Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express are coming back to Ireland for a short tour later this week. Prophet is a highly influential Americana-influenced artist who is famous for his incendiary live shows. And given that he has also just released an excellent new album (‘Night Surfer’) , we didn’t need much persuasion to interview the former Green On Red founder member (7 albums) now well in to his solo career with his own band (12 albums). We got straight down to it..
Hi Chuck, here at GoldenPlec we were delighted to hear you’re coming back to Ireland, have you any memories, good or bad, of your last visit? I believe you played Kilkenny in 2013…
Yes, that sounds about right. We had a great time in Killkenny last time around. John Murry played with us, if I recall. Which reminds me, John has been known to “go off.” Ask the soundman from our last tour together – he’s got the scars to prove it. We don’t get to Ireland enough. Looking forward to it.
You’ll be playing a great little venue on Dublin’s river Liffey, called the Workmans Club, as well as Cleere’s in Kilkenny, plus Belfast, and all over Europe – can you give some idea of what fans can expect from the current tour, eg your touring band etc?
I have the Mission Express in tow. Great five piece band. All characters. They can expect a rock and roll show. We’ll play all the hits! (Ha ha ha). We’ll keep it loose and tight in the right places. For me, the weirder the road gets the better it is at this stage of the game. It’s rare that me and the band get flat or wasted out. We hit it hard. Glad I’m not the kind of person that wears sweatpants. I might not have the energy to get out of them. But honestly, these marine-drill like tours of duty are the morphine for my psyche. I love it. And I think that comes off.
Your last album, ‘Temple Beautiful’ was very well received, did you enjoy playing the songs from it over the following year or so?
Yeah, those songs really hold up. Temple Beautiful was my love letter to San Francisco – and love is not always pretty. But it’s always a beautiful thing. I still enjoy playing those songs.
And how has the early reaction been to ‘Night Surfer’, which is hitting stores this week?
People seem to like it. I think it really hits all the pleasure buttons. I think we may have gotten it right this time.
Your promoters were kind enough to send me a copy of the album and I played Countrified Inner City Technological Man on my radio show recently (‘Country to Rock’ on 103.2 Dublin City FM 9-10pm Saturdays) and got such good feedback I played it again the next week! It’s a great title as well as a great song, did you know immediately it would be good one to open the album?
I have a tradition of opening records with some kind of short blast. And this record is no different.
Green on Red were a highly rated band in the 1980s/90s, and would have had a following here in Ireland. Do you look back on those days with pride, and do you still play some songs from those albums in the current setlist?
Probably not playing any of those songs these days. We had our moments for sure, but GOR took whatever energy we had to conquer the world on fucking with each other. But yeah, I’m proud of what we did. The more time goes by and the more I can stand back and squint. The more I’m proud of it. We did a few reunion shows and those were a cakewalk. I think we were all pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. I don’t think we ever sounded better. Danny and I still talk. But Green On Red? No, we are not “back together”; we will not be recording anything new anytime soon and indeed are still at a place where we probably bristle a little at each other’s e-mails. But anything is possible. We all love each other. And we made some classic music. So. Never say never. That’s what they say, right? Well, that’s what I’m saying.
Your music is highly original, but I presume you’ve been influenced to some extent by much of the great rock, roots and Americana music of the 60s, 70s and 80s? And do you still listen to a lot of the same music you listened to growing up?
Yeah, I have a healthy appetite for music. And there are still records that I reach for like Alex Chilton. Dylan. Kinks… ‘Tonight’s the Night’ by Neil Young… Flamin’ Groovies. And country music too. Waylon Jennings, Gram Parsons. Some people will argue that the Americana scene is a bit of a geek show, but I love obsessive types. And remember I survived the paisley underground. How can you dis a group of people who hold Townes van Zant up in such high regard? Yeah it’s all right with me. Besides it brings people together. Townes was a god but now he’s gone and he ain’t coming back. I went to see the anniversary of the Beats and I was struck by how it took people like Allen Ginsberg to bring all the misfits together.
Why do you think some artists in these types of genres – e.g. Tom Petty – get huge, while some only get close to it – e.g. Wilco, Dave Alvin, The Jayhawks, and yourself? Do you get enough satisfaction out of producing a body of work like you have, as well as all your songwriting credits, live concerts and session playing, or do you get frustrated at how hard it must be to make a lot of money from music in 2014?
It’s all gravy. Or rather frosting on the cake. And well, I like cake and I like frosting. So it all works out. Well, I’m not sure if I’m making a living. But on the other hand I don’t have a real job. So, maybe I am making a living. Getting a royalty check changed the way I write. It made me better. Someone the other night asked me if I felt like Billy Bragg. Not really. I’m just a songwriter. I’m really non-political, but I like the humor and social bite of say Hunter S. Thompson. And I’m not out to get Ollie Stone on anyone and tell them what they already know; like Nixon was a crook and Wall Street is greedy and Vietnam was bad, and Bush is a knucklehead. Anyone who listens to my records probably already knows that. But I keep writing songs for anyone who’s listening. And yeah, I guess you could call that a body of work. The audience get me to thinking. That’s just as important. I learn from them. They are my teachers.
As well as the ‘Night Surfer’ album, I’ve also been enjoying the ‘Clover Lane’ album by your support act for the Dublin show – Jonah Tolchin, it’s a nice bill the promoters have put together, are you doing many shows together on this tour and have you played with Jonah before?
No, we just met. But we like him. And he’s been tuning my guitar before I go on every night. So, that helps too.
Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express, with support from Jonah Tolchin, are touring Europe at the moment, and play The Workman’s Club in Dublin on Thursday 16th October, Cleeres in Kilkenny on Friday 17th October and The Real Music Club in Belfast on Saturday 18th October. Chuck’s new album ‘Night Surfer’ is out now on YepRoc Records.