Folkster finds inspiration in music's margins


INDIANAPOLIS - Chuck Prophet has touched many an itinerant soul with his quirky, loosely-compact folk music. But to call him an influential genius is to get an opposite response from him.

"I don't know what any of that means," Prophet said of that description. "I think I've gotten away with murder. I can't believe I sell as many records as I do."

He's no household name, but Prophet did provide a blueprint for the alt-country movement, starting with his Bay Area exercise-in-excess, the band Green on Red in the 1980s. It's continued with numerous solo albums, the most recent being last year's "Soap and Water." The release features more of Prophet's signature mood swings - the loutish rollick of "Freckle Song" to the spectral chill of "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)." That essentially defines Prophet, an artist as comfortable writing simple chord progressions as he is elaborate sound collages.

"Some songs just don't want to behave," he said of the latter. "Some songs become so married to a certain arrangement that you've gotta take `em out and rotate the tires. It's elusive about what people respond to. That's really the greatest part about any art form. You can be the greatest craftsman in the world, but you don't know what people are really going to respond to."

It was the `80s punk movement that Prophet and his friends were enamored with. Though Prophet may not have translated the buzzsaw guitars and truculent speed, the iconoclastic spirit remains intact.

"The goal was just to have a band," he said of those early days. "We didn't do much, just sat around fantasizing."

It could be said that's what Prophet continues to do. He still frequently tours ("I'm probably one of five people who doesn't complain about it"), produces others' records, and runs his own label, (((belle sound))). Yet he still won't fully admit to being a professional musician. He's never had a business plan. Rather than measuring success by any economic indicators, Prophet's reason for performing has always been for his own amusement.

"I just have a dark need to write songs and wrestle them to the ground in the form of records and play," he said. "That's what I do. You're really only competing with yourself. The goal is to do something that keeps you interested in what you're doing."

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by Wade Coggeshall on May 27, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles