Actor Kiefer Sutherland wants you on the edge of your seat, but musician Kiefer Sutherland wants you to kick that chair out of the way and get fully immersed in his country-rock tunes.
For decades, Sutherland has kept us on our toes with electrifying performances like the menacing predator Bob Wolverton in the movie Freeway to tireless special agent Jack Bauer on TV’s 24. Currently, he is touring with his band to support his second album, Reckless & Me.
The 10-song release maintains a country music viscidity while moving from melancholy ballads like “Open Road” to more rollicking songs like “Agave,” with its kicky, pumped-up-blues foundation. His signature intensity is as much of a hook as the guitar riffs and thoughtfully drafted lyrics.
He takes a selfless approach when creating songs, keeping the audience in mind, rather than hoping they’ll automatically tether to his tunes.
With an upcoming show at Crescent Ballroom on Wednesday, December 11, Phoenix New Times talked to Sutherland about the new release, his songwriting process, and possibly merging his love of music and acting.
Were there specific intentions in mind while making Reckless & Me?
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It’s interesting that you ask that. With this second record, absolutely. The songs I wrote on Reckless & Me were really about what I wanted them to sound like when performed live. I thought our set could use a couple of up-tempo songs, so I purposely started writing in those tempos, which resulted in songs like “Agave” and “This Is How It's Done.” Even the title track, “Reckless & Me.” They were designed for the live set, and the integration of this record and the first record gave us the songs we needed to do really good live shows.
In all fairness, I'm approaching the third record in a very similar way. I consider the audience — what I hope people will like. I also hope they’ll like what I like, you know?
Did you approach the recording process differently this time?
Jude Cole is an extraordinary artist, and someone I've known for a very long time. [He] produced both records. I trust him implicitly. We had very similar ideas, specifically with I wanted to do with this record. With the first record, I had no intention of making an album. I was recording some songs to send to BMI or Sony to see if any of their artists would be interested in doing them. Jude made the songs sound that beautiful and convinced me to make a record.
We recorded the tracks for the album in about seven days, and I went back to work on Designated Survivor and then flew back to do additional vocals. He spent a few months putting it all together. That was different, as we made the first record in his studio over three months, just he and I and a drummer named Brian MacLeod, so his process changed, but mine did not.
The record explores different styles of country and roots music, but overall it feels very complete.
I think the reason it’s cohesive is that the songs are mine, and they’re personal, so that’s one constant, and then Jude as a producer has such a succinct ability of how to connect the musical dots that both combined create cohesion. Also, there are two or three songs that didn't make the record on both albums, not because I didn't like them, but they didn't fit well with the larger body of songs.
I grew up at a time when albums were everything, and it was the deeper album tracks that you ended up falling in love with the most, not the singles, and so that aspect is very important to me, that the album feels like it has a beginning to an end. We probably spent more time thinking about the order of the songs than most people would, for that reason. It's symptomatic of age, I think. Like with my grandkids, they don't listen to albums, they put together playlists. The idea of an arc and a beginning and middle and end would be very foreign to them. I'm at the age where it means a lot.
You covered “Blame It on Your Heart,” which was popularized by Patty Loveless in the '90s via The Thing Called Love movie soundtrack. It's an awesome surprise in the middle of Reckless & Me. Why did you pick it?
It's a perfectly written song. When I play it live, the first thing I'll say is, "The next song I'm gonna play, I haven't heard anyone over the age of 20 who hasn't wanted to sing these first couple lines to somebody" (laughs). "You've got a thing or two to learn about me baby / 'Cause I ain't taking it no more, and I don't mean maybe" — it speaks to me. The lack of proper English is so fantastically country and done purposely, and I just love the song.
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Jude and I both felt that it was such a hit for Patty in the '90s. It would be a courageous thing for a boy to sing. And the truth is with a good song it doesn't matter if a boy or girl sings it. It's like Dwight Yoakam's version of “Purple Rain,” which happens to be one of the most inspiring things ever, and I think Prince would have loved it. To take that song into the bluegrass genre and have it be so impactful is a testament to the quality of the song, and I felt that way about the Patty Loveless track.
Do you have any plans to merge your music and acting careers? Does that idea interest you?
I'm not interested in creating a soundtrack, but my God, if someone ever wanted to put a song of mine in a film, I would be thrilled by that. I thought they did a great job with the A Star Is Born movie and Bohemian Rhapsody, but the only character I thought I would have been interested in playing if I was going to play a musician in a movie is Crazy Heart, which Jeff Bridges did. It was such a personal story, and I've seen guys like that out on the road. Movies like that come around only once in a lifetime, and that may have passed me, but I don't want to say no to anything.
The truth is the common denominator between what I love about acting and what I love about music and performing is storytelling. If something were to come down that would allow me to do both in a way I thought was authentic and honest and had an opportunity to be special, then I would clearly take a look at that. It can be a very hard thing to put together, but you never know.
Kiefer Sutherland is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, December 11, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets are $38 to $43 via the event site.