Kiefer Sutherland Brings Down The (Stephen Talk)house

Emmy winner to Americana singer performs live in the Hamptons

Jack Bauer fans will rejoice this summer when they get in on the action, only this time Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the notable protagonist on the Emmy-winning series 24 is stepping behind the microphone instead of a gun.

Kiefer Sutherland has long been a music fan, curator and musician himself, releasing 11-track debut album Down In A Hole this summer. He plays The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on May 28, shedding light on his passion for songwriting and singing – and what Kiefer so cleverly stated would be “certainly the most constructive two hours [he’ll] spend in a bar.”

Debuting music for the first time after thirty years as a professional actor may sound like somewhat of a cliché for the Hollywood elite, however Kiefer wanted to touch his fans with his music by going out on a cross-country tour in intimate clubs to have them experience this next endeavor. Sutherland chooses to write his “Americana with a hint of country” from his heart by telling a linear story rather than through metaphor.

The British-born Canadian actor joked that he’s not just going on ski vacations and golfing outings – Sutherland will jump back on the small screen in political thriller Designated Survivor coming soon to ABC. But for now, Kiefer is taking one show at a time under a different kind of spotlight which he hopes people connect with. Sutherland spoke with Hamptons Monthly about the magic of live music, some of his favorite musicians and what playing in New York means to him…

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 4.16.29 PMYour album “Down In A Hole” and first single “Not Enough Whiskey” really stay true to the Americana genre. It has a story. It’s got pain and heartbreak. Is it mostly about family, friends, childhood or do you at all touch upon life in the spotlight and what that’s like? 

The only song that I actually even vaguely touch on that is in a song called “Calling Out Your Name.” I always think that there’s something that happens to everybody that takes them from a boy to a man or a girl to a woman. Usually it’s a heartbreak or a check on reality that one doesn’t think exists when you’re that young. For me, the only time I reference that is in a line where I say “They took it all away.” The “they,” for me, in the context of that song was whether it was press, paparazzi, the pressures of being a successful actor, and being that young. That’s really the only time I address that at all, lyrically.

The other songs, they’re not specifically about me. It’s me looking, or watching a certain situation over the course of my life that had an impact on me. I still consider myself one of the luckiest people I’ve ever met. I’ve been able to do what I’ve loved to do all my life. And yet, like anybody else, life is not free. There are costs to pay, and moments that are very hurtful or painful. So I have expressed all of the highs and the lows throughout the context of this record, I hope.

Your music involvement dates back to the early 2000s with the creation of Ironworks. What does it feel like as you embark on a rather large tour? How does it compare to some of the other milestones in your career?

We’ve played anywhere between twenty and thirty dates around California over the last year. I think we’ve learned a great deal. If you’d asked me this question a year ago, I would have told you I was scared to death. But now, I think I’m just more appropriately nervous. When I say that, it means that I’m excited about every single night, that there’s an opportunity to kind of really react to what kind of a show you think that audience wants, and to take advantage of all the things that you’ve learned. So, I think if it doesn’t make you nervous a little bit, don’t waste your time. But I’m also feeling quite confident.

What’s been different for you about performing in a live setting?

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Music brings an energy to a show that I can’t really compare to any other experience I’ve had as an actor. The one correlation that I can make is whether it’s film, television, theater or playing in a live music show – the thing that I can use as a true line is my desire to tell a story.

Once you hit a power chord on a guitar and the drums come in, not only does the band stand differently, but so does the audience. It’s so visceral, peoples’ reactions to music, both negatively and positively. That is a real, fresh, new experience. That’s not something I’ve ever had before.

I did a play on Broadway for six months. At the end of that show, you come off stage, and get to your dressing room, and you sit back and you go “huh,” and think about the process of what you did right or didn’t do right in your own mind. When I finish a music show, I couldn’t sit down for an hour. I just feel the connection between an audience, and the band, and myself is very kinetic. I think that’s music, it’s just that dynamic. Having said all of that, it’s incredibly fresh for me.

You’re playing at The Stephen Talkhouse, the last of your 26 dates. Do you think this will be an emotional moment for you having ended the tour here and was it intentional that you chose the Hamptons at the end?

I believe every show’s going to be exciting, and an emotional experience for me. More than the venue, the songs are very emotional for me, and I really want to share them. I’m nervous to share them, and I’m excited to share them.

I’ve lived in New York just up until recently, for eight years. It’ll be really interesting to me to go through 26 shows and end up in New York, and be able to go into a place that I think is one of the great artistic capitals of the world, and be able to come in with that kind of experience that we didn’t have before, I’m really excited about that.

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You’re part of a growing trend of both Hollywood stars and musicians making music that crosses the lines of country, Americana and folk. I’m talking Don Henley, Steven Tyler, Cyndi Lauper, apparently Justin Timberlake has something coming up. Have Americana, folk and country genres always been music that you’ve been drawn to?

Yes. Not only have they been sounds that I’ve been drawn to, but ever since I was a kid, whether it was Jim Croce, or James Taylor, or Jackson Browne, or a country artist like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, even Dwight Yoakam and Kris Kristofferson, Gordon Lightfoot – even though musically they might not have completely fit the country genre, they did lyrically.

What country music has always done so incredibly well is that they’ve been able to tell a linear story. Johnny Cash was just a master at it. Bob Seger’s another one. They told a story that I could grab onto from verse to verse to verse, and it always related back to the chorus, and then the bridge all of the sudden took you in another direction musically, but it constantly reinforced the narrative. When I wanted to write to be able to express myself, it was the genre that found me, because it worked with the narrative lyrics that I was trying to express. So that would make sense to me why other people would be drawn to that.

Minneapolis native/Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Austin Plaine joins Kiefer Sutherland’s tour as support.

Photo Credit: Beth Elliott