Kiefer Sutherland doesn’t really mince words. But somehow, the 52-year-old actor, singer, songwriter and producer is even more direct when he’s talking about the first few times he got on stage to play music.
“I was nervous,” he said ahead of his band’s current seven-date West Coast run. “I was scared. But the more I leaned into the truth about what I was going through, and why I wrote the songs, the response from the audience was incredibly generous.”
It’s hardly unexpected that fans are taking to heartfelt musical performances from the veteran Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG-Award-winning actor, given his success on both the big (Stand By Me, A Few Good Men) and small (24, Designated Survivor) screens. But it is somewhat surprising that his move from drama to singing was anything but seamless.
“I made a critical mistake in my judgment,” said Sutherland. “I was thinking, well, at least 35 years of experience as an actor, and working on Broadway, will serve me well. But when you’re playing your own songs, written from personal experience, and you’re trying to explain why you think it’s worth someone’s time, there’s no character anymore. I was exposed in a way that I tried 35 years not to be. And I was doing it in front of 500 strangers.”
And it’s not the first time the former roommate of Robert Downey, Jr., has pivoted from the career that made him famous.
Inspired by the training he did for the 1994 film, The Cowboy Way, a few years later Sutherland took a break from making movies and toured the rodeo circuit as a roper.
Not one to take any endeavor lightly, the actor-turned-cowboy not only entered competitions, but he walked away with a pair of U.S. Team Roping Championships.
Coincidentally, it was also during this time that Sutherland developed his true love of country music – hard earned from countless hours of driving from rodeo to rodeo - and listening to the likes of Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, and Waylon Jennings.
“When I was roping on the USTRC,” Sutherland said, “I was listening to a lot of what I consider the last vanguard of really traditional, Americana country music. And I loved that they were telling stories. There was a beginning, middle, and an end. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd songs are all metaphor. But when I listen to Johnny Cash sing a ‘Boy Named Sue,’ there’s no interpretation. He’s telling a story. And that’s exactly what you do when you get together with group of actors and a director.”
Realizing that correlation, and ‘acting’ on it, has led Sutherland to release two full-length albums of his own.
The latest, 10 tracks of honky-tonk titled Reckless & Me, was released in April, and it got the special edition treatment – which includes a full concert recorded in Berlin – this September.
While Sutherland’s acting career is far from over – he’s set to appear in a new film that will dovetail with the launch of media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg’s new streaming platform, Quibi, in April – his rebrand as a singer-songwriter is just getting started.
“If you care about something,” he said, “you figure out how to make the time for it. When I wanted to do rodeo, there wasn’t a lot of work coming my way. But at some point, there was, and I still did rodeo because I loved doing it. And it’s the same with this.”
Sutherland admits that he’s already halfway through album number three and, at least so far, couldn’t be happier with his latest turn as a troubadour.
“I love making records,” he said. “I love the process of writing. And I love the process of writing with other people as well. But nothing prepared me for the generosity I’ve experienced doing these last 400 shows. That’s the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most. And it’s why we’ll continue to tour as much as we do.”
When: 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16
Where: Belly Up, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach