We know Kiefer Sutherland for his celebrated role in the television series “24,” and as the star of dozens of high-profile films. But Sutherland has been involved in music since he was a kid growing up in Canada, and has long harbored a desire to be a songwriter.
In April, Sutherland released the first single from his forthcoming album, “Down in a Hole.” The emotion-soaked country-folk lament “Not Enough Whiskey” is delivered in a warm, conversational and smoky vocal style that suggests Sutherland has spent some time listening to early Tom Waits and later-period Bob Dylan.
Sutherland and his band have taken to the road in support of the album, and will be stopping by for a show May 16 in Buffalo Iron Works (49 Illinois St.) .In a recent news conference, he spoke about the differences between acting and playing music, his attraction to story-songs, and finding the courage to reveal his deepest feeling through song.
Question: Acting and songwriting are similar in that you create a character, inhabit that character, and try to reach the audience through that character, on an emotional level. Did you find that your acting experience helped you when you were writing and recording the album?
Answer: I don’t agree, actually. For me at least, they’re very different. When I’m acting, I’m hiding behind a character, in a sense. The character is not me. But when it comes to music, I have no place to hide. I’m completely out there and vulnerable, because my songs are raw and pretty honest – the songs are me, really.
I’ve played about 40 or 50 dates so far, and what has been very interesting is this: I thought all the live theater I’ve done over the years would be really helpful to me when I’m on stage playing my songs for people, but in reality, it hasn’t been helpful at all. The reason for that is, I’m talking and singing as myself, not as a character other than me.
Q: Much of the material you’ve written is a little bit dark and intense. It sounds very personal to you. What were you drawing on, as a writer? And why did you gravitate toward country and Americana?
A: I’ve had a very fortunate life, let’s be totally honest about it. I’ve been able to do what I love for pretty much my whole life, and I’ve been successful. But that doesn’t excuse me from the pain that is an inevitable part of being alive and enduring over time. In that sense, there’s not much difference between me and the person listening or coming to the show. We have that in common, because we all suffer, in some way.
That’s what made country and folk attractive to me – that sense of something shared between the singer and the audience, something we all have in common. Also, country music is real storytelling music, and I like that.
In terms of motivation for writing – you find challenges in everyday life. We all do. And that’s the motivation – to embrace the challenges, to do your best with what you’re faced with, to accept that fact that life is a series of adventures to be embraced.
Q: You’re turning 50 this year. That’s generally speaking a time to reassess, to look around, look back and look inward. Do the songs on the album reflect this?
A: It’s definitely a time to reflect, and that’s an interesting perspective to write from. Interestingly, I’ve written a lot of songs about drinking – which is not an endorsement of drinking. (laughs) The point is, I’m comfortable enough at this point in my life to reveal myself through my writing – both the good and the bad.
Q: Tell me about your musical partnership with Jude Cole.
A: He is just such a beautiful musician, an incredible guitar player, and a great guy. I had no intention of making an album, to be honest. I was hoping other performers would cover my songs. I was just making demos with Jude, really, and planning to throw them out there to see if anyone was interested. It was Jude who said, ‘You really should record these songs yourself.’ Without him, I don’t think it would’ve happened.
Q: What do you think of actors making albums, in general?
A: I never wanted to be that guy! I understand why people are skeptical of actors all of sudden deciding they’re musicians, because I’ve always been skeptical, too. But, over a few drinks, Jude convinced me. I had to conquer my own fears to be able to do this. And I’ve been playing music my whole life. I got my first guitar at age 10. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t really care any more what people think. I want to do this, so I’m gonna do it.
By the way, I’m really looking forward to coming to Buffalo. I grew up in Canada, and I spent a lot of time in Buffalo playing hockey when I was growing up. It will be nice to come back.
Who: Kiefer Sutherland
Where: Buffalo Iron Works, 49 Illinois St.
When: 9 p.m. May 16