PRESS

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(take two thirds cup Tom Petty, add a pinch of Jim Morrison, a dash of Dylan, blend well and bake at 375 degrees until crispy on top).

Martinez Gazette

Chuck Prophet: If it's Tuesday, it must be...Helsinki?

Actually, I think he's in Oslo on Tuesday. Yep, Chuck Prophet has left the building, split town, crossed the state line and fled the country ... all the way to Europe, where he's touring in support of his brand spanking new release, Temple Beautiful (Yep Roc Records). He'll be performing solo, opening up for the Jayhawks on a short, nine city blitz, but returns to Europe in April for 31 headlining dates with the full Mission Express band, featuring the eternally cheerful Stephanie Finch (Chuck's wife) on keyboards and vocals, James DePrato on guitar, Rusty Miller on bass and "never quite sure" on drums. Not that unusual for Prophet to venture across the Atlantic, where he's developed quite a following since his 1980s "Paisley Underground" days, fronting Green on Red.

Unless you've spent the past couple of months sequestered in a seedy Pacheco motel room, you're probably aware that Prophet and the Mission Express (named after a San Francisco bus line) played six Sunday night shows during their recent Armando's residency. Each concert was expectedly unpredictable, whether the band was road testing new tunes or pulling out the irresistible pairing of Chuck's chilling bible and bullhorn preacher feature, "Automatic Blues" and Neil Young's big spike classic, "Motorcycle Mama," starring Finch as Nicolette Larsen. It was fascinating to witness Prophet and reformed hair metal guitar prodigy -- now double necked slide hero -- Deprato, adroitly switch off between lead and rhythm. I hear things got a little hot and sweaty towards the end of the sold out two month run, with disheartened fans being turned away at the door. But don't fret if you missed out, because I have a strong feeling our Prophet will return. After all, it appears a musical free love society has blossomed between Chuck, Roy Jeans and the patrons of his Marina Vista nightspot.

Prophet turns 49 this year, but at an age when most recording artists have long passed their creative peak and are coasting on autopilot, Chuck defies the norm by actually improving with age. His previous album, Let Freedom Ring! (2009), was a paranoia fueled masterpiece, recorded under chaotic circumstances (swine flu epidemic, earthquakes, power outages and "policia" hassles) in the bustling metropolis of Mexico City. And while a new Chuck Prophet CD is usually a cause for celebration, I'd been anticipating the Feb. 7 release of Temple Beautiful with some degree of trepidation. After all, how does one fashion a worthy successor to the alt-rock equivalent (reasonably close anyways) of Abbey Road (The Beatles), Blonde on Blonde (Bob Dylan) or Exile on Main Street (Rolling Stones)? The Beatles responded to their success by breaking up, Dylan fell off his motorcycle, and The Stones stuck a goat's head in a soup pot.

In retrospect, I really had nothing to worry about, since Prophet attacks each new project by applying his typical "nothing to lose" attitude. You can't go wrong when you have the ability/gift to consistently craft timeless tunes, à la Paul Westerberg, Alex Chilton and "On the Beach" era Neil Young. Plus, you have an exceptionally potent combination when you add Prophet's razor sharp Telecaster guitar skills (think Keith Richards meets the twin guitar assault of The Clash and Television) and his haunting, slightly cynical Alt-Petty vocal drawl (take two thirds cup Tom Petty, add a pinch of Jim Morrison, a dash of Dylan, blend well and bake at 375 degrees until crispy on top).

Temple Beautiful (his 12th CD) is named after a long defunct music venue -- oddly shoehorned between The Fillmore and Reverend Jim Jones' People's Temple -- where a precocious Prophet caught seminal punk acts like Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys. The album mines a similar alt-indie-punk-pop-soul-folk-blues-country-rock (here-to-after referred to simply as rock) vein as earlier releases, although instead of Freedom's shattered American Dream, the lyrics pertain to various people, places and things associated with the bohemian city in which he resides -- or as Chuck puts it, "a love letter to the town where I grew up ... San Francisco."

High points of the new record include the slashing, "You Really Got Me" guitar burst of title track ("Temple Beautiful"), the poignantly rocking ode to "the freakiest most beautiful celebration" ever ("Castro Halloween") and the Cain and Able-like brotherly love story between Jim and Artie Mitchell ("The Left Hand and the Right Hand"). All three conjure up vivid images that will have you singing in the shower and humming in your dreams, both day and night.

Every track contains numerous examples of Prophet's piquant wit, whether he's discussing Carol Doda in "Willie Mays is up to Bat" ("She showed them everything she had, then she showed them all a little more"), the frailty of art and human emotions in "Museum of Broken Hearts" ("Some of them are permanent, some have come and gone / some are just too delicate to move") or a night of tragedy in "Castro Halloween" ("When the shots rang out and two men died, you took off your mask just to see me cry").

Prophet and Yep Rock Records decided to promote the album by organizing a San Francisco bus tour/record release party, hosted by long time KFOG radio personality, Peter Finch (no relation to Stephanie). However, this was clearly not your typical corn on the cob fed Nebraskan über tour bus excursion, as confirmed by Prophet's claim that participants would see, "The liquor store where Janis Joplin purchased her first bottle of Southern Comfort." Following a jaunt through the city, revelers were dropped off at an 18th and Capp St. warehouse and treated to a Mission Express concert, with special guests Kelley Stoltz and John Doe (X). Yep Roc generously provided the free Mexican food and two kegs of beer -- no tip jar in sight.

Well, the verdict is in: it's a pretty damn good record -- perhaps even better than Freedom. And if there was any justice (hah!) in this world, Temple Beautiful would go multi-platinum and the title track would be a number one smash hit! But alas, the Prophet freight train will continue to chug along as just another fairly well kept secret. And though he's accumulated a fair sized collection of faithful followers, in order to pay the utility bills he augments his income through songwriting and strategic television placement. In recent years, Prophet has written for, collaborated with and had songs covered by a wide range of artists, including Alejandro Escovedo, Dan Penn, Solomon Burke and country music stars Kelly Willis and Cyndi Thompson. One composition in particular, "No Other Love," was covered twice, by the classic rock group Heart and by Michael Grimm, winner of America's Got Talent (2010). As for television, Prophet's "You Did" appeared on the season two soundtrack to HBO's True Blood and his "Love Won't Keep us Apart" was heard on Sons of Anarchy (FX).

So, the next time you need a break from watching high-def TV, or downloading the latest G4 App, and want to hear a really good album from one of the last purveyors of original rock music, hop on down to your local Rasputin Records and purchase the new Chuck Prophet CD, Temple Beautiful. Or better yet, make audiophile Chuck truly happy and pick it up on 180 gram vinyl -- free poster while supplies last.

by By Gordon R. Webb on February 26, 2012 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (Temple Beautiful)

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Magnet

W&A With Chuck Prophet

On his 10th studio album, Temple Beautiful (Yep Roc), Chuck Prophet found his muse in the city he's called home for 30 years. Exploring the local landmarks and myths with friend and poet klipschutz, Prophet winds his way through San Francisco, stretching tales even taller along the way. But this guided tour isn't a detailed and prefabricated concept album, so much as it's the product of spontaneous inspiration, and it's not a document of the city's past as much as it is of its present. MAGNET caught up with Prophet to explore some of the things that inspired the making of Temple Beautiful. Prophet will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

MAGNET: Temple Beautiful has been dubbed your "ode to San Francisco." What inspired this album-length exploration of the city?

Prophet: I was writing songs with a friend of mine, Kurt; his pen-name is klipschutz. We were just kind of messing around, really, and we tapped into this vein where I was just like, "This could be a San Francisco record." And that's really it. It kind of floated to the top, then once we tapped into that, everything started flowing.

I know ¡Let Freedom Ring! had a bit more of a political tone or thread. Do you feel like giving yourself these sorts of conceptual frameworks helps the album come together?

Yeah, for me it does for sure. I know some things about writing songs. I know how to put things together. But really, I'm kind of in awe of the whole process. Mostly, I feel like I don't know anything, so I guess it helps to be pushing an idea along. Then it's like, you have an idea in a room with somebody, and you're playing some chords, and you're shouting at the walls and bouncing sounds around, and, you know, somebody says, "Well, we're going to have to see if Willie Mays will show up in one of these songs." That's kind of the way it goes, you know.

Is it a deliberate thing for you, to come up with an idea for the record before you start really getting into the meat of the song?

I mean, I can write songs, like love songs or relationship songs or whatever. But I feel like at some point something emerges. At some point you stand back and squint and say, "Well, this is kind of where this record's going." I dunno. Maybe it's something you figure out when the record's done.

I wonder sometimes, too, how much is just critics projecting.

People only have so much time. So, if somebody says that they went to Alaska and lived in a teepee for a year and wrote these songs, that might be the best way to describe it. I really don't know. I know that when we tapped into the spontaneity and the kind of energy that brought me here in the first place, then we had songs I was excited about. I guess that's it. And you gotta understand, too, I was born in Whittier, Calif. I was born only a few miles from where Nixon had his first law office, and for all intents and purposes, I should probably still be down there pushing a lawn mower or something. I didn't really grow up very culturally aware, so most of it came from listening to records and stuff. I started traveling, then when I moved to San Francisco I started getting my own sort of self-education in different people of different races and colors and sexes and shit, punk rock and arty stuff. For me, coming here kind of opened my eyes. When we tapped into that, I felt like we were tapping into something I could get excited about.

