Kiefer Sutherland talks dark, confessional country music: 'Looking back in my life and seeing the damage done’

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music

Kiefer Sutherland admits he was “very aware of the stigma of an actor doing music” and “never really had any intention of making a record,” assuming he’d stay behind the scenes and just give his batch of deeply personal. self-penned country songs to other recording artists. But his musical partner Jude Cole was determined to talk the movie/TV star into releasing a country album under his own name.

“He knew me well enough, so he took me to a bar and got me drunk. And all of a sudden, it sounded like a better idea,” Sutherland laughs.

The result was 2016’s Down in a Hole, which was so well-received in the country world (maybe because Sutherland is no Hollywood city-slicker; he is also a former rodeo roping champion!) that it led to performances at the Stagecoach festival and even the Grand Ole Opry. Sutherland follows up that success with the sophomore album Reckless & Me on April 26 and another Opry appearance on June 7.

It may come as a surprise that Sutherland, who was arrested four times for DUI offenses between 1989 and 2007, sings so much about drinking and bar culture, and talks so freely about it in his Yahoo Entertainment interview. But as he notes wryly, “I don't think you have to go far to pick up a newspaper to realize that that's part of my life. And I write about what I know.” However, he feels most of his drinking songs are dark cautionary tales — not party-hardy, bro-country beer anthems.

“Most of the songs about drinking aren't very positive,” he stresses. “Like ‘Not Enough Whiskey’: It’s really about if you want to go out and have a drink and be with your friends and hang out and have a great time, that's great, but if you think it's going to solve your problems, you're in a lot of trouble. And ‘Down in a Hole’ is about drinking and drugs; I lost a lot of friends when I was younger, and I was really lucky to have gotten through a lot of that. A lot of my friends were not lucky, who didn't do anything much different, just unlucky and didn't make it.

“And so, they're not all positive and fun about drinking. I mean, I think a couple of them are about having a good time, but it's also a real potentially very, very dangerous thing. And as I said, I've been really fortunate, and I've tried to learn as much as I can from that. The songs are much more just reflective of me looking back in my life and seeing some of the damage that that's done.”

The 52-year-old Sutherland has been acting onscreen since the ‘80s, playing larger-than-life roles ranging from platinum-haired Lost Boys vampire David Powers to Young Guns cowboy Doc Scurlock to 24’s iconic counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer. But none of that showbiz experience prepared him to step out on the concert stage — playing himself.

“The thing that I had forgotten, which was so stupid, was that every time I've been onstage before, I had a character. I wasn't playing me. You know, I'm not Jack Bauer,” Sutherland chuckles. “On the best of my days, I'm not! I wish I was, but I'm not. And all of a sudden, I found myself onstage, really vulnerable, because I'm singing very personal songs about my own life. And that took me a minute to get used to.”

Sutherland says everything on Reckless & Me is “a personal story from my life, whether it's about a heartbreak or the loss of someone that I love or a friend over the years,” and he admits that he’s been asked, “Why don't you write any happy songs?” But he does say he tried to have a “little more fun” on Reckless & Me. The raucous lead single, "This Is How It's Done," is actually a more upbeat drinking song, about the first time he walked into a bar as a teenager in Canada. (“These two guys just started fighting and they beat the crap out of each other. And then that was over in a second. I was horrified by that. And then these girls started dancing on the bar…”)

However, most of the album is introspective. One of its most personal tracks is “Song for a Daughter,” dedicated to his daughter, Veep actress Sarah Sutherland, which is about “realizing that I'm not going to be around forever, and I wrote this song so that she would have it so that when I'm gone, she'll know how much I loved her,” he reveals. “I got very emotional when I wrote that and then I played it for her and she cried — and I remember thinking that was my way of knowing that it was good! So, I felt awful as her dad, being kind of glad that she cried about it. But she was really sweet about it. … It's something that I hope that she'll enjoy later over the years.”

Another somber, family-oriented album track is “Saskatchewan,” which Sutherland wrote while on a plane to visit his mom, who had just suffered a “very, very severe” stroke. However, when Sutherland played the song for mother, her reaction was more amusing — and unexpected.

“She had a look on her face that wasn't great. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I've made a terrible mistake here,’” he recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, Mom, I can clearly see that this has upset you, and I never meant to do that. And I'm really sorry.’ And she said, ‘No, no. You know I don't want to be buried in Saskatchewan, right?’ And I said, ‘No, Mom, it's a metaphor. Of course you don't want to be buried in Saskatchewan! I know you want to be buried with Grandma and Grandpa.’ And then she went, ‘Oh… then I love the song!’ And so it was just a very funny moment.”

Watch Kiefer Sutherland’s full Yahoo Entertainment interview about his late-in-life, credible country music career below.

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