A few years ago we interviewed klipschutz, Chuck Prophet’s co-writer and a distinguished poet, in relation to Prophet’s 2020 album The Land That Time Forgot. Publication of the interview got shelved pending Prophet’s recovery from lymphoma; we’re pleased to now present this, reinvigorated, refreshed, and updated, and to note that as of May 2023, Prophet is touring the album (tour dates available here) and getting ready to head into the studio to record a new one.
Poetic Justice: How were the songs for The Land That Time Forgot written? You’ve previously suggested that you start by sitting in a small room and shooting “gloomy looks at each other” (No Depression, 2017). Was this the case here?
klipschutz: In spades.
Poetic Justice: There seems to be a focus on history on The Land That Time Forgot. Was this purposeful when you were writing?
klipschutz: No. Really, nothing we do is purposeful. Until, that is, a song exists in embryonic form. Then, it all changes. We have a responsibility to that song, to raise it and send it to college and fumigate its bedroom.
Poetic Justice: You’ve also written in a group of three (with Chuck and Mark Erelli for the song “Her Town Now” from Erelli’s 2020 album Blindsided). How did you write together?
klipschutz: We sat in a room, but did not shoot gloomy looks at each, because Mark isn’t that kind of guy. It was a chance for Chuck to have another guitarist in the mix. We wrote three songs in two days. The other two may yet surface, either recorded by Mark or Chuck – or who knows, maybe a cover. Stranger things have happened, if not often.
Poetic Justice: Have you ever written any songs on your own?
klipschutz: No. Well, I did try to learn guitar a couple of times, and started a song. I think the chords were G – C – D. Tragically, there is no record of this abomination.
Poetic Justice: Why was Fast Kid promoted from a B side?
klipschutz: I think maybe Kenny Siegal, one of the studio guys [producer] on The Land That Time Forgot, spoke up for it. Thanks, Kenny!
Poetic Justice: Do you have any input into other aspects of the album other than song-writing (for example the title, sequencing, artwork etc.)?
klipschutz: Yeah, I’m among the few and harassed who get to weigh in on such matters. Artwork, least of all, though. When I say weigh in, I mean that Chuck solicits my take sometimes, just so he can tell me all the ways I am wrong about it.
Poetic Justice: Do you ever get into the studio when the albums are being recorded?
klipschutz: Back when there were actual studios, and budgets that came from record companies, up to and including fruit baskets, I would be allowed in – sometimes. But not for years. Chuck and I have our lanes. We socialize, for instance, but we don’t socialize with our wives. Chuck has never been over to the place I’ve lived since 2009. Stephanie has, but that was a while ago. They were going to come to a backyard garden party Colette and I were having to celebrate her entering a doctoral program in nursing, but then the Delta variant came along and we scaled the party way, way back, and Chuck and Stephanie had stopped doing anything other than essential outings by then. [2023 UPDATE: By now, Chuck, along with Steph, has been to one of our garden parties. His appetite was vigorous.]
Poetic Justice: It must be exciting hearing your songs in final form, once an album is complete. How do you usually first listen to the finished product?
klipschutz: With no one else around. Loud. On my living room speakers. Klipsch speakers, about a hundred years old and still getting the job done.
Poetic Justice: In Stevie Simkin’s book What Makes the Monkey Dance: The Life and Music of Chuck Prophet and Green On Red (2020) you’re quoted as saying that there’s a danger that songs are “too poetic”. By this do you mean “romantic” or something else?
klipschutz: If Stevie says I said that, then I did. Stevie is not the kind of guy to make things up or misquote. What I think I meant was too literary. There are words and sounds that work better in a poem and ones that work better in a song. Some of The Decembrists’ lyrics, as I recall, sound too English major-y for me. But then again, I never went to college and maybe I have a chip on my shoulder about people who did, especially the ones who can read Catullus in Latin.
Poetic Justice: Chuck is also quoted in the book as saying that his goal has always been to make a “great” or “classic” record. Do you think he’s already made that record, and which are your top three Prophet albums?
klipschutz: Yes, I believe he has, but I’m like Chuck in that I’m always looking ahead. By now [this was late February of 2022] we’re knee-deep writing songs again. That’s the one I’m focused on – the current song, the next one. And worrying that there won’t be a next one. Instead of albums, l hope it’s okay if I speak up for three songs that many of Chuck’s more recent fans probably haven’t taken a deep enough dive in the discography to have even heard of: “Star-Crossed Misbegotten Love” [Balinese Dancer 1993], “The Heart Breaks Just Like the Dawn” [Balinese Dancer 1993] and “How Many Angels” [Feast of Hearts, 1995].
Poetic Justice [Bonus question, posed April 2023]: What’s the latest on Temple Beautiful: The Musical (based on the songs of 2012’s Temple Beautiful)?
klipschutz: A lot of chasing our tails, to be frank. We had a staged reading in mid-2022, during the pandemic, while Chuck was undergoing chemo, but we pulled it off. With Equity actors. What came out of that was some pretty cool YouTubes and a new producer, Richard Friedman of Chicago. Thanks to Richard knocking our heads together, an intensive period of revision followed the staged reading. That’s what they’re for. We got rid of one character and two actors, which counts. The more actors a production has, the more nervous a theatre company gets about making expenses back. We’ve been doing it for almost 10 years by now. But we finally have a killer script. And some new songs. Quite a few tunes not on the album. And “Who Shot John” (from the album) isn’t in the show anymore. My apologies to that song, but Richard Friedman gave it the old heave-ho and who were we to argue? (Especially since he was right.) Lots of rabbit holes to be lost and found at the musical’s new website, built by the incredible Jeremy Gaulke. Over twelve years after the Temple Beautiful album came out, quite a few songs from it remain in Chuck’s set, and it still resonates (check out a recording from late April 2023 here).
Temple Beautiful – the musical
Stevie Simkin: What Makes the Monkey Dance: The Life and Music of Chuck Prophet and Green On Red