailer out by the Salton
Sea or something. Yeah, get a trailer out there by the Salton Sea. I don’t
know.

 

 

 

What
city are you most looking forward to playing on tour?

 

I really like playing in
England, I think it’s they’re the best audience in the world.  I mean going to gigs, get a pint and standing
around on a sticky black floor, and, and hurling insults at the band. It’s all
part of their culture! I think Minneapolis is a little like that, and Austin is
like that. We’re going to gigs where it’s engrained in people’s culture, so I
look forward to playing in England. I like going up North, and we’re playing
Brighton this time. I like it all.

 

 

 What’s
one of the worst things that have happened to you out on tour?

 

Uh, nothing that you’d want
found out… y’know?  (laughs) I’ve been
ripped-off, man – I mean, it’s just ridiculous. I can’t really begin to put that
into a spreadsheet.

 

 

 

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