Chuck Prophet: It took years of sobriety to get my head together
Ahead of his Belfast show this weekend, US rocker Chuck Prophet tells Andrew Johnston about beating the booze and coping with the anxious times we're living in.
As he tours behind his 13th solo album, US singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet is candid about continuing to put out new product in a crowded marketplace.
"There's a lot of music out there in the plastic graveyard," the Californian crooner says. "Part of me thinks, 'Why add to the pile?'" But behind the humility, 51-year-old Prophet - who plays Belfast's Errigle Inn tomorrow night - reckons his latest opus, Night Surfer, could be his finest work to date. "I think, artistically, I'm a late bloomer," he smiles. "I think I've gotten better. You look around and people often get worse. I hope that doesn't happen to me."
The former frontman of cult proto-grunge act Green on Red credits at least part of his enduring abilities to having been sober for more than a decade. "I think I honestly suffered from developmental issues, ADD or whatever," he shrugs. "It took several years of sobriety for me to get my head together." And now, the musician has replaced one vice, alcohol, with another - recording. "I guess I'm addicted to the process," he chuckles. "The key is to never Google the title you're working on and never lose your faith along the way."
Night Surfer boasts a loose concept about looking forward and imagining where we'll be in 20 years. So what conclusions has Chuck reached about times to come? "The future might save us, but we have to get their first," he grins. The album's blurb also mentions that these are anxious times we're living in. It seems an adolescent notion - that we're getting it harder than previous generations - but Chuck stands by it. "Will we have the things our parents, who worked hard, were able to achieve? Probably not. And a year or two ago, could you have imagined we'd all be forced to see a beheading on TV?"
Many artists become jaded as they get older, but Chuck is still tackling big themes, though he's unsure how he manages to stay so passionate. "I guess I'm messed up on some level. I've been duct-taped back together so many times, I don't know what scene I'm a part of. But I live in a vibrant town where there's a kind of rock 'n' roll, psych renaissance at the moment, and I'm very inspired by all this stuff going on here. I love the energy."
Getting to work with some of his musical heroes also helps keep him enthusiastic. Indeed, Peter Buck of REM guests on Night Surfer, and Chuck couldn't speak more highly of the indie guitar icon. "He's very cool," he enthuses. "A real hook machine. He can come up with a simple part that really lifts the song up and takes it to unexpected places. I've never really worked with him before, although we've known each other a long time. He was at my wedding, and my wife and I attended his. Anyway, we were on our best behaviour when he came down."
As for Green on Red, aside from a handful of low-key shows in 2005 and 2006, the band remain one of the rare veteran outfits who haven't got back together to tour and record. "Green on Red took whatever energy we had to conquer the world on f*****g with each other," Chuck laughs. "But the few reunion shows we did were a cakewalk. I think we were all pleasantly surprised at how easy it was, and we still talk."
And Chuck isn't ruling out more activity from the band who helped inspire Nirvana and Pearl Jam. "We're not 'back together', but anything is possible," he admits. "So, never say never. Well, that's what I'm saying."
- Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express play the Errigle Inn, Belfast, tomorrow. For details, visit www.realmusicclub.com