Singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet's reticence in the wake of his excellent 2007 album Soap and Water isn't unusual.
"It's appallingly unfashionable to make records that hold together as an album, but I keep doing them - it's like hitting your dick with a hammer," says Prophet with a laugh. "People I talk to in the business say, 'Chuck, we really commend you for that. You go, man.' I still think that way, and I was pretty encouraged by the album I collaborated on with Alejandro [Escovedo] last year. That's how I go about making a record, from the outside in or from the inside out. If I can get three or four songs that take me somewhere I haven't been, then that's enough to keep me going." Prophet got more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling from his work on Escovedo's Real Animal last year. Escovedo advised Prophet to be more aggressive with promoters when setting his asking price for gigs. Prophet left their meeting with more than advice.
"We're sitting in his kitchen and with musicians, it always goes right to the business," recalls Prophet. "Al's like, 'How's your agent doing for you?' And I'm like, 'I'm doing OK.' And he goes, 'Seriously, what do you get paid like in Chicago?' 'I don't know. I don't want to talk about it.' Eventually I told him, and he was like, 'Bro, bro, bro, you gotta be doing better than that.' He got up and went upstairs, and I heard him walking around, and I'm thinking, 'What the fuck is he doing up there?' He finally comes down 10 minutes later with three suits on hangers. He goes, 'Here, bro, take these with you. Sharpen up your act a little bit. Your fees will go up.' I started dressing nicer and they went up."
As for a new album, Prophet seems to have three or four songs to get him going, so a new full-length in 2009 is a possibility. He's beginning to frame it up mentally.
"When I got into music, I signed up for the adventure," he jokes. "Maybe I'll go to Mexico City and make an emo record. I haven't really formed it in my mind, but I'm kind of working on an uninhibited, quasi-political record for non-political people like myself. We're living in an anxious time, and I think it's a good time to let the world in a little bit." Prophet will likely debut at least a couple of new songs on his current tour, and based on his description, they seem like worthy additions to his already impressive catalog.
"They're a little less boy/girl and more reflective of the times we're living in," says Prophet. "I've got a song called 'Paying My Respects to the Train' which might surface. I've got another one called 'Jesus Was a Social Drinker' that I like to play solo. I've got a song called 'Let Freedom Ring' which is a fun new song I'm excited about, so there's a cluster of things."
For his appearance at the Beachland Tavern this week, Prophet will fly solo and acoustic, which allows him the freedom to perform songs that don't normally wind up in his set list. It also forces him to rethink songs that are typically muscled through by his touring band.
"'Singer-songwriter' is a ghetto," says Prophet. "People stand back and squint, and we're indistinguishable from one another. It's rough out there. But it gives me an opportunity to try out new songs and different kinds of songs, like some of the more narrative, storytelling stuff that I don't have to get above the band. To be perfectly honest, it's not why I got into music - to play solo. I prefer to have a drummer to lean back on and get ahead and behind the beat and spar like that. But playing solo has its own thing. It's freer in a way. But it can be crushing when you suck."