It started as a little in-studio joke. Local folk-rocker Chuck Prophet had written a ditty called “Night Surfing,” which he had yet to record, when a session-musician buddy started greeting him as “night surfer” in every email.
“I thought, 'Hey, that sounds like an album title!'” says the gravel-throated growler, who applied the phrase to the collection of Bruce Springsteen-grand anthems he was composing, aided by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. “So I don't always pick the titles — they pick me. They just kind of float to the top.”
But “Night Surfer” isn't so random.
Prophet — who plays four hometown gigs this weekend — is a serious surfer, and has been since he was an Orange County teenager.
He often hit the waves after dark: “I surfed the Huntington Beach Pier at night many times when I was 14. We knew this kid who was 17, who worked a night-shift job in Costa Mesa. So he would pick us up at 11 p.m., drop us off at the beach, and then pick us up at 8 a.m. Where were the parents?” he says, laughing.
Once Prophet joined Green on Red in 1985, then flew solo and settled in The City, he gradually gave up the sport. It was too cold, too physically taxing.
“But surfing technology has come a long way, so I got back into it a few years ago,” he says. “And now I'm more of a longboarder, out there shooting Linda Mar.”
He and his singer-songwriter wife, Stephanie Finch, are planning to renew their vows soon, and they hope to hold the reception at Linda Mar's oceanside Taco Bell.
“Night Surfer” doesn't have an aquatic theme, though.
“This record borders on arena rock, which has to do with me embracing my childhood,” says Prophet, who adds, “Plus, there's this “Mad Max”-“Lord of the Flies” theme about technology not equaling culture, exemplified on the tracks “Countrified Inner City Technological Man,” or the mass-media sendup “Laughing on the Inside.”
Prophet asks, “In 1981, could you have imagined that we would one day see a beheading on television? I don't think I could have imagined it a year ago, when I wrote this record.”
Prophet also stresses that he's not angry on “Night Surfer,” per se.
“Anxious, maybe,” he admits.
In truth, he only gets mad when people start discussing the music industry with him. “That's when I just glass over,” he says. “Like, 'I've got to go. I'm going to go surfing now.'”