Fans know actor Kiefer Sutherland from starring roles in Fox’s “24” and films dating back to “Stand By Me” and “The Lost Boys,” but they don’t know him as a singer-songwriter. A lifelong music fan who started the independent Ironworks label with best friend/musician and producer Jude Cole in 2002, Sutherland will release his debut album, “Down in a Hole” in June. The tour leading up to the folk-country release stops at Visulite Theatre tonight. Sutherland spoke to the Observer earlier today about the transition to music.
Q: So what role did music play in your life growing up?
A: Music was a huge thing. It started when I was very young. I had a brother who 7 years older than me that I idolized. He made a point of playing stuff for me whether it was Jackson 5 or Elton John, songs with lyrics that were quite transcendent to any age. I made a joke I was the only 3rd grader listening to Aerosmith.
I’ve watched my daughters. My youngest is 28 now. They listen to music in a very different way. I remember putting headphones on and taking a few hours with an album. They don’t do that. (For me) it wasn’t an addendum to another activity whether it was being on the set and taking time to play or listening to something that would put me in a good mood. As an art form I gravitate more toward listening to music than going to movies. And I love movies.
Q: Did you absorb a lot through the artists on the label?
A: Certainly as a writer. I watched different artists like Rocco Deluca and Suzanne (Santo) from HoneyHoney. Anything I’d written before that time had been a fluke. I’d play a few chords, I’d find a melody I liked. It was accidental. When I watched these incredible artists it was very specific. I thought, I’ll try that.
Q: It seemed to work.
A: Over the last 8 to ten years I’d written a few pieces and taken them to Jude Cole only in the effort that we’d send songs to BMI or Sony Music and see if their artists would be interested in covering them. He suggested we keep them for myself. I laughed. I was certainly aware of the stigma of an actor doing music and I didn’t want that. He took me out and we had a few drinks and I started to like the idea.
Q: For someone who has played characters, what’s it like putting yourself out there through what’s largely autobiographical lyrics?
A: It’s unlike any experience I’ve ever had. I’ve done a lot of live theater and films and television, but I’ve always been able to hide behind that character. The only common denominator I can find between the two - and its substantial - is I like to tell stories. (Because) I hadn’t thought about it - which I guess is pretty stupid - nothing prepared me for being on stage for the first time and explaining why I wrote a song and this is what happened to me when I was 25. I can’t say it wasn’t a little disarming for me to be that open or honest in front of a group of people. I was lucky that evening. It happened to be a positive experience and we’ve gone forward like that. It probably would have been different if they threw things.
Q: I would think hearing those stories helps audiences relate to the songs.
A: I’ve got a bit of a time concern because I’m doing a show for ABC, “Designated Survivor.” The album won’t come out until June. It’s a big ask to have an audience come to hear songs they haven’t heard before. Explaining where the songs come from and why has helped that a bit.
Q: Did you talk about this project with any actors that moonlight as musicians?
A: I haven’t. It’s not because I’m not interested in what their experience was. It was more of a time factor. There’s this idea that all actors know each other. Outside Kevin Bacon I wouldn’t have known who to call. It was one of those things we’re playing small bars and it was just an experience that I wanted to have on my own.
Q: What can you share about “Designated Survivor?”
A: That’ll come out in the fall on ABC. There’s a part in the Constitution that demands when there is a State of the Union or special event at Congress that requires the government’s attendance, that a member of each party of each cabinet is sequestered in case of a natural disaster or attack. In the case of our show there’s a terrorist attack and the character I play becomes president overnight. It’s about his family, political instability…this show is certainly not “24.” I’m playing the president – yes I’ve gotten that old (he’s 49). I was a huge fan of “The West Wing” and there are aspects of that, and with the terrorist attack, it will have aspects of “24.”
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Tonight
WHERE: Visulite, 1615 Elizabeth Ave.
DETAILS: 704-358-9200; www.visulite.com