Kiefer Sutherland is a busy guy. He just released his first full length album and has a new show, “Designated Survivor” that just premiered last week. Most of us know Sutherland from his amazing acting career including “The Lost Boys”, “Stand By Me”, “24” and now “Designated Survivor”. Recently he tested the waters of recording artist and I think he liked how they felt. His first album, “Down In A Hole” is tremendous. It really showcases the wide range of his writing and vocal skills. “Designated Survivor” airs Wednesdays on ABC. The new album “Down In A Hole” is available wherever you buy music.
What first attracted you to country music?
There were a few things. I roped in the USTRC which is the United States Team Roping Championships. So I spent about ten years doing that on a competitive level while traveling with about three or four different cowboys. That was my first exposure, probably in the early 90s, to real authentic country music. By authentic, I mean artists like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. I loved the feel of the music. The thing that struck me the most is that these guys were all writing in first person narratives. I related to that as an actor and I definitely related to that as a listener. So when I started writing songs, I was writing about my life and country kind of found me as a writer. That is how it started.
Didn’t you grow up being more of a rock’n roll fan?
Oh gosh yes, absolutely. I have an older brother who is about seven or eight years older than me. I absolutely idolized him when I was a kid. I play hockey because he played hockey. My brother was a huge music fan. I have often made the joke that I was the only kid in the third grade that was an Aerosmith fan. I just listened to whatever music my brother was listening to at the time.
If you take a listen to my album you can hear that there is certainly a rock influence in the music. “Down In A Hole” is a rock song for all intents and purposes. When you listen to “Not Enough Whiskey” or “Shirley Jean”, those are old school country songs. I just really enjoy writing in that fashion.
Could you tell us a little about your song writing process?
I think the one thing I have learned is that if you have an idea, you have to finish it through. Some friends of mine have books filled with just one verse in a chorus and they say that someday they will come back to that idea. When I sit down to write, it is usually because I had an idea. It can start from a variety of points. Sometimes I sit down to write simply because I have something I really want to write about and need to figure it out. “Calling Out Your Name” and “My Best Friend” came about because I was humming a melody and came up with a line that really I liked. In that case, I sang it all the way home until I could get to a pen and piece of paper. Then I just started writing it all down. They were really completely influenced by the first lines in the songs. It varies from song to song. There have been songs that I finished the entire idea all the way through and didn’t like it. Then I put them aside or tossed them. I find that if I start with an idea and follow through with it I get my best results.
Since you mentioned Johnny Cash, do you write songs in character like he did or are they mostly personal stories?
That is a great question. “Shirley Jean” is specifically about a guy in prison and that is definitely a character. Relatively speaking, I am a young writer. The stories on this album are personal and about my life. Outside of “Shirley Jean” everything else on the record is personal. “Calling Out Your Name” is about the first breakup that I had that really broke my heart. “Down In A Hole” is a story about the frustrations of losing a friend to alcohol and drugs. “My Best Friend” is about realizing that if I couldn’t be my own best friend than how could I expect anyone else to be that person. Unfortunately, I came to that realization a little late in life.
If you could share the stage with anyone past or present, who would it be? What would you perform?
I would have to say Johnny Cash. The song I would love to play with him for a multitude of reasons is “A Boy Named Sue”. I would have given my hind teeth to have performed this song with Johnny Cash.
You wear so many different hats during the day, how do you stay creative?
First of all, I am incredibly lucky and fortunate that over the course of my life I have been able to do something that I love so much which is acting. That is a huge part of being able to express myself creatively. There was a period where I painted. I have always enjoyed and played music. Then writing became a real passion of mine. I have found that for myself, once I have committed something to paper, I can actually look at that point or part of my life and often put things to bed. I have done that with a couple of things on this record. It gave me a kind of clarity that I have become grateful. I didn’t realize when I was writing these songs going out to perform this album that I would actually being revealing so much about myself. I was not necessarily prepared to put so much of myself out there when I explain the songs to a crowd. It was a lot more than I was comfortable with at certain moments. I think I started to break through that in the first tour. I started to realize that this was a two way street. The two hundred or so people in the bar we were playing at that night were also relating to people and events in these songs. By the end of the night, we all realized that we aren’t that different from each other. Regardless of the fact that I have had this incredible life, I have still lost people in my life. I have still had my heart broken. I have had to find my own way as well. When I went to do the new show, “Designated Survivor”, I think that all of this allowed me creatively to put more of myself into this character than I have ever done before. I was fascinated with the fact of how performing my music out there live would impact how I approached a role.
What is your favorite song to perform live right now?
There are a few. There are a couple of new songs that will be going on the second album. There is “Saskatchewan” and there is “Rebel Wind” that I really enjoy right now. I also like “All She Wrote” and “Down In A Hole” from the first album. In all fairness, there are aspects of every song that I find challenging and there aspects that I get a real rush from when we do them right.