Interview: Kiefer Sutherland Gets Personal on Forthcoming Country Album, on Tour
Kiefer Sutherland has a long-standing love affair with country music. His affinity for the genre started almost 30 years ago, when he traveled around in pick-up trucks while pursuing his team-roping hobby. And while, in the years since, the actor has starred in several movies and appeared in the award-winning TV series 24, his love for country music has never waned.
However, it took his friend, musician and producer Jude Cole, hearing some of Sutherland's own songs for the 49-year-old to be convinced that it was time for him to record an album of his own. The result is the forthcoming Down in a Hole, a collection penned entirely by Sutherland himself and an achingly honest depiction of his life.
Sutherland recently sat down with The Boot to discuss his upcoming record (due out on Aug. 19), his tour, his love of country music and why he is willing to bare his soul on his country project.
Describe Down in a Hole.
The album is the closest thing I have had to a journal in my life. All of the songs except for "Shirley Jean" are from personal experiences that I’ve gone through.
One of the nice things, and the thing I was looking forward to about touring, and that I have experienced, is being able to describe where I was when I wrote the songs, what I was writing it about. The benefit that I’ve had with the touring is that, I think, by the end of the evening, the audience is realizing that we’re not that different, and that the human experience is what it is, and I’m telling my version of it.
How did you get the idea to make an album?
I had about 25 songs that I took to Jude Cole and wanted to record a couple of them. Jude has been my best friend for 30-some odd years, and an extraordinary musician; we had a small label called Ironworks together.
I took these songs to him and thought I’d record a couple and send some to BMI or Sony Music, or see if another artist would like to record them. He ended up really liking the way they sounded and convinced me to make, or at least record, a few more. Ultimately, the album took shape out of that.
I have so much respect for him as a musician that he made me feel very confident about what we were doing, and I’m so glad he did. For me, it’s been a really fantastic evolution.
Why was now the right time to release your own record?
I think I finally got to a point in my life where I didn’t care as much about what someone would say. There’s a terrible stigma of an actor doing music. Trust me, it makes my eyes want to roll back in my own head, but I like my songs, and I wanted to tell those stories. As an actor, my interest in doing films and theater is being able to tell those stories, and this was an extension of that, but on a much more personal level.
All of the songs on Down in a Hole have a country sound to them, with many of them, like "Not Enough Whiskey" and "Shirley Jean," sounding very traditional. What was your inspiration for the songs on the album?
I have a huge respect for Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson -- all of those guys coming out of Nashville in the mid-'60s all through the early '70s. First of all, they wrote in the first-person narrative. For instance, I do not believe that Johnny Cash went to Reno and shot a man to watch him die -- but he took on that character.
When I started listening to that music in the early '90s, I was just drawn to it. It piqued all of my interests that I had as an actor, and that desire to tell a story. That had a huge influence on how I wrote. Songs like "Not Enough Whiskey" or "Shirley Jean," which are really old-school country songs, they mattered to me because it was almost an homage to the people that influenced the way I wanted to write. So it seemed natural to play those songs in that style.
You worked on Down in a Hole and toured while also starring in the upcoming ABC drama Designated Survivor. What has surprised you the most about your evolution from being an actor to also being a singer?
What I wasn’t counting on -- I thought my 30 years as a professional actor would influence the music -- but it was actually the other way around. To do the show properly, I had to kind of open up about my own life, something that I’m quite guarded about and quite private about. But having done that with the music, when I did Designated Survivor, which I’m a part of on ABC that will come out in the fall, it influenced how I performed that character. I would allow a little more of myself into the character than I think I normally would have. I didn’t have to reserve such harsh judgement on the character; I could be a little more pliable in that.
I found it very interesting that it was actually the playing 60 shows of music, how it influenced my approach to acting. I was surprised by that.
Do you ever envision a time when you will focus on music instead of acting?
They both live together. Designated Survivor is one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve had as an actor. I’m having one of the luckiest years I’ve had in my life, where I’m doing two things that I really, really love. But they live together. The common denominator is the desire to tell the story. The desire is to tell the story. I love doing that as an actor, and I’ve been loving doing it playing music as well.
You've spent a lot of time in and around the Nashville, including your recent debut at the Grand Ole Opry. Do you feel welcomed into the music community?
The music on this record is more Americana than it is country, in all fairness. But the people here have just been unbelievable. I was roping for 10 years, and that was really how I got into country music, as a listener. The people that I met through that experience were the nicest people that I have known. So in that sense, I feel incredibly comfortable.
Again, the country songs that I do are of an older style than maybe what’s really contemporary, or contemporarily happening in country music. But the people have been so incredibly supportive and nice and kind that I feel incredibly comfortable for that, even though I don’t believe that all the music necessarily fits in that genre.
What's your goal with Down in a Hole?
I’m actually doing it. It’s funny: I’m not trying to sell a million records. I’m not trying to fill stadiums. But being able to play in front of 250 to 400 people, have a really intimate evening and be able to tell a story and explain where a song comes from and play that song, it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. I hope the audience feels the same way, but for me it certainly has.
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