When did you move to San Francisco and what brought you there?

I basically moved here to go to college in the early '80s, and I never left.

How many of the characters in the songs are real? I recognized a lot of the places, or have found out about them after hearing the songs, but how much are the people in there actual people of San Francisco?

We kind of leaned a little more toward the mythological side of things, but, I mean, Willie Mays is very real. There's also a whole host of characters on the record, from the Mitchell Brothers to Redman to Jim Jones—a lot of people who probably wouldn't be caught dead with Willie Mays, or Willie Mays probably wouldn't be caught dead with them. We knew he was going to be on the record somehow, and he's a very real person, and he's sort of the hero of the record. He's a kinda quiet guy, and he's a man of substance and stood up to racism. There's probably a lot of thick books written about him, but all we knew about him is that he always swung for the fence.

The reason I ask is I read an interview from January, where you'd said, "I'll always take the myth over the truth." When you're writing creatively, that's always kind of what you're doing, shaping the truth or the memory, but do you see mythmaking as part of your goal in writing these songs?

No. Well, if you're lucky, sure. I'm trying to think of the guy from the Silver Jews (David Berman). He has an expression that somebody told me. He calls it "Google Pure." If you can Google something and not find it, and it doesn't come up anywhere, he calls it "Google Pure." A lot about this record is sort of "Wikipedia Pure." We didn't really know. We were definitely in a woodshed when we wrote the songs, in the sense that we didn't have any Internet. Even a song like "Castro Halloween," that we snuck out about the parade that happens really only a couple blocks from my apartment every year, I thought two people were killed, but it turns out that really two people were shot and nine people were injured. The first line of the song is "When the shots rang out/And two men died," so somebody corrected me, like, "Actually, Chuck, you know, nobody died." Spoilsports.

That's how storytelling works, though. Through memory or accidents things change and become something new.

It's also rock 'n' roll; it's not journalism. Sorry. Sorry you got the short end of the stick when it comes to the fun.

I was interested to see that you had done some gigs playing London Calling front-to-back. That's been one of my favorite records forever because there's so much variety in it. It seems like maybe that's an attribute you value in your music.

Oh, absolutely. I think that the Clash are very roots rock and world music and all that stuff with London Calling. For me, prior to that, punk rock was pretty narrow, and that record showed what was possible. I still feel like that's probably the record I've been trying to make, in many ways. They were just discovering American jazz and rockabilly and ska, and they had a deep well of music history that they were drawing from, and they dipped their bucket down into that well, and they weren't afraid to drink it. Even if you listen to "Train In Vain," which was a very contemporary-sounding track at the time, they weren't afraid to play with disco, which was really just contemporary black music. It's an adventurous record. I think if it wasn't a direct influence on me, it at least showed me what was possible.

You've worked with a lot of people. Whether helping Sonny Smith put out a record or helping Alejandro Escovedo write one or playing guitar with god knows how many folks at this point. How important is collaborating, and getting fresh insight from people?

I like it. I appreciate writing songs by myself, but I sometimes like having somebody in the room with me. With somebody like Alejandro or klipschutz, it's easy company. It's probably also my social life, in a lot of ways. What I like is I like a shared experience. I've been playing with my wife, and I've been playing with my friends, and that's why I got into playing music. I didn't really get into music to be by myself. I like the shared experience, and I think that's something that helps me to work with other people.

Would you say that you're actively searching for new sounds and new influences?

I don't know if I'm actively doing much of anything really. I have a pretty healthy appetite for music, so yeah I like to listen to records.

You've complimented the new crop of garage/psych bands in San Francisco, bands like Thee Oh Sees, Girls and Fresh & Onlys. What about that do you relate to, or find inspiring?

I like to see people playing guitars and making noise with their friends. It's inspiring to see a new crop of bands from my hometown. And just the energy of it, I really like. It's inspiring because there's energy and that thing, you know?

Do you feel like you're, by virtue of being in the same place, a part of that in any way?

I don't know. Like I tell people, I've been duct taped back together so many times I don't even know what I'm a part of. I'm probably not a part of it. They do their own thing. When Green On Red was playing `60s music and into psychedelia and stuff, that was just our way of saying fuck you to everything else that was around, and that's pretty healthy, I think ... In a lot of ways, the money ruined everything in the `90s. Money makes people stupid. I think a lot of bands around here got signed, and I think there were these unrealistic expectations, and there were a lot of bands that ended up signed to major labels in the wake of all that, when the music business model was just massive. I didn't think of that as an inspired time, but now I see people recording records in their closets and people building studios in their basements, and people making records with just the sheer desire to do it. I think that's always really inspiring.

With Temple Beautiful, what would you hope people hearing it get out of it?

I'd hope they didn't need an owner's manual to get into it. I hope that when it hits you, if you like rock 'n' roll, that it'll speak to you.

—Bryan Reed

[ LINK ]

by Bryan Reed on February 6, 2012 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles Interviews (Temple Beautiful)

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San Francisco Chronicle

New Chuck Prophet album draws on 30 years in S.F.

Chuck Prophet's new album, "Temple Beautiful," is an earnest if not entirely factually accurate tribute to his adopted hometown of San Francisco. The former Green on Red front man sings about well-known characters, places and events that have shaped his life here for 30 years. He'll celebrate its release with a March 30 gig at one of his favorite venues, the Great American Music Hall. Prophet is also offering a handful of fans the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride with the Temple Beautiful San Francisco Bus Tour on Tuesday (sign up at www.yeproc.com), the album's release date, with KGO DJ Peter Finch as guide. We talked to Prophet, 48, at his home in the Castro.

Q: Who came up with the great idea of promoting "Temple Beautiful" with a bus tour?

A: My label Yep Roc wanted to do a record- release party at a club or something. I said, "Guys, this isn't my first record. I can't do that. It's like a third wedding." So we came up with the bus idea. I thought, even if we did the N-Judah line, that would take us from the Willie Mays statue to the beach. But they said, no, we'll get you your own bus.

Q: So what kind of stuff are you going to show people?

A: We're going to take people by the liquor store where Janis Joplin bought her first bottle of Southern Comfort. When the store ran out of its stock of Southern Comfort, Janis squatted on the floor in protest and pretended to urinate on the carpet until they got her one.

Q: Did you get that information from Wikipedia?

A: Everything about this record has been Google free. There's a lot of stuff where we took the myth over the truth.

Q: You mean how the Red House Painters wrote a song about "Grace Cathedral Park" when it's actually called Huntington Park?

A: Yeah. We're going to drive by Grace Cathedral and say that it was the Grateful Dead's house. There's a thing on the album about Castro Halloween where I sing that two people got shot and killed. Everyone tells me that actually nine people were injured. I need to get a fact checker next time.

Q: So you're basically just going to mislead people?

A: Not really. It's kind of a love letter to San Francisco. It's not always pretty. Things just flowed. It's a place where everybody comes from somewhere else. It's 7 miles long and there are probably 27 different San Franciscos that overlap.

Chuck Prophet: 8 p.m. March 30. $18. Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St., S.F (415) 885-0750. http://www.gamh. com.

[ LINK ]

February 5, 2012 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (Temple Beautiful)

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Huffington Post

A Conversation with Chuck Prophet

Mike Ragogna: Hi Chuck. What was your plan approaching your new album Temple Beautiful?

Chuck Prophet: I knew I wanted to make a rock `n' roll record, a guitar record, and then somehow, I got the idea of digging into the local lore of San Francisco, which is endless. I was writing with my friend Kurt, aka, Klipschutz, and when we tapped into that, the ideas began to flow. On a good day, an idea might actually grow up into a song. Ultimately, we leaned on the more mythical side of the street.

MR: San Francisco must mean a lot to you.

CP: San Francisco means a lot to a lot of people, and yeah, I am one of them. I mean, everybody comes here from everywhere for all the obvious reasons, and some maybe not so obvious. There are so many different cities packed into seven square miles, and they intersect and overlap. I guess you could say I wasn't very culturally aware when I was growing up in Richard Nixon's hometown. Then I moved around. Ended up in San Francisco going to school. Joined a band. Started to travel, saw some things. Fast forward a little and here I am. What I mean to say is that San Francisco is an education. It's an education on different kinds of buildings, food, people, races, colors, sexes and the like. It opens your eyes.

MR: How did you assemble the cast of characters that appear with you?

CP: Once the songs were there, it fell together. I played guitar on a session where the drummer was Prairie Prince. He had that feel, you know? So I reached out to him. He's got experience to burn and he still plays like a teenager. So that was the groove. Very teenage. James DePrato plays guitar in my band and together, we know how to make it sound like one big guitar. Rusty Miller played bass. And Stephanie Finch, my wife and long time partner in crime, brought her thing—singing and playing some keyboards here and there. Brad Jones produced and engineered. It's a much less layered record. The guitars are pretty graphic. Even the cover art is just black and white. Honestly, I was pretty confident with the songs and just didn't feel the nagging need to add more than that.

