Kevin Costner has built one of the most successful movie careers of all time with such titles as The Bodyguard, Dances with Wolves, and Bull Durham to his credit. Needless to say, he couldn’t have had that amount of success without some degree of career planning. However, ask Costner about his musical side, and you just might get a different story.
The singer (along with his band Modern West) has tasted musical success before, with 2012’s Famous For Killing Each Other: Music From and Inspired By Hatfields & McCoys peaking at No. 14 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. But he admits that there is no set plan on the music business side — rather, he prefers to live in the artistic moment. “We just make music,” Costner tells Billboard. “We just make these songs, and they either make their way out there or not. We just go out and play live, because that’s what we like doing.”
When Famous For Killing Each Other was released, Costner got to take his music to a very special stage. “I played about five songs from that album on the Grand Ole Opry, and my daughter went on stage with me.” Being on that iconic Nashville stage was definitely a moment he savors: “It was amazing, and probably one of the most nerve-wracking [experiences]. There’s never been any other performance that I’ve had before where the knots were as big. I’ve always had butterflies before I go out, but I worry about the Grand Ole Opry. I’ve been on it about three times now, and I’ve worried about it each time… I think that the people who have stood there before really are great, and who am I?”
Costner knows that when musical audiences first see him, they see the actor. He’s fine with that, and loves getting the opportunity to win them over. “I’m under no illusion,” he attests. “You’re there to perform, and there’s an interaction that happens. You can’t be too cool for school — you have to humble yourself, and you have to understand that while there’s a curiosity there, in about fifteen seconds they’re going to know whether they are into the song or not. It’s like being an athlete. You can either play or you can’t. Somebody watching will understand that really quicky.”
But while he acknowledges that “there’s no seatbelts in an auditorium,” and that he’s always at risk of losing his live audience, Costner swears “I depend zero on my personality or the history that people might think they have where I am concerned. I face that head-on. I never try to divorce myself from my movie career. Most of the songs I have written have been written on the movie set.”
He also admits that he loves sharing anecdotes about how the music and his acting career run parallel. “When I’m with an audience, I’ll tell them about that,” he relates. “I’ll tell them how a song was written, or what was going on and what it was about. Really, I don’t think it matters it’s fifty people, five hundred, or five thousand. You have to turn it into your living room.”
Fans will be glad to know that Costner and Modern West will soon be on the stage again, with a new batch of songs. A new single, “Love Shine,” will be released Thursday (June 1). He hopes fans will like what they hear, and believes that the message is one that is identifiable: “The essence of the song is about two people who understand that if they don’t shut out the noise that’s going on in the world, and they don’t focus on each other, that their relationship is going to fall apart. If they do keep the light on themselves — each other — they are going to have a chance to make it, and even flourish.“
The first single from an upcoming project, Costner surmises that being able to switch things up musically is a good thing. “It’s the only song we’ve ever done where we electronically distorted my voice just a hair — everything about it is just a little off, and it has a cool little vibe,” he explains. “You see the nimbleness of the band and the ability to not lean on just one sound or create the same kind of idea over and over. We really believe in songwriting, first and foremost, and I think when people discover the music of Modern West, they are kind of surprised.”
Costner has appeared in three classic movies dealing with baseball, Bull Durham (1988), Field of Dreams (1989), and For Love Of The Game (1999). But do fans ever get him confused with Crash Davis, Ray Kinsella, or Billy Chapel, the three characters he portrayed in those films? He laughs, but says scripts don’t make his baseball opinion any more valuable than anybody else’s. “Number one, you’ve got to be real careful about that word expert,” he stresses. “I’ve been around a lot of geniuses over the years, and I’ve thought ‘If these jackasses are quiet long enough, they might learn something from me.’ So, the word genius or expert is something that you never want to entitle yourself to.”
Still, he remains a big fan of America’s Pastime. “I love the game, and have played it since I was little… I’m not a fanatic, I gave that up when I was a kid. Pictures used to be all over my wall. I don’t have the time for the details anymore, but I break the game down and I still play. My friends are coaches around the country, so we talk about the same things when we talk about baseball.” Besides, when fans wanna talk baseball with Costner, it’s not usually his amateur GM opinion they’re interested in. “People don’t really try to solicit my advice as much as they want to know if I was really in a bathtub with Susan Sarandon — I’ll never live that down, and I pitched a perfect game in Yankee Stadium, so I’ve had it pretty good,” he quips, referencing (respectively) his roles in Bull Durham and For Love of the Game.
Though the acting and the music are very much different, Costner says that he is thankful that fans of all genders seem to appreciate both. “The songs in Modern West and in the movies, the women enjoy them. But, I make the movies from a man’s point of view. I make the movies for guys, but if I make the women authentic in the movies, the women are going to like them. The songs have the same effect. I think the women like them because they deal with real-life issues, but we write them from a man’s point of view of what goes right or wrong with a relationship, and what we yearn for. My movies are for men. I’m just glad that women enjoy them.”
Costner won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for The Hatfields & McCoys, which was a ratings success for The History Channel upon its airing in 2012. He said that while the success of the show was a bit of a surprise, the honesty of the writing took Costner to another place creatively – which he explored in the miniseries’ soundtrack. “Because of that experience, on a daily basis, I was having these dark kind of feelings – not to where I wanted to start my own feud, but I began to write a lot while I was on the set,” he remembers. “The band got really in tune with what I was writing, and we came up with the concept record, and it really turned out to be a good record.”