While Kiefer Sutherland is best-known for roles in such TV series as 24 and Designated Survivor, his musical side is starting to get some well-deserved acclaim and attention. In 2016, he released his first album, the well-received Down In A Hole. Putting out a record with his name on it represented a huge boost in his psyche as a musician.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” he tells Billboard. “The fact that I knew that it was possible to actually put ten songs together that you liked, and perform them the way you want to. With it being the first record, obviously, you’re desperately hopeful that that’s going to happen, but you don’t know until it’s finished.”
Another step for the singer was to take the music to the people. “We played about two hundred and fifty shows,” he stated. With that type of experience, he knew what worked live. “So consciously, and maybe subconsciously, I was writing for slots in the show. I thought, ‘Man, we could use a really good honky-tonk, up-tempo song like that.’”
Sutherland is planning to use his time off from Designated Survivor wisely – with another tour. He feels that he definitely made some inroads with music fans – perhaps winning some over that were there initially to see Jack Bauer or President Kirkman sing.
“I am acutely aware of the stigma of an actor doing music, but I finally got to a point in my life where I didn’t care. At some point, you have to stand up and own what you’re doing, or what you’re trying. And the truth is, I liked the record that we had put together. They meant something to me. They were very personal. And if someone was going to have a run at me for that, I get it. I understand. But it didn’t stop me from realizing that I had to stand up for what I believe in too. And I believe that this was a good record, and really wanted to tour with it. I feel the same way about the second record coming out,” he says of an upcoming, as yet-to-be scheduled album.
Part of winning over the crowds came with Sutherland recalling what he loved most about the music of artists such as Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard – the artist was sharing a story, one that more often than not was theirs. That, he says, changed the game.
“I asked myself ‘What is the thing that I love about acting, and music? What is the common denominator?’ And for me, it’s storytelling. And music is a very different way of doing it, but it’s still storytelling nonetheless. The second I started opening up, and talking about that, and saying, ‘Look, I went through this very difficult time in my life. And this is what I wrote the song about, and this is why. And if you’re there, and you had to go through that kind of a thing too, you’re not alone in this,’ I felt a change,” he said. “Life is tricky. It’s not easy, and we’re all going through it. If you can have that dialogue at a show, then that really, really matters. I think that was a real turning point for me, and I felt that that was a way of bringing an audience in, and me exposing myself to an audience. I think that shared give-and-take became the foundation for what our show is.”
Sutherland began his tour with a stop at a venue he has the utmost respect for: the Grand Ole Opry. “The Opry is extraordinary. The very first time I stood on that stage, I was very timid about stepping inside that circle,” he says of the legendary circular piece of wood from the show’s former home (The Ryman Auditorium) that was placed in the stage of the Opry House upon its opening in 1974. “And one of the musicians in the Opry band was walking by, and he said, ‘Go on. Step in. It’s all right.’ I smiled and I laughed, because I literally was like dipping my toe in water. I have such reverence for what the Opry has meant to American music for the last almost hundred years, and what it’s meant for me as a listener.” And then there’s the fraternity of the artists behind the scenes, which impressed Sutherland as being a little different from his other job.
“Artists were really hoping other artists would do well. That’s not always been my experience in the film industry. That sense of community really grabbed me, To have been invited back a couple times is something that I’m very proud of, and grateful for.”
When asked about some of the other places he has played that strike him as notable, he said that going across the pond was something he won’t forget. “I remember London, England. Playing London, England for the first time. I was scared to death twice over. They were so generous, and so kind.” He also mentioned Nashville’s Exit / In, and confessed that playing Los Angeles offered some butterflies. “It’s where my family lives, and all my friends are there. I thought, ‘Oh God, if I can just get through tonight, I’ll be fine.’ It was great.”
Sutherland plans to be on the road through the end of June, taking his music to fans here in the United States as well as countries such as Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. He’s hopeful that he’ll be able to share new music with fans by year’s end.