MR: This is your twelfth album, and many of your contemporaries haven't made it past half of that. What's your secret?

CP: No secrets. I guess I'm lucky that I've been able to stay interested in the whole thing. Writing songs and making records and kicking the songs around on the bandstand. There have been times where I wasn't that excited and it showed. There are other things to do. I'm trying to get some hobbies in fact. Yeah, anyway, to wake up excited about what you're doing is a gift, I suppose.

MRQ Magazine said you are "... a sparky songwriter worthy of greater attention." Mojo said, "Prophet delivers with quixotic swagger and declamatory sneer."

CP: Yeah, that sounds pretty good. I'll take it. I've been known to write my own blurbs, but that one is cool. Thanks for not choosing some of the others, by the way. I need the love. Every time I'm done making a record, I suggest that the promotional department gather in a circle, join hands and pray. Then we dig up some old quotes for the bio, book gigs anywhere anyone will have us, and hope for the best. My records have never really sold that much. I guess I should feel bad about that? I'm sorry I brought it up.

MR: (laughs) In your opinion, how does your music these days compare to your Green on Red days?

CP: Not that much different. Dan Stuart and I were always looking for trouble. And I guess I'm still out there standing over steaming manholes.

MR: What are your thoughts about the old Paisley Underground versus these days?

CP: A lot of great music came out of that time. If you look at what was on MTV or the radio, it's amazing that we got record deals. I think The Bangles really ran with it, and I hear they're still making great music and have a really great live show these days. I wanted to go see them play at The Fillmore recently, but I missed them when they were in town. But the scene... I don't know. I think it was pretty short-lived if you think about it. But those years in a van with Green On Red were wild. No one knew where they're next big chunk of hash was coming from. Now, I'm into lunch. Speaking of which, mind if I give a shout out to Split Pea Seduction on 6th Street? There might be a free crostata in it for both of us!

MR: (laughs) Thanks. Okay, "Willie Mays Is Up At Bat" must speak to the baseball fan in you? What's the story behind that song?

CP: I'm all for the Giants. No matter what, actually, I always root for the home team. For the album, though, we knew we needed a hero. Any myth needs a hero. And you can't beat Willie Mays. Talk about larger than life. I mean, at the downtown stadium, there's a bronze statue of him 10 feet tall. The greatest center fielder that ever lived. Of course we had to go and mix him up with a bunch of characters he wouldn't be caught dead with.

MR: Such as?

CP: Oh, you know, Carol Doda, Laffing Sal, Bill Graham, Jim Jones, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck—that crowd.

MR: (laughs) Can you also go into the story behind "Castro Halloween"?

CP: The Castro District is world-famous, isn't it? And Halloween there tends to be a party and a half and lasts `til dawn. I live four or five blocks away, leading my quiet married existence, watching reruns of The Wire when the biggest dress-up party west of Berlin is in full swing. The song triesto bottle some of that magic and then set it free. I think my guitar solo at the end is longer than all the verses put together. It was hard to fade it.

MR: How often do you feel like Jesus, you know, like the song with that title?

CP: Not often enough. That one is dedicated to the Albion, which used to be on the corner of an alleyway off 16th Street, in the Mission District. There was a backroom for music. It was a dive. It was a firetrap. It was heaven. We used to play in that backroom. Sometimes for like four nights in a row. And it was magical. It was a scene that only lasted so long. The title of the song refers to the way I felt when I met my wife and she looked at me that "special way." Stephanie used to play the upright piano back there and sing the best harmonies. I always liked the sound of our voices together. Made me feel bigger than life.

MR: Can you go into Emperor Norton, who he is and why you wrote a song in his voice. Maybe people outside of San Francisco might need a little help.

CP: Compared to overseas, this whole country is still pretty new on the block. San Francisco wasn't founded `til the mid-1800s. Emperor Norton came to town and proclaimed himself an Emperor and never paid for another drink or meal in his life. We tried to steer clear of him as a character on the record, but he insisted. And who were we to say no?

MR: Your songs were recorded by Heart and Solomon Burke. What did you think of the recordings?

CP: I love those covers. The song Solomon Burke cut, I wrote with Dan Penn. When I got a copy, I went over to Dan's and we listened to it together. Solomon did these off the cuff ad libs at the end and I remember Dan really vibing on it. We listened to it a few times. It's hard to top hearing Solomon Burke sing a song you did with Dan Penn! Heart was great as well. That song "No Other Love," it only has about three lines of lyrics to it, and it's been maybe my most popular song. Ann Wilson really sings it. And it's pretty awesome. She is something else. Like a female Elvis or something.

MR: "No Other Love" was also included in the film P.S. I Love You. What did you think of how it was used?

CP: The film was a pretty forgettable chick flick. But people really responded to that scene, particularly young Latinas. So that's been really cool. The film really connected with young girls full of that romantic longing. I think that it was real nice.

MR: What's it like having your music on Californication and Sons Of Anarchy?

CP: It's like money in the bank! Literally. And I like all those shows. So it's about as win-win as it gets.

MR: You recorded with Warren Zevon. I imagine you were a fan. Do you miss him?

CP: I barely knew him, but yes, I did play on Life'll Kill Ya, one of his later discs. I was a fan, am a fan, and can't imagine I'll ever stop listening to his songs. I'm sorry there won't be any more of them. He was a tough character for sure. He had an incredibly quick wit. And you wouldn't want his caustic wit pointed at you. He could be a cantankerous guy, but also very charming and always funny. At the time, I worried about his Mountain Dew intake. He'd show up in the morning with a grocery bag of cans... he was drinking like a case of it a day. And when he ran out, he'd get these splitting migraines.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

CP: Heck, I don't know. Nikki Sudden once told me that Keith Richards told him that coffee is the absolute worst thing you can put in your body. Seriousness aside, I honestly don't have any advice for anyone. I suppose if anything, pay attention. Try to be on time. Honor your commitments. Don't waste other people's time, especially the audience.

MR: What does your tour schedule and future look like?

CP: We're gearing up for some quality time in the van. "Van Therapy," we call it. The year is filling up fast. As to my future, is it okay if I pretend you didn't ask that?

MR: Ask what? (Laughs.) Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us.

CP: My pleasure. Thanks

Tracks:

1. Play That Song Again

2. Castro Halloween

3. Temple Beautiful

4. Museum Of Broken Hearts

5. Willie Mays Is Up At Bat

6. The Left Hand And The Right Hand

7. I Felt Like Jesus

8. Who Shot John

9. He Came From So Far Away (Red Man Speaks)

10. Little Girl, Little Boy

11. White Night, Big City

12. Emperor Norton In The Last Year Of His Life (1880)

[ LINK ]

February 1, 2012 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (Temple Beautiful)

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San Francisco’s a place where people come from all over to wave their freak flag.

Santa Barbara Independent

Chuck Prophet Talks London Calling, Fog City, Sings Like Hell

Like many of Sings Like Hell's returning faces, Chuck Prophet embodies the notion of laidback California cool. In conversation, he's all self-deprecating humor and Dude-like drawl, and in song, he exudes a swagger and Telecaster-heavy reverence for Americana that calls to mind that other Golden State-inspired great, Tom Petty. On Saturday, Prophet returns to the Lobero's monthly concert series for another go at it, this time with wife-cum-opening act, Stephanie Finch.

While the show is just one of two currently scheduled dates for the San Francisco songwriter, he's got no shortage of tunes—and stories—to share with fans this time around, namely his recently completed tribute tour to The Clash and a follow-up to his 2009 neo-political rocker, Let Freedom Ring! And though the singer is hesitant to nail down any concrete plans for a new record, he's more than forthcoming with its details.

So your manager tells me you're headed into the studio after we speak. Is that right? [Laughs.] I mean, I kind of have a studio that I... I'm always wrestling something to the ground or another, but I don't think it's necessarily a full, card-carrying album.

Where are you in the process? I've been writing a kind of San Francisco record. I made my last record in Mexico City and the previous one in Nashville, so I've just been [trying to] tap into the weirdness and energy and spontaneity that brought me here in the first place. It's a pretty deep well of stuff to pull from. But I've made some demos; I'm kicking the songs around.

Folks called Let Freedom Ring! a "political album for nonpolitical people." If you had to attach a slogan to what you're working on now, what would it be? I don't know if I could come up with anything that clever; that was pretty good, the political music for nonpolitical people. I might have actually started that rumor. I don't know what I'm doing right now, though. I'm definitely looking backwards through the looking glass. San Francisco's a place where people come from all over to wave their freak flag. The city itself does a kind of whammy on you when you're young and you first come here. It's a feeling that you can sort of end up chasing for the rest of your life, you know? The first hit.

Chuck Prophet, Stephanie Finch, and The Company Men

  • Where: Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara
  • Cost: $35
  • Age limit: Not available

Full event details

You spent most of last month in Spain with this Clash tribute. Can you tell me a bit about your history with London Calling? I got it as a kid—I was already playing guitar; I was about 16. I didn't have a library of music. Kids today can seek out any kind of weird culture or weird music that they can identify with, and that's great, but when I was young, [that album] was a big deal. I bought it used, and at first, I didn't really crack the code on it, but as I stuck with it, it became more mysterious, really, but every time I listened to it, more was revealed. It really was a perfect record in so many ways. As a kid, I was as interested in Bo Diddley as I was in contemporary music, and it was The Clash that opened that up. They were always one of those bands that had one eye on the road ahead of 'em and one eye on the rearview mirror.

You've played the Sings Like Hell series a number of times now. What keeps you coming back? We played it with Alejandro [Escovedo] one time, we played it another time with Kelly Willis, and I think we played it yet another time with The Gourds, so this might be our third or fourth time. I think the theater itself is glorious in its own way. It's a great setting to hear music, and because it's a community thing, I think people are more open-minded in a way. With a series, people get turned onto music that they might not normally be aware of. It's fun in that way.

4·1·1

Chuck Prophet plays the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) this Saturday, February 19, at 8 p.m. with Stephanie Finch & The Company Men. Call 963-0761 or visit singslikehell.com for info.

[ LINK ]

by ALY COMINGORE on February 18, 2011 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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We really took that lifestyle thing as far we could

Cincinnati.Com

No faking Prophet's kind of cool

If you can measure a person's character by the quality of his friends, Chuck Prophet is a lucky man.

The San Francisco singer-songwriter plays the Southgate House in Newport Thursday with one of those friends, Kim Richey. Earlier in the day, they will stop by WNKU-FM (89.7), where music director John Patrick once described Prophet as "the coolest guy we've ever had in here."

Testimonials are nice, but the proof is in the music. Prophet's latest album, "Let Freedom Ring!" is a meditation on our life and times, somewhat inspired by one his heroes.

"It was Hunter S. Thompson who really based his career on the life, death, rebirth and total disappearing of the American dream," Prophet says. "I was interested in that when I started writing songs for this album. I had the window open, and after about two or three songs, I realized that's where I was going."

In addition to his solo projects, Prophet is a trusted collaborator to folks like Richey and Alejandro Escovedo among others. He co-wrote more than half of the songs on Escovedo's 2010 "Street Songs of Love" and partnered on every one on 2008's "Real Animal."

"When we get in a room, we just never run out of things to talk about," Prophet says of Escovedo. "It's like touching two jumper cables together. The songs just kind of spill out of that. To Al's credit, he has the ability to make somebody feel like you've known him your whole life."

Prophet's whole life hasn't been spent basking in a cocoon of critical acclaim. He started living the rock `n' roll lifestyle as a teenager, and fell victim to those temptations. But while he struggled with a drug problem, he also made good music with the band Green on Red, an early acolyte of the country punk sound.

"We really took that lifestyle thing as far we could," he remembers. "We were working with (Memphis musical legend) Jim Dickinson on a record called `The Killer Inside Me,' which kind of split the band, brother vs. brother.

"While we were there, Alex (Chilton of the Box Tops and Big Star) would drop by. ... Big Star was like the Sex Pistols in their own way ... the influence that it had, just like the influence that the Velvet Underground had, Big Star had the same amount of influence."

Spending time with Dickinson (who died last year) and Chilton (who died this year) certainly influenced Prophet, but cool innately knows cool.

"The thing about Alex is ... he was cool. He didn't have to say a lot about (his life and music), and he never did a lot of explaining. There was nothing exaggerated at all. He was the coolest (guy) who ever lived."

Patrick might disagree. "(Prophet) is just cool. You can't fake cool."

[ LINK ]

by B Thompson on November 17, 2010 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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I know I don't have a job, but I'd have to think about whether or not I'm actually making a living.

FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Prophet of truth

By JOHN BECK

FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 3:00 a.m. 

Last Modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 10:01 p.m.

When it came time to record a new album, Chuck Prophet packed up his guitars and headed south of the border for a Mexico City studio that was state-of-the-art circa 1958.

The result: "¡Let Freedom Ring!" is one of the most honest snapshots of troubled times to reach listeners in 2009.

From the stark opening riff of "Sonny Liston's Blues" (admittedly a rip-off of The Clash's "London Calling" intro without the morse code) to the striving strum and hum of "Leave the Window Open," it's chock full of heartache, despair and the occasional breath of hope.

The Village Voice called it "a `Born in the U.S.A.' for our time." No Depression christened it "a new American anthem for the post-9/11 world."

The San Francisco folk-rocker with the Tom Petty drawl and the wry sense of humor (2010 resolution: "Start smoking again and stop working out" ), Prophet keeps telling everybody "they're political songs for non-political people."

Two decades after he split with Green on Red, the wide-eyed dreamer who fled Whittier for San Francisco is firmly entrenched as one of the most observant and honest songwriter's songwriter plying the trade today.

Maybe it's because he finally got his "breakthrough hit" out of the way back in 2002 with "Summertime Thing." Or maybe it's because he kicked drugs and alcohol 11 years ago. Or his storied collaborations with Alejandro Escovedo, Cake, Warren Zevon, Jonathan Richman and Lucinda Williams.

Or maybe it's the way he pauses midway through the interview to ponder, "I know I don't have a job, but I'd have to think about whether or not I'm actually making a living."

There's something about Chuck Prophet that begs to be studied.

Before the 46-year-old survivor takes the stage with his wife, keyboardist Stephanie Finch, and the rest of the Mission Express at the Mystic Theatre on Jan. 22, he took time out to talk.

Q: How'd you wind up in Mexico City in the middle of the swine-flu epidemic?

A: Well, we didn't plan the swine-flu part. But I had a batch of songs and I wanted to record them somewhere energized. The whole process of recording these days has gotten so complacent with all this technology being available to so many people. And I just wanted that feeling of recording like your life depended on it. So we got it.

Q: How much of a bonding experience was that with the power going out repeatedly and the mass hysteria going on outside?

A: That was actually cool because every take that you hear on the record there's a sense of triumph at the end. That kind of reminded me of the records I made as a teenager. We'd book a studio, like Hyde Street in the Tenderloin. We used to book the midnight sessions.

Q: How much do you think you paid for that back then?

A: A lot of money actually. Probably like $300. You can still get a lot of studios for $300 today lemme tell you. That's one of the things that hasn't changed. A good gig back in 1985 was $500 and a good gig in 2009 is still $500.

Q: That's your New Year's resolution — to get a $600 gig.

A: Or at least string together a few of them.

Q: Was there a moment in Mexico City when you thought, "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea?"

A: I can't say that I was scared, but there were nights when I was staring at the ceiling, thinking, "Oh boy, what have I done?"

Q: If I throw out a song title, can you tell me what comes to mind?

A: Hopefully.

Q: "Sonny Liston's Blues."

A: To me, he's the perfect analogy for the American dream. He's part reality and part myth — always just out of reach. He had to open the record. There was a myth people had that they were going to be able to comfortably retire and they woke up one morning and realized that reality was not quite what was sold to them.

Q: What about "Barely Exist"?

A: Steve Earle once told me, "It's your job to keep your antennae up and find things that are absurd." For me, the fact that we've spent a billion dollars building a bigger wall around this country and thousands of people die every year coming up from Mexico only for the opportunity to clean our toilets is just absurd.

Q: You haven't been a super-political songwriter over the years, what was it about the issues that got to you this time?

A: Well, I can't really say that this is some kind of battle cry. I'm not really a political guy. But what happened is I just kind of stood back and squinted and realized that all the people in the songs had one thing in common — that they were living in a particularly anxious, raw time. I mean I'm just a photographer. I just kind of shine a light on things.

Q: You're taking snapshots.

A: Yeah, in my own way. I just try to stay as truthful to it as possible.

Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 707-280-8014 or .

[ LINK ]

by John Beck on January 14, 2010 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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the bleed gives you great depth of field

EQ

Let It Bleed : Recording In A Small Mexico City Studio Helped Chuck Prophet Get Aggressive

When San Francisco guitarist and singer Chuck Prophet set out to record ¡Let Freedom Ring! [Yep Roc] last spring, he assumed a change of environment, specifically Mexico City, would inspire him and add some manic energy to the album. He didn't count on periodic power outages ruining takes at Estudio 19, the oldschool studio he picked to lay down tracks, nor a 6.4 earthquake shaking the building's foundations. And nobody expects a pandemic.

"What I didn't predict was that the swine flu scare would start three days after we arrived," Prophet says. "The CNN paranoia, if you crank that stuff up to 11, makes everybody start to feel a little off. People got itchy. We put on blue masks and had a driver take us to the studio."

Also, according to producer Greg Leisz, Prophet didn't remember how small (roughly 12 feet by 20 feet) the high-ceiling main room was at Estudio 19. Reacting to his last record, Soap and Water, which included sections with arranged strings and a children's choir, Prophet wanted to dial things down. The former member of '80s L.A. cowpunk band Green on Red wanted a light touch and a raw performance. Normally, tight spaces complicate the situation. But with a few deft arrangements of equipment and a willingness to use bleed and leakage to their advantage, the musicians and engineers working on ¡Let Freedom Ring! made it sound both spacious and fully charged.

"People think isolation is the way to go," says Jason Carmer, who engineered the album. "But getting the bleed reinforces the stereo imagery. You can hear the guitars from the perspectives of all the mics in the room. I find that the bleed gives you great depth of field."

The whole album was recorded in one general formation in the main room to help capture a live feel. While there were some guitar overdubs later, and pedal steel and fiddle tracks were laid down separately to add extra color and tone to songs like "What Can a Mother Do," the aim was to capture raw performances.

Electrified opener "Sonny Liston's Blues" was a completely live take. Chuck occupied the right corner. His guitar, usually a Squier Telecaster, which he favors for its simplicity, was plugged into a pedal board and run into an amp, usually a Fender Princeton Reverb or a Vox AC30, which stayed in the main room and was recorded through a RCA 77DX ribbon mic. An Ibanez AD-80 analog delay was sometimes plugged in to provide a vintage slapback feel on some of Prophet's solos. Baffles were then set up to cover his Neumann U 47 vocal mic (run through a GML preamp with a Urei LA-3A compressor), chosen because the rich, warm sound worked well with Prophet's Tom Petty-esque voice.

"Both the mic and Chuck's voice have character, so I wanted to capture that," says Carmer. "It helped deliver the smashing, classic vocals of old records that we were looking for."

Drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter, who played on Springsteen's "Born to Run," set up a borrowed '60s Gretsch drum kit across the room, miked with a mono U 87 placed between the beater and snare that "pulled it all in," according to Carmer, and added a spaciousness to the recording. Guitarist Tom Ayres, bassist Rusty Miller, and Leisz, who occasionally added another guitar line, squeezed in the middle of the room. Their amps were placed in the machine room or lounge, with doors left slightly ajar to capture some bleed. Everything was tracked according to its orientation, says Carmer, which meant they could capture the reflection of the space.

To accentuate the live energy in the room, lots of compression was added to the guitar tracks via Neve 1073s and UA 1176s. It really pricked up the guitar lines snaking through the rave-up "Where the Hell is Henry?"

"The general modus operandi was to go for it and be aggressive," says Carmer. "[Compression] helped give it an authentic feel but also trash it up a bit."

Prophet and others half-jokingly referred to the studio as a state-of-theart room from 1957, and while there's some truth to that, the studio's cache of vintage gear and mics added a lot of character. A vintage Ampeg SVT added powerful reverb, and Carmer especially enjoyed using Pultec EQP- 1As on kick, snare, toms, rooms, guitars, and bass. More importantly, the somewhat cramped space—from the overflowing studio to the courtyard where they'd eat tacos for lunch—gave them a sense of unity of purpose.

"There was so much chaos outside the studio that when we got in there and the power was on and we could lay down a track, there was a certain teenage energy," Prophet says. "It reminded me of being in the studio with my first band."

[ LINK ]

January 8, 2010 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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Springsteen has better hair

Village Voice

On the Haunting Songs of Chuck Prophet

Chuck Prophet's ¡Let Freedom Ring! is a Born in the U.S.A. for our time. Not that the Californian troubadour and self-described "hustler" behind this 25th-anniversary update of Bruce Springsteen's ode to the irony of the American Dream deliberately set out to cop the Boss's monumental mojo, but the similarities between the two records are uncanny. Both are concept albums of sorts that manifest patriotism through disenchantment, and both rely heavily on marginalized characters to expose socioeconomic woe.

"I've been saying they're political songs for non-political people," Prophet explains over the phone from his San Francisco home. "But what I really mean is that I'm not a particularly political person, but the characters in these songs are all living in a kind of anxious time."

¡LFR!`s title track—a nod not to the Liberty Bell but to the NYSE—exemplifies that anxiety through retirement-plan decimation. The buoyant, power-pop music deceptively suggests a feel-good anthem, but once the lyrics unfold, a Social Darwinistic tale is told, of Bernie Madoffs leeching off Average Joes—"The hawk cripples the dove," as Prophet puts it—who reduce their victims to blind-drunk poor boys. Elsewhere, "Barely Exist" continues the Springsteen parallel, with Prophet replacing the Boss's struggling blue-collar worker with a struggling Mexican immigrant. Over a fragile beat and sparse guitar notes, he sums up the day laborer's plight: "You gotta be strong/But when you got asbestos in your Kool-Aid for breakfast/There's no good way to look alive."

"I think we go too far out of our way to define ourselves by our borders," Prophet says. "Hundreds of people die every year trying to get into this country, just for the opportunity to clean our toilets and change our babies' diapers, and if it's somebody who's just trying to provide for their family, how can you criminalize that? And, really, isn't that the least of our problems right about now?"

The beauty of ¡LFR! lies in its raw, no-frills approach. Lightning-rod guitars spark a combustible rhythm section. Songs of radio-friendly length emerge from only a couple of live takes. Down-tempo and uptempo numbers play well in the same sandbox. Witty lyrics with rich imagery—it's hard to shake "By the time her shoes wore out/She was giving blood" from "What Can a Mother Do"—demonstrate a mastery of language, like the rock `n' roll equivalent of folkie Todd Snider as delivered through Tom Petty's voice were it even more reliant on stoner/surfer cadences. Other gems include "Sonny Liston's Blues," a riff on the monstrous former boxing champ's loss to Muhammad Ali as symbolic of good over evil (replete with air-guitar-inspiring passages on a Gretsch that Prophet says was "strung up heavy"), and "Where the Hell Is Henry?," a 2'17" identity-theft gut punch about a con artist masquerading as a Kennedy.

Prophet recorded ¡LFR!—his ninth solo album in a career better known for its songwriting and producing contributions to the oeuvres of Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis, and Warren Zevon, among others—in Mexico City, in a state-of-the-art (circa 1957) studio. The conditions were less than ideal (swine-flu mania, earthquakes, drug wars on the periphery), but Prophet says the duress made a band out of the ragtag crew. "One thing I could never have predicted is that in Mexico City, the power goes out, like, five times a day," he says. "And, of course, every time it would go out, it would be in the middle of a completely magical sort of Marquee Moon moment. And so every take you hear on the record, there's, like, triumph at the end of it."

Chuck Prophet plays the 92Y Tribeca November 27

[ LINK ]

by Michael Hoinski on November 10, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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There's actually drool running down the front of my shirt

SF Gate

S.F. songwriter Chuck Prophet looks back

Chuck Prophet isn't in a reflective mood today. It's early Wednesday morning and the San Francisco singer-songwriter has just returned from a hectic European tour in support of his latest album, "Let Freedom Ring." In just a few days, he'll launch the American leg.

"I don't know why you want to talk to me, I'm totally brain dead," he says by way of greeting. "I've gotten about three hours of sleep in the past 72 hours. There's actually drool running down the front of my shirt."

The former Green on Red front man, who plays at the Great American Music Hall next Sunday, is nearly two decades into his celebrated solo career and still taking huge risks. "Let Freedom Ring" was recorded in Mexico City with co-producer Greg Leisz this year just as the swine flu pandemic hit.

"Our timing couldn't have been worse," Prophet says. "Within three days of arriving, the city shut down. So we put on our blue masks and got to work."

The musician and the members of his band - including his wife, Stephanie Finch; guitarist Tom Ayres; bassist Rusty Miller; and drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter - were able to avoid the H1N1 virus but not the ensuing paranoia, giving his roots and rock tunes added edge.

"It was definitely an adventure," he says. "But it was recorded under such duress, it made a band out of us."

We asked Prophet, who has released more than a dozen full-length albums on his own and with his former outfit, to reminisce about his recording sessions.

Green on Red, "Gas Food Lodging" (1985)

"I just got my first passport and all we wanted to do was make a record and go out and play our songs. We met our producer Paul Cutler through a mutual friend, who was a pot dealer and worked five days and nights. It was totally effortless. We had a van and the label gave us a gas card. Those were good times."

Green on Red, "The Killer Inside Me" (1987)

"That was the record that split the band. It was bombastic and humorless. I remember on that tour we played in Athens, Greece, and Dan Stuart attacked somebody in the audience with his guitar and broke it. So we got a note from a doctor and canceled our final gig at the Astoria in London. It was something I never felt good about, so three years ago, when we had our reunion tour, we rescheduled that gig, and anybody who was supposed to be at that original gig could get in for free."

Chuck Prophet, "Brother Aldo" (1990)

"I just had my kite up, and the wind changed direction at the right time. It just kind of happened that myself and Stephanie and a bunch of other local songwriters were all sort of in bands that had gone out of business or collapsed or folded. We started a poker night at the Albion, and there was a healthy competition among us. We would play a gig one weekend and come back the next week and do the songs differently. But people ended up stealing each other's girlfriends and guitars, so it was scene that didn't last long."

Chuck Prophet, "Feast of Hearts" (1995)

"It's the record that cost the most and made the least. If I stand back and squint, it's got some pretty good songs. But it's where I just hit a wall. It was probably the first record where I worked with an outside producer (Steve Berlin), and we never really got in a groove. He just worked out of one side of his brain - I'm not sure what side, but it was the opposite of mine."

