“In my twenties and thirties I was hugely aware of the stigma of an actor doing music, so it was something I’d never touch,” says Kiefer Sutherland, who, at 49 years old, has just released his debut album, the country-rocking Down in a Hole. Now he finds himself juggling two successful careers.
His new ABC show Designated Survivor, about a cabinet member who becomes president after a terrorist attack, debuts Sept. 21. At the same time, he is already working on songs for his sophomore album. As for any potential actor-doing-music criticisms? “I’m at a point in my life where, if someone wants to take a run at me, I couldn’t give a crap,” Sutherland happily reports.
You grew up on rock n’ roll, but Down in a Hole draws primarily from country music.
These songs are about my life, and are very much sung in the first-person narrative. And if there ever was ever a genre of music that illustrated great American storytelling, it’s country. Musically, it allows you to do a lyric that is quite specific and story-driven.
You’ve talked about bringing a guitar with you to movie sets to relieve stress. When you were filming Stand By Me in 1986, you even taught River Phoenix how to play the Ben E. King song of the same name.
It was one of the few songs I could actually play and sing at the same time! What’s funny about that is Stand By Me was originally called The Body, which is the name of the Stephen King short story [that the film is based on]. I don’t know if [director] Rob Reiner has actually said it or not, but I think he heard us playing it on the set and that’s when he thought of Stand By Me as the title of the film.
On Designated Survivor you play a man whose qualifications as president are in question. Do you feel there’s a certain timeliness to some of the issues being raised by the show?
The timing is what the timing is. This show was not sitting around for two years waiting for a presidential election. But I think people are fascinated with the White House and the responsibilities of a president. So it’s an examination of that. And, obviously, politics will be on people’s minds in a very strong way by the time we air.
Check out a behind-the-scenes look into the making of Sutherland’s debut record, which Billboard exclusively premiered: