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NUVO Interview: Chuck Prophet

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Anyone touched by the daft genius of Chuck Prophet knows his quirky, free-spirited folk songs have forever changed music. But to call him influential isn’t likely to get an agreeable response from him.

“I don’t know what any of that means,” Prophet says. “I think I’ve gotten away with murder. I can’t believe I sell as many records as I do.”

His latest collection, last year’s Soap and Water, keeps with Prophet’s tradition of capricious genre-defilement — from his loutish role in the rollicking “Freckle” to the haunted “Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)” complete with a children’s choir. That’s long been Prophet’s identity: that of a restless soul equally comfortable in simple chord progressions and fustian fusions of song.

“Some songs just don’t want to behave,” he says. “Some songs become so married to a certain arrangement that you’ve gotta take ’em out and rotate the tires. It’s elusive about what people respond to. That’s really the greatest part about any art form. You can be the greatest craftsman in the world, but you don’t know what people are really going to respond to.”

People responded to Prophet from the beginning. It started when he joined Bay Area collective Green on Red in the 1980s. The eight-year exercise in excess yielded a blueprint for the alt-country movement and sealed Prophet’s reputation as a new counter-cultural firebrand.

Prophet doesn’t readily agree he even has a music career, though he still frequently tours, produces other’s albums and has his own label, (((belle sound))). The goal, if there ever was one, has never been about any measurable indicators of success, but something much deeper and principled.

“I just have a dark need to write songs and wrestle them to the ground in the form of records and play,” Prophet says. “That’s what I do. You’re really only competing with yourself. The goal is to do something that keeps you interested in what you’re doing.”

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