Chuck Prophet, "No Other Love" (2002)

"That was when we seriously started to think more about the States. Stephanie said I needed to dumb it down a little bit, so I wrote `Summertime Thing' using the first three chords everybody learns on guitar. We were on tour with Lucinda Williams, and I was at a salad bar and heard it coming out of a speaker. It was a very strange feeling. From there it started getting some airplay and climbing past people like Sheryl Crow, the Wallflowers and Springsteen on the adult alternative charts. Heart later recorded `No Other Love.' That record has more than paid the utility bills."

Chuck Prophet, "Age of Miracles" (2004)

"It was a fun record to make. I recorded it in a lot of different places. That song `You Did' has been in `True Blood.' It's just got a bunch of weird stuff on it - songs about marriage, miscarriages of justice and midgets. And that's just the M's."

Chuck Prophet, "Dreaming Waylon's Dreams" (2007)

"It's not an official record. One weekend. we got locked in the studio, and I was bragging how I could recite Waylon Jennings' `Dreaming My Dreams' record by memory. So we started with one song, and by the end of the weekend we recorded the whole album. My friend, who was on tour with a bunch of new country acts, told me he bought it and put it on the tour bus and a fight broke out."

Chuck Prophet, "Let Freedom Ring" (2009)

"I found a studio in Mexico that was state of the art for 1958. In today's economy, that had it's appeal. In terms of perspective, I was writing that album just as the bottom was falling out of the wet sack of the American dream. We didn't really go for mariachi horns, but we were hoping to feed off the energy there. It's a city that hustles and bustles and vibrates beneath your feet. I thought, `With these songs, why not?' " {sbox}

Chuck Prophet: 8 p.m. next Sun. Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St., San Francisco. $15. (415) 885-0750, http://www.gamh.com.

To hear Chuck Prophet's music, go to

chuckprophet.com.

Follow Aidin Vaziri at twitter.com/MusicSF. E-mail Aidin Vaziri at .

[ LINK ]

by Aidin Vaziri on November 3, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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...it's booming. It rocks, it bustles, it's a hell-hole and it's paradise

Spinner

Chuck Prophet Faced Swine Flu Fears in Mexico City

Music is universal, we know that much. But when Chuck Prophet rolled up his sleeves for his newest album, `Let Freedom Ring!,' he decided to travel outside of America and cut the tracks in Mexico City. A few days into the process, swine flu started to spread—both as a virus and as a media hot topic—with Mexico City at the epicenter.

"I should say that Mexico City is an ancient and ailing metropolis, but at the same time it's booming. It rocks, it bustles, it's a hell-hole and it's paradise," Prophet tells Spinner. "Yes, it's also the capital of the second or third world, our own urban future—almost sci-fi. It's not the place you want to be when the black plague comes down."

Neither Prophet nor anyone in his band or crew caught the illness but they did seem to be afflicted, at points, by another viral scare—hype. "If you turn up the heat on the hype high enough, everyone starts feeling a little off," says Prophet. "You can't help but to take your own pulse every 10 minutes."

That kind of nervous energy can fuel an entire album. So with co-producer Greg Leisz (Wilco, John Fogerty) behind the knobs, Prophet braved exposure to H1N1 for the sake of art. "The amazing thing about Mexico City is that beyond the bustle, the grime and the chaos, everything gets done," he says. "There are commuter train lines that bring half a million people in and out of the city every day. Think about it. So I think ultimately that all the extraneous BS we went through just to get to the studio everyday and to get a take when the power didn't go out brought us all together and made a band out of us."

That may be so, but Yep Roc Records will still release `Let Freedom Ring!' as a Chuck Prophet solo album when it drops on Oct. 27.

[ LINK ]

by Benjy Eisen on October 7, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

I try to be nice to my wife, cook myself a decent meal every once in a while and still hope to find a guitar that will stay in tune. That's about it.

Nottingham.UK Thursday, September 17, 2009

PHILOSOPHY Chuck Prophet loves music, the 'healthiest addiction' he has ever had, for its own sake.

WHEN Chuck Prophet joined Green On Red as a teenager, he had no ambitions to be a rock `n' roll star. "I grew up in a small town in California and I didn't even know anyone who'd been in a band or in a recording studio," he says.

"I didn't get into music to buy my parents a yacht."

Three decades later, music is all he's known.

"It's the healthiest addiction I've ever had. And I've had a few."

More of that later.

With Green On Red, he recorded eight albums until leaving to pursue a solo career. That was 20 years ago.

At the end of next month, he'll be releasing his eleventh solo effort Let Freedom Ring.

"I didn't think I was going to do another one. But I wrote a batch of three or four songs, stood back and thought `these songs may be going somewhere I've not been before'.

"Once I knew the direction the album was going in it was easy."

The album was partly inspired by Mexico City, where it was recorded. "It's only a three-hour flight from the west coast but might as well be the other side of the moon. It's a magically inspiring city full of opposites and extremes: friendly folks/corrupt cops, endless beauty/grime.

"With the ink barely dry on a shoe-box full of songs we rolled tape -- and with the punches -- for eight days while enduring poorly-timed blackouts, shakedowns by the Policia and a 6.4 earthquake.

"What really sticks in my mind was eating little tacos around a picnic table and smiling like idiots after plugging the guitars straight into the amps and blowing the roof off that tiny bamboo-lined room."

Music is his passion and way of life these days.

"Since I got clean from drugs and alcohol around eight years ago, my social life has revolved around making music with my friends."

For the show at The Maze next week he'll be with The Mission Express: Stephie Finch, Kevin White, Todd Roper and James Deprato.

Prophet has collaborated with a number of other songwriters but he has no preference whether he writes alone or with a partner.

What does he believe makes a good song?

"Nobody knows really. For me, I have my own values like honesty, but you need to be lucky too. It's a very mysterious thing. People can learn the craft of songwriting and learn how to go from a verse to a chorus but I don't know what it is about someone like Smokey Robinson that makes it different.

"Someone like Leonard Cohen pours things from beaker to beaker over time and creates a master painting, but then a band like Art Brut can come out with their first album and every song is great. And I have no idea how they did it."

As befits a man who is involved with music for music's sake, Prophet's take on success is pretty simple:

"I try to be nice to my wife, cook myself a decent meal every once in a while and still hope to find a guitar that will stay in tune. That's about it."

[ LINK ]

by Staff on September 17, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews

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Solo: it can be crushing when you suck

Cleveland Scene

Sharp-dressed Man

Sharp-dressed Man How Chuck Prophet Learned To Dress For Success By Brian Baker Singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet's reticence in the wake of his excellent 2007 album Soap and Water isn't unusual. "It's appallingly unfashionable to make records that hold together as an album, but I keep doing them - it's like hitting your dick with a hammer," says Prophet with a laugh. "People I talk to in the business say, `Chuck, we really commend you for that. You go, man.' I still think that way, and I was pretty encouraged by the album I collaborated on with Alejandro [Escovedo] last year. That's how I go about making a record, from the outside in or from the inside out. If I can get three or four songs that take me somewhere I haven't been, then that's enough to keep me going." Prophet got more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling from his work on Escovedo's Real Animal last year. Escovedo advised Prophet to be more aggressive with promoters when setting his asking price for gigs. Prophet left their meeting with more than advice. "We're sitting in his kitchen and with musicians, it always goes right to the business," recalls Prophet. "Al's like, `How's your agent doing for you?' And I'm like, `I'm doing OK.' And he goes, `Seriously, what do you get paid like in Chicago?' `I don't know. I don't want to talk about it.' Eventually I told him, and he was like, `Bro, bro, bro, you gotta be doing better than that.' He got up and went upstairs, and I heard him walking around, and I'm thinking, `What the fuck is he doing up there?' He finally comes down 10 minutes later with three suits on hangers. He goes, `Here, bro, take these with you. Sharpen up your act a little bit. Your fees will go up.' I started dressing nicer and they went up." As for a new album, Prophet seems to have three or four songs to get him going, so a new full-length in 2009 is a possibility. He's beginning to frame it up mentally. "When I got into music, I signed up for the adventure," he jokes. "Maybe I'll go to Mexico City and make an emo record. I haven't really formed it in my mind, but I'm kind of working on an uninhibited, quasi-political record for non-political people like myself. We're living in an anxious time, and I think it's a good time to let the world in a little bit." Prophet will likely debut at least a couple of new songs on his current tour, and based on his description, they seem like worthy additions to his already impressive catalog. "They're a little less boy/girl and more reflective of the times we're living in," says Prophet. "I've got a song called `Paying My Respects to the Train' which might surface. I've got another one called `Jesus Was a Social Drinker' that I like to play solo. I've got a song called `Let Freedom Ring' which is a fun new song I'm excited about, so there's a cluster of things." For his appearance at the Beachland Tavern this week, Prophet will fly solo and acoustic, which allows him the freedom to perform songs that don't normally wind up in his set list. It also forces him to rethink songs that are typically muscled through by his touring band. "`Singer-songwriter' is a ghetto," says Prophet. "People stand back and squint, and we're indistinguishable from one another. It's rough out there. But it gives me an opportunity to try out new songs and different kinds of songs, like some of the more narrative, storytelling stuff that I don't have to get above the band. To be perfectly honest, it's not why I got into music - to play solo. I prefer to have a drummer to lean back on and get ahead and behind the beat and spar like that. But playing solo has its own thing. It's freer in a way. But it can be crushing when you suck."

