Kiefer Sutherland’s Love Affair With Country Music Began on the Rodeo Circuit
Kiefer Sutherland enjoys many different genres of music, but when it came time to put together his own album, Down in a Hole, the 11-track project naturally fell into the country genre.
"I started team roping in the early '90s, maybe late '80s, and I did that for 10 years, and I did it pretty hard. I toured with my heeler, who was a guy named John English," Sutherland recently told The Boot and other reporters. "That was all we listened to in the truck, and what I fell in love with. They were listening to Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson -- all of those guys wrote in the first-person narrative."
It was the songs with painfully honest revelations that drew Sutherland in the most.
"The joke that I always make is that I don’t think Johnny Cash went to Reno and shot a man to watch him die -- but he took on the character, and man, that’s my wheelhouse. That’s what I do," Sutherland explains. "So that’s why I started writing in that narrative, was because it could be a character. What I didn’t kind of plan on was that the first-person narrative was actually mine."
It wasn't until Sutherland started touring, performing songs from Down in a Hole, that he realized how vulnerable sharing his own songs made him.
"When I wrote this record, they were actually my songs. "Shirley Jean" was the only kind of manufactured song as a story outside of my own life," the actor says. "And that was the thing that, when I started to play the shows, threw me the most, was, ‘Oh, gosh, you’re gonna have to actually be open about yourself when you play these shows.’"
In addition to the style of the songs, Sutherland fell in love with the country music community and the sense of family he experienced.
"I used to kind of feel this with roping -- and I’ve played competitive sports all my life -- and only was it at a rodeo where a guy would have a piece of equipment break and the next cowboy would give him his," he shares. "I guarantee you, in a hockey game, if the other guy’s stick breaks, the other guy is not giving him his stick. That just doesn’t happen ...
"There is a desire to help each other in this part of the world that I have not experienced in others," Sutherland adds, "and I think that that directly reflects a part of country music."
While Sutherland assumed that performing onstage as a singer would be an easy transition after spending much of his life performing in front of a camera, he concedes that he found one much more challenging than the other.
"I was on Broadway, I worked with the National Arts Center for seven months, and I’ve done a lot of theater over the course of my career. I thought that that would translate, and it didn’t -- not even close," he admits. "Because in all of those circumstances, I was playing a character, and I hadn’t thought about this: These songs are actually mine, and they’re very personal, and they’re real. In order to have a conversation with an audience, I had to admit that, and I had to say, ‘No, this was actually my breakup. This was my heart getting broken in this song,’ or, ‘This was a friend that I lost, someone I loved very much, that changed my life.' Some of the drinking songs, these were problems I had."
Ultimately, Sutherland found that by performing his music onstage, he was better prepared for his new role, as President Thomas Kirkman in the upcoming TV series Designated Survivor.
"[It] took me a couple of shows to get comfortable with opening up that way. And that’s the part that made me re-think how I work as an actor," Sutherland notes. "Playing the music shows changed that a bit for me. I’ve started to believe that there was a humanity that you could give that would [be] personal and real to you to these characters as well."
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