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.
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.
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.