[ LINK ]

by Brian Baker on January 15, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (Soap And Water)

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Independant Weekly

We spoke to Chuck Prophet about "Always a Friend," the opening cut on Real Animal:

 

I suspect that you've known Alejandro a long time, probably even dating back to his Nuns days, but I think this is the first time you've written with him. What led to you work with him on his new record?

 

He had an idea that it would work. And he was right. He asked me to come out to his place in Wimberly, Texas. We then spent a year splitting time between my little office space in San Francisco and his garage-cum-manspace in Wimberly. It took us a while to get up to speed. But Al has this incredible faith and patience. He's very patient. I'm like, "What's with the whole patience thing?" He tells me, "Bro, that's the Mayan thing." There were days of us just laying around talking. We spent a lot of time laying on the carpet in the dark talking. And listening to Mott the Hoople records. And naps. Lots of naps. But when we got worked up into a lather, it would flow through us. I often thought that if someone were to see us-if someone were to look in the window at us when we're in the throes of it-they might be tempted to call the cops.

The full interview is here:

[ LINK ]

June 30, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (Real Animal)

SfGate

The lead singer of this San Francisco band was born a Prophet. "Hell, if I was going to pick my name, I wouldn't have picked Prophet, that's for sure," Chuck Prophet says of his surname. "As for the Mission Express, no one remembers." When it comes to being a musical visionary, Prophet also had no choice. He was born with the gift of a golden voice. His tower of songs goes back to his Orange County childhood, when he inherited his sister's acoustic guitar and learned to play "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young. "I've been trying to find a guitar that stays in tune ever since," says Prophet, who played in punk rock band Green on Red before going on to collaborate with folks such as Warren Zevon, Jonathan Richman and Cake. In 1990, Prophet released his first solo record, "Brother Aldo," on the British label Fire Records. "They gave me 500 British pounds (about $800). I couldn't believe it." Prophet more recently has played the talk show tour (including Letterman and Carson Daly) for his newest a

lbum, "Soap and Water." Now he is stoked to get back on a San Francisco stage. "I do still get a kick out of playing," he says. "I call my mom every week and say my prayers every night. I still love traveling around and meeting people - to wake up interested in what you're doing is really a blessing. Music is the healthiest addiction I've ever had. And I've had a few."

Lineup: Chuck Prophet, vocals, guitar; Stephie Finch, singing, Farfisa organ; Kevin White, bass guitar; Todd Roper, drums, vocals; James DePrado, guitar, sweater vest.

1. Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express' music should be filed between:

You mean alphabetically, right? All roads lead to Dylan, I suppose. To be filed between Bach and Dylan would be a real honor. That's where you'll find the Beach Boys ... and the Beatles, too, come to think of it.

2. The soundtrack to what movie would your music best match?

You mean like "Easy Rider" or "Sunset Boulevard"? Inspiration is in everything, in everyone. ... How about "Midnight Cowboy"? Boy, that's a great soundtrack. I'd be a fool to put myself next to that soundtrack. I could only aspire to such greatness.

3. If you could collaborate on a song with any person, living or dead, who would that be?

Peaches.

4. If a junior high school asked you to play a cover song at the next talent show, what song and school would you choose?

Washington Junior High, La Habra (Orange County). "Louie, Louie" - that song should be the national anthem. In a way, it already is.

5. What is the meaning of life?

Still searching. You can't see me right now, but if you could you'd see that I'm deep in thought. Deep, deep thought. I'd be happy just to get bumped up to first class on a transatlantic flight once more before I die. It happened a few years ago on Virgin. I was convinced if the plane went down, all the passengers in first class would somehow float away unscathed. It was a glorious flight; I almost didn't want it to end. I thought I saw God in my fresh squeezed orange juice. It was brief, but intense.

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by Delfin Vigil on February 7, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews

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Austin Chronicle

Interview With a Prophet

 

Thinking man's rocker Chuck Prophet rolls into the Continental Club Friday with Alejandro Escovedo, and I caught up with him Monday night as the van was traveling down I-10 near Fort Stockton, on its way toward Central Texas. We spoke about his latest disc, the indefinable Soap and Water (Yep Roc); his recent appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman; and the new album of songs he's written with Escovedo.

Geezerville: I saw you on Letterman a week or so ago. What was that experience like? Had you appeared on that show before?

Chuck Prophet: We'd never done the show before. It was a cool experience for a number of reasons. We're kind of a blues band. I don't mean that we play the blues, but we travel in a van, and if your amp's too heavy [and] you can't carry your own shit, don't bring it. So we ended staying at a hotel around the corner, coming in the night before. We were in the studio at 10:45am. Loaded in the gear. Right around that time there was a guy loading in the tubular bells, and I watched five union guys arguing over where to put it. Then they argued over how to mic the thing. That was really kind of funny.

G: That version of the song you did, "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)," was pretty different from what's on the record. Is that the way you're doing it live?

CP: It's hard to get a definitive version of any song on a record. But that song has been one of the sleepers in our set. It's the song from the record that just ended up asserting itself. It never got left off the set list, and we've been on the road for a few months. I thought it would be cool to have some horns on it. That was Tom "Bones" Malone who did the horn charts, who you might remember from the Blues Brothers, so that was kind of a thrill.

G: You had kind of a dazed look in your eyes when the song was over and Dave came over to shake your hand.

CP: Yeah, I didn't know if I was allowed to engage [laughs]. "Dave there are a few things I've been meaning to ask you ..."

G: It's been three years since the last record. Was there a dry period, or did you just want to take your time?

CP: I kind of burnt myself out touring behind Age of Miracles. The tour probably went on for two or three weeks too long, I think, and that was a crucial two or three weeks. After that I fell out with New West. Being on New West was a bit like, after a while, like driving with the brakes on. They dropped me, and I spent the next year just goofing off and finding other stuff to do, which I think was great in the end.

G: Did that help you with this record?

CP: Dan Stuart from Green on Red and I used to say, whenever we were asked what came first, the music or the lyrics, "The advance came first." It wasn't like anyone was waving an advance at me, you know. But I didn't know if I would make another record. I never really do know if I'm going to make another record.

G: How much of this record was made in the studio?

CP: It was made in the studio just the way a film is made on a film set, I suppose.

G: The arrangements and sounds, are they something you had in your head when you were writing the song, or was it something you came upon when you were recording?

CP: Sometimes when I'm writing, I can hear the full arrangement in my head, and I get excited about it. But once you get on the film set and you're making the movie, I have to be prepared to let go and take advantage of whatever gift you get from being there. It had a spine to it, but a lot of it was spontaneous. Brad Jones, who co-produced the record with me, and I would take a day to record one song and then spend two weeks arguing about what the one overdub should be. I was like, "I'll get an all-boys Methodist choir in here tomorrow." That's pretty typical of the way it was.

G: I'm glad you mentioned that, because I wanted to ask you about the inclusion of the choir on "Let's Do Something Wrong." It's a pretty funny moment when they join in.

CP: I've been listening to a group called the English Congregation, the Godspell soundtrack, things like that. The English Congregation made a couple of albums in the 1970s with a lot of group singing. I was playing some of that for Brad, and we were talking about choirs, and he said that when we got to Nashville, there were a lot of gospel choirs, and I said I was looking for people who could sing, but I don't want people that sound like they're singing. It was his suggestion to get the children's choir, and it really added to the song in a way I didn't see coming, because "Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid" is so much more perverse when the kids are singing it. Kids don't know that their actions have repercussions. They don't have things like regret. You'll find very few kids in recovery. They're just pure. So I thought that was pretty fun.

G: How important are the lyrics? Some of the songs seem inscrutable to me; I'm not sure what you're singing about, and I'm wondering if that's intentional.

CP: I always have some kind of context, I think, even if only I know what it is. I guess that's a struggle for anybody, whether it's lyrics or writing or painting. You want things to make sense; you just don't want them to make too much sense.

G: The combination of the different ways you arrange instruments and the lyrics is what makes the album attractive. You were trying to do something different or trying to stretch from what you've done in the past. Would you agree with that?

CP: Sure, the songs have their own needs, and if you cast each one of them as a movie, you can't help but think it'd be great to have Wilford Brimley walking in right about now. You also try to mix it up in a way that keeps you interested in what you're doing. So if I sort of tap into something that I haven't done before, then I get more excited about it.

G: You recently wrote a bunch of songs with Alejandro Escovedo.

CP: We wrote an entire album together over the last year or so. We recorded over the holidays in Lexington, Kentucky, with Tony Visconti producing. It's Al's record, but I think he had me around as an insurance policy to make sure that everybody got the chords right.

G: Did he invite you to write with him?

CP: We've known each other for years, and we played a gig together. He said, "I'm going to make a new record, and I thought that maybe you and I could get together and write some songs." So I went out to Wimberley, Texas, for three or four days, and after three days, we hadn't written one note. Then Al decided he wanted to go into town, and he stopped in this little antique store, and he was buying baskets and scarves. I was starting to get a little nervous. After we got in his pickup truck and started it up, he looked at me and said, "Hey brother, don't worry about it; it's all part of it." He's got a lot of faith. I think that's one of his biggest gifts. He's got this enormous faith that we will pull something out of the air. And he was right; we always do. If we don't, we just lie on the carpet and listen to Mott the Hoople records. That generally gets us through it. It's going to be a great record, because the songs are pretty concrete. We name a lot of names.

