When The Santa Barbara Independent last touched base with American roots rocker Chuck Prophet in 2014, he was in the midst of a tour for his album Temple Beautiful, with a stop planned at the Lobero Theatre. Nearly two years later, Prophet is active and on the road again, this time playing alongside Brooklyn’s Garland Jeffreys on a seven-gig tour of California.
As a singer/songwriter, Prophet has a sound that’s remained true as a conglomeration of rock ’n’ roll, folk, country, and British invasion, and he is perhaps best known for his 2002 breakthrough single “Summertime Thing.” I spoke with him recently ahead of his April 23 return to the Lobero to talk about his current projects and musical direction.
I read on your website that you’re working on a musical with Kurt Lipschutz. Would you tell me more about that?
We’re working on a musical based on the album Temple Beautiful. It’s kind of a magical mystery tour by Emperor Norton as a guide who has a complicated relationship with reality.
What have you enjoyed about working with the Mission Express versus being in your 1980s band Green on Red? I enjoy writing songs and making records, but after I’ve gotten the songs to behave and wrestled the record all the way to the ground, there’s really nothing I like better than going out and playing with Mission Express, partly because everybody is so nimble and we can go anywhere with the music. We just have that telepathy that comes from playing together.
Have you been working on any new material since the release of Night Surfer? Absolutely. I’m writing all the time and working on a new record to be released possibly in early 2017.
What does your typical songwriting process consist of? I suppose if I had a routine, I probably wouldn’t trust it. Every time, I’m just a desperate little man, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to pull a song out of the air. Other times, I drag somebody into the room to help me perform the miracle. Sometimes I just get a few chords I enjoy playing and start shouting at the walls, and if I like what I hear bouncing off the walls, [I’ll keep it]. Other times songs are abandoned and picked up much later. Sometimes songs are never finished and abandoned, and eventually you gotta walk away from them and see if they can stand up by themselves. I don’t really have one process, but I know that I’m the happiest when I’m engaged and doing it.
How would you compare your modern music to your older works? I like to think I’m getting better and more hard-boiled as [time] goes on. I don’t know if I would have written a song like “Ford Econoline” 10 years ago.
What is your favorite part of being a musician and writing music? My father worked, and I never saw him on a weekday when he wasn’t wearing his tie. He was up at the crack of dawn and worked really hard and came home late, and I saw how hard he worked, and I guess I was just too lazy to work that hard. And I’m still so lucky to be able to carve out something as an artist or a musician. I mean, I don’t have a day job, so I’m not really sure if I’m making a living or not, but it’s gotten me this far. And if I stand back and squint and look at all the records, I feel proud.
Sings Like Hell presents Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express Saturday, April 23, at 8 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.). Call (805) 963-0761 or see lobero.com.