As of a few years ago, David Duchovny had never played guitar, and he had barely sung a note in public since flunking a choir audition as a kid. So he was as surprised as anyone to find himself recording what turned out to be a likable, lyrically tart, vaguely Wilco-ish debut album, Hell or Highwater, due out May 12th. It started when his split from wife Tea Leoni left the 54-year-old actor with unaccustomed free time, thanks to joint custody of his two kids: “I thought, ‘Maybe I can learn to play guitar to amuse myself,’ ” says Duchovny, who’s starring in a new NBC series, Aquarius (premiering May 28th), and will also film six new episodes of The X-Files this summer. “That was the motivation.”
One of your songs disses Bob Dylan for doing ads — that’s ballsy for a debut LP.
If I were him, I wouldn’t give a shit what I think. It came from watching the Super Bowl with my children, and the jingoism and bullshit America über alles stuff was making me ill. To me, Dylan was a way in. I’m happy he can make money. I think he can do whatever the fuck he pleases, and he’s aces with me forever.
Your voice sounds a bit like the guy from the National.
If my voice sounds like anybody, I take it as a compliment [laughs]. With singing, I just wanted to have some sense of when I open my mouth, what the fuck is gonna come out? It’s not natural to me.
What was the first day in the studio like?
Horrible. At one point, I was just lying on the ground underneath the mic, yelling that this was all a mistake.
You also published a novel this year, and your Twitter bio simply says “dilettante.”
It’s all just an offering. I’m saying here’s something I did. If you like it, take it with you, and if you don’t, maybe I’ll do it again, and hopefully you’ll like that one.
What’s behind your line about “mediocrities for hourly fees”?
We’ve all paid for a little therapy, haven’t we? I had a professor who said they called them shrinks because they make things small. They shrink everything. That’s probably the most specifically angry I get in any of these songs.
“A man of words is a man of lies” is a nice lyric.
That’s the English-literature guy in me: Words are just an approximation. That’s one of the great things about music: It kind of fills up the distance between the words and what you’re feeling.
What songs did you start with on guitar?
The Beatles, Lou Reed, the Band, Petty — classic white-guy rock. I love Seventies funk, but I’m not good enough to play it yet. So hopefully, within the next year or so, I’ll get my jazzy chords and come out with a little Sly and the Family Stone tribute album.
How much of the X-Files mythology do you have straight in your head?
Very little. I think Gillian [Anderson] and I should probably do a remedial course by Chris Carter or somebody who runs a website that knows exactly what the hell they’re talking about.
What’s it like to have Fox Mulder follow you around for all these years?
At one point it was frustrating, and I feared being typecast. Now, it’s just kind of funny. I was going to sing last week, and New York is where I get the best recognitions, and this guy goes, “Oh, shit! It’s homeboy from The X-Files!” That’s the way I like to think of myself: homeboy from The X-Files.