G: It's the story of his life, right?

CP: Well, we immediately found out we had things in common. We both grew up in Orange County. We both surfed the Huntington Pier. We both saw our first shows at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach. It's sort of an exploration of song through geography, love, life, death, loss, and whatever.

G: Are you going to be playing with him at the Continental Club on Friday?

CP: We haven't spoken about it, but I'm hoping to. I have the feeling that's the idea. I'm hoping that he's up for as many of his new songs as possible.

[ LINK ]

by Jim Caligiuri on January 22, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (Soap And Water)

PureMusic

After interviewing Chuck yesterday and then last night and this morning capturing and compressing a whole show's worth of video, I'm satisfied that he's one of the few great original characters and knucklehead geniuses playing rock and roll today.

A quick trip to iTunes and the 150 great songs that are there to audition and dutifully buy relieves you of any excuse you have that resembles or begins, "Oh yeah, I've heard of him, but..." Because if you're sick of all the crap that's just a bunch of morons imitating each other imitating somebody great, listen to somebody great instead.

He's really funny, too, both onstage and in conversation. Between questions, sometimes the pause would be so long that I wondered if he'd hung up on me or was doing something unmentionable with the receiver. But when he'd finally return, it was almost always something good, sometimes something funny. I laughed a lot, loudly.

The interview is online here:

[ LINK ]

by Frank Goodman on December 15, 2007 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews

Lexington Herald

Prophet's wisdom: On songwriting, recording and happiness

Soundbites from the performer, on the road, doing what he loves

As he makes his way across Germany—specifically, from Berlin to Hanover—Chuck Prophet is offering cell phone snippets of life on the road abroad.

 

His conversation isn't intended to seem like a scrapbook. It's just that the miracle of telecommunication technology isn't on anyone's side this day, regardless of which side of the Atlantic they happen to sit. One moment, Prophet is jubilantly deconstructing the songs—or, more specifically, the inspirations behind them—that make up his fine new album, Soap and Water. The next, the phone line goes dead, to be replaced by a severe recitation in German.

"It's a brave new world, my friend," Prophet says when conversation resumes.

The acclaimed San Francisco producer, writer, guitarist and concert artist began forging a devout indie following more than two decades ago in the Los Angeles garage-psychedelic-Americana band Green on Red. But through a solo recording career that began in 1990, Prophet developed an even more expansive pop sound that was as literate as it was lyrical.

In short, he sang a little like Tom Petty, wrote a lot like Tom Waits and rocked with an onstage abandon all his own, as evidenced generously by a string of Lexington concerts after the release in 2000 of his album The Hurting Business.

"It's my job, as a songwriter, to have my antenna up so I can look around for the right details," Prophet said. "And to be perfectly honest, I'm not always in the right head-space to wrestle every idea that floats by to the ground. I don't have that kind of energy."

Prophet compared the process of crafting an album from the ideas he does wrestle with to "honking your horn in a tunnel until you get bored."

"It's like you're spending your life chasing after this thrill," he said. "There's a buzz that comes from writing a song you get really excited about. But the buzz never lasts long. You're always left wondering where the next song will come from."

Kelly Willis, the veteran country-Americana artist whose newest album, Translated From Love, was produced by Prophet, says, "Chuck has always been involved when it comes to music. I have always really, really loved and connected with his instincts for songs. He is one of these people that live and breathes music and just instinctively knows what to do with a song."

Rather than elaborate further on the general discourse of songwriting, Prophet said he'd talk about specific songs he has penned, to offer more exact examples of how his pop smarts take on a tune.

What a great idea. Then the phone goes dead again and a recorded German scolding returns. A third call is placed, and renewed conversation accelerates. After all, another foreign tongue-lashing could break in at any moment.

The first tune Prophet detailed was Doubter Out of Jesus, a Soap and Water song that is a study of conversion more social than religious. It struts to an electric drum groove and swells with, of all things, the support singing of a Nashville children's choir.

"We were near the end of a recording session," he said. "Everybody had packed up the drums and basses and everything. A bunch of us were in the control room talking about what the album was missing. So I went through my notebook and pulled this song out. We just jammed on a riff using a drum machine. The whole thing was a freak accident. But when we brought in the children later on, everything went to another level."

Prophet also was asked to discuss Soap and Water's finale, Happy Ending.

"I was just fingerpicking around on the guitar on that one," he said. "I started thinking of it as the closing credits for a movie. I thought, `This is great. I have the last song for the album. Now all I need is the first one."

As varied and curious as the creative process can be in crafting a song, designing a new life for his music every night onstage can be equally exciting. For Prophet, though, the rewards are numerous. Life on the road offers a chance to hook up with a combustible performance persona that his records seldom reveal in full. But there is a personal bonus as well. Prophet's longtime keyboardist, Stephanie Finch, is also his wife.

"Performance is kind of my addiction, I suppose. But in terms of addictions, it's the healthiest one I've ever had. I'm lucky to travel and hammer things out onstage with Stephanie. There's always something going on out on the bandstand.

"You know, people are always talking about the (music) industry being in the doldrums, that nobody is buying records anymore. For me, I feel like I'm just getting the hang of this. In that respect, I've never been happier."

[ LINK ]

by Walter Tunis on October 28, 2007 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews

The Walsh Files

Chuck Prophet: "Nearer To You," Betty Harris. "From the aptly titled collection Soul Perfection. Or was it, Soul Imperfection? Greasy and Funky? You bet. Dramatic, too. Betty Harris sang with unbridled desire—she ate the mic and chewed right through the tape with her white hot yearning. She sang like she had a capo around her throat, milking just a few words, wringing `em out—as if she doesn't need words at all. Betty feeds you and leaves you hungry for more. And with the Meters backing her up, (particularly Leo Nocentelli playing the bent guitar fills around her pleas for love), those singles she cut in the 60's with Bert Berns and later with Alan Toussaint were pure unrequited, untamed, longing at it's best. It doesn't get any more heart-wrenching than "Nearer to You." Like a mystery I could never solve—I'll just have to keep listening.

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by Jim Walsh on January 31, 2007 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews

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Harp

Green on Red

Valley Fever: Green on Red Live at The Rialto

 

(Brink Films)

Just over a year ago, Green on Red, the seminal 1980s Paisley Underground/alt-country/roots rock/whatever band, reconvened at Tucson's Rialto Theater to celebrate Hotel Congress' 20th anniversary as well as pay tribute to their fallen drummer, Alex Macnicol. The 16-song set was initially burdened by the band's don't-wanna-talk-about-it baggage, but shortly got to cookin'-and soon singer-songwriter-guitarist Dan Stuart's jokes got better and the four remaining members smiled, sweated and played like it was 1985 all over again. Guitarist Chuck Prophet discussed the event with Harp.

HARP: Shall we speak of Green on Red's "sloppy brilliance?"

Some people thought we were the saviors of rock 'n' roll, and a lot of other people thought we were pathetic. I think they were both right.

There is kind of a Wild Bunch element to Green on Red. But there's safety in numbers. We're all tight enough to just embrace the sloppiness when it happens, you know. Before we played the show, we went to London and rescheduled a show that was meant to be the last show of our tour, before we basically imploded. We had a huddle backstage and Dan said, "Okay, we're old. We know what to do."

HARP: Takes a big man to admit that.

Seriously, there were times when it meandered into brilliance and when it was pathetic.

HARP: Where were you brilliant and where were you pathetic?

Anybody that learned five cowboy chords at Catholic youth camp could probably play any of [Green on Red's] songs. At the same time, there was something about the collective thing that happened when we all played together. But, you know, to be honest, there's really not a lot of things I want to revisit from 18 years ago. We had to do the reunion because we all know things about each other that we don't want anyone to know.

HARP: You've been through a lot with these guys.

In the four years that we were really active toward the end, it was like we were running on the same nine-volt battery; things got pretty dim. We were all pretty dispirited and it got pretty unfriendly. But it didn't take long to stand back and squint and remember the good stuff.

HARP: So will you play the Hotel Congress festival every year?

I think somebody started that rumor, in the "If you book it they will come" spirit, but we don't wanna revisit that. Even though it had been a short time that we'd all been communicating, it didn't take long before we started bristling at each other's emails, I'll tell you that.

HARP: So-how hard did you have to squint to see the good stuff?

Gee, Dr. Phil, I don't know. Whatever it is, I guess we're still workin' through it. One thing I was thinking about today was how things have changed in the music business. One thing was, when we were touring around, our version of really making it was to have a gas card. And we had a gas card; we could fill up the van. In that way, we made it.

We get along creatively as humans, I think. There's a certain brotherhood to Green on Red, but I think for the uninitiated, if they were to see us all together, somebody didn't know us might think, "Gee, those guys don't seem to like each other very much."

[ LINK ]

by Randy Harward on October 31, 2006 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (Valley Fever - Live at The Rialto)

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