As Kiefer Sutherland, star of 24 and countless movies, preps the release of his debut album — an Americana and country outing dubbed Down in a Hole — he already knows what people might be thinking. "If I hear about an actor doing a music project, my eyes are the first to roll," he tells Rolling Stone. "It's been done before and, on some levels, not very well. A lot of actors make records but won't tour to support them or make videos, and it ends up not being serious. I felt strongly that this was something I wanted to do."
Today, the actor, who will be presenting at the ACM Awards this year, proves just how genuine he is in his ambitions by releasing a music video for "Not Enough Whiskey." He financed the clip himself — "I wanted something that was personal and traveling," he says — so he and his songwriting partner Jude Cole found a motel where they could film one long shot, through a parking lot and into a bar. It's a video that purposefully showcases Sutherland, who didn't want to "hide behind a band," to prove his commitment to being a musical artist.
"Not Enough Whiskey," like many of the songs on the album, due out this summer, is personal for Sutherland. "I've certainly been there, where something will happen in life, and one, two, three bottles of whiskey are not going to fix it," he says. "In the context of the song, those moments are important to realize so you have to find another way to deal with them. I'm sure a lot of people have felt that way."
In "Truth in Your Eyes," he tells another personal story, about witnessing one of his best friends lose a partner violently. "I can only imagine how devastating it was for them because I still think of it as one of the saddest times in my life," he says. Another, "Calling Out Your Name," reflects on a relationship he had in his early twenties that fell apart as his acting career took off. "There's a moment in everyone's life when they go from a girl to a woman or a boy to a man, and that transition, at least from my experience, is illustrated through heartbreak," he says. And then there's the title track, "Down in a Hole," which pays tribute to a friend who drank himself to death.
The opportunity to tell stories through song is what attracted Sutherland to country music, a genre he got serious about during the past decade. "I never picked a script because, 'Ooh, that's a character I want to play,'" he says. "It's always been because I thought there was an interesting story to tell. Country music to me is like that."
Although he claims to be a huge rock fan, citing AC/DC, Neil Young and Paul Simon as some of his favorite artists, he is as much a fan of Kris Kristofferson ("a genius writer"), Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. "I could hum you every melody or guitar solo from a Pink Floyd record, but I couldn't tell you what the hell they were talking about," Sutherland says with a laugh. "There's no messing around with a Johnny Cash song, and there's something I really admire about that."
Sutherland first started work on the record about two years ago, after he finished the last season of 24. Initially, he and Cole wrote 17 songs, and he hoped to shop them around. "I've never been hugely confident about my voice," he says. The pair had already gained experience running a label called Ironworks, which issued records by Rocco DeLuca, Billy Boy on Poison, Lifehouse and others, and the experience of working with singers had made him shy.
"Playing live is an experience I've been enjoying that I couldn't even describe."
But since Cole knew the personal nature of the songs, he managed to convince Sutherland to sing them himself over a couple of drinks. "The thing I like about my voice is there's a lot of texture to it, and it's a voice that sounds like it's got a lot of miles on it," Sutherland says. "Somehow it fit my lyrics and my songs, and I started to feel comfortable about it."
Sutherland has already begun playing gigs around California, and he says performing has been an exciting and fun experience. "It was challenging for me," he says. "There were moments that made me very nervous." But these are the kind of nerves he likes. Sutherland will be embarking on his first-ever music tour on April 14th, a trip that will run through the end of May.
"The nice thing about being able to play these songs live is you can take a minute and tell the stories: 'Look, I was here in 1994, and this is what was happening,'" he says. "My experience so far, playing 250-seat rooms and bars, is that it's created a level of intimacy. It's an experience I've been enjoying that I couldn't even describe."