Cover artwork
What is a night surfer?

No Depression

Talking with the Night Surfer: An Interview with Chuck Prophet


Talking with the Night Surfer: An Interview with Chuck Prophet

by Hal Bogerd

September 16, 2014

It often sounds naïve, stupid or both to pick a favorite disc of the year too early in the year. With only a couple of months left in 2014 before obsessive listeners pick their "Best of" lists for the year I feel comfortable and confident picking Chuck Prophet's Night Surfer (9/23, YepRoc) as my disc of the year. Night Surfer is a rocking guitar album with a romantic heart and Prophet mixes his sardonic social commentary with a healthy dose of optimism on his 13th solo album because in the end "Love is the Only Thing".

HB-What's a Night Surfer?

CP-Honestly it sounded like a title. Once it was married with an image it just started to look like somebody else's record. I thought, Well, there it is, but there is a longer story if you want it. I grew up in Orange County, California and used to surf the Huntington Pier at night under the lights because it was so crowded. There's something sort of almost post-apocalyptic about that image and at one point this record was kind of dystopian in the sense that it was an opportunity for songwriting once I tapped into that vein. I don't really think it's a dystopian record now or at least I had second thoughts about that but it was enough to get me excited about writing songs.

This is your fourth album on the YepRoc label. Do you have a deal with them for more to come or is it one record at a time. How's that work?

I'm not quite sure. Many of my heroes are film makers like John Sayles. People that have been able to make stuff with their skinny foot in the door of the mainstream but at the same time they've been able to work outside it. A lot of it is just getting the money together. Those are the guys that I follow.

The first thing you do is get a batch of songs together and if you're lucky enough to collect what I call "go to the head of the class" songs then you've got your script and at a certain point you've got to figure out how to do it. There's a lot of ways to the waterfall. I met with the YepRoc guys last March and told them I want to put a record out in the fall and they said we need a record six months in advance in order to really give it the best shot. Yeah, I know but I need this to come out in September because I want to tour in the fall. And they said we don't really base our releases around your tour dates. That's cool, it's kind of the tail wagging the dog thing. They're running a company and they only have so many open spots in their release schedule. I understand but there are some things more important than campaigns for records. For me, this is who I am and maybe it is not the smartest thing but I need to be out there in the fall playing and we need to figure out a way to do it and YepRoc said we understand that too. My attitude is, I got to go out and play these songs because if I wait until the spring I don't know if I'm even gonna like these songs. I need to look after me and that helps me make sense of my life and make sense of the dumb decisions I've made and they said, "Okay, we'll help you do it". They understood that it's not just about being successful. There's this thing where people assume records are dead and you should just put out one song and to be successful these are the things you need to do. I just tune out because I'm not really in it to be successful. I'm in it to make sense of things. I somehow think if I could make a classic, a real classic record then everything would come together in my life and that's probably a lie. But in terms of the lies we tell ourselves it's not the worst.

The first time I heard any of the new songs was a solo set at the Mystery Brewing Public House in Hillsborough, NC and then later I heard the full band versions on the record and you're going to tour with a full band. So whatever the situation is is good?

I'd like to tell you there's more of a plan than all that but yeah whatever the situation is.

If they're good songs they're going to hold up solo.

You hope. You hope they can stand up by themselves. I honestly don't know. At Mystery Brewing. I didn't now. I didn't know how people were going to react. I'm desperate. I was just a desperate little man up there. The guy with a guitar and that's it. There's nothing to hide behind.

The record kicks off with "Countrified Inner City Technological Man". It reminds me of the Stones around Beggars Banquet. It feels like a real rock album.

I was really into Beggars Banquet but also into Muswell Hillbillies. Ray Davies has always been a source of inspiration. Muswell Hillbillies has this almost retro-nuevo thing thematically but one of the things I noticed about "20th Century Man" is that it is driven by the rhythm guitar and it's acoustic. If I was to be honest it's Ray Davies, Bowie's Hunky Dory, it's Beggars Banquet. All these influences fighting it out. When you bring the acoustic up loud and make that the driving guitar then people are gonna come up to me and say it reminds them of the Stones. And I'll just go "Yeah, that's about right".

There's just something really odd and goofy and likable about the character in "Wish Me Luck" when he says "Wish me luck, even if you don't mean it" and "Wish me luck, even though I don't need it".

I wrote that with my friend Kurt and we kind of had the first line and then it just exploded. I hit that E minor chord and started screaming "Wish me luck even if you don't mean it.......It's not like I need it!" And we just tapped into this boasting sort of Kenny Powers narcissistic guy that's also very lovable and it just turned into Sideways the movie. And that was fun. You know the guy at the party that's bragging about his adventures and holding forth and at that point it wrote itself. We had a specific guy in mind too but...

That's probably better off left unsaid.

Yeah, definitely.

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by Hal Bogerd on October 30, 2014 COMMENTS • Filed under (Night Surfer)