As I sit at home in Manchester, the rain tapping on the window outside, I dial in world renowned actor and musician, Kiefer Sutherland who has found a gap in his very busy schedule to talk to me about his third studio album, ‘Bloor Street’. “That’s one of our favourite places to play in the world, I couldn’t explain to you the reason,” Sutherland says as we begin making small talk about our locations and the weather, “The shows that we’ve had in Manchester, the audience has just been absolutely extraordinary. At first you think, it was a good night, but then when five or six shows in a row, are like that you think, no, it’s Manchester!”
Heart on your sleeve
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Sutherland perform on a number of occasions, primarily at festivals such as Black Deer and SummerTyne Americana and each time he never fails to impress. He walks out, oozing confidence, a glass of whiskey raised above his head. “It’s very funny, before we started touring, I was like, that’s gonna be my ace in the hole, having that acting and performing experience,” he begins, “I was completely wrong. I’ve been on Broadway, I’ve worked at the Royal Alex and so many things are similar; you’re standing on stage, there’s an audience there, you’re going to communicate this idea. The one thing that I hadn’t counted on, which is dynamically different, is I wrote these songs and they’re personal and they’re from my own life. The idea that I would play a song and then talk to you about why I wrote the song, I wouldn’t tell that to an interviewer, let alone a stranger in an audience. So it took me a minute to realise that if I was going to do a show properly, I was going to have to be really honest about this. I couldn’t hide behind a character.”
For Sutherland, though it was hard to get into that mindset, he fell in love with touring and the connection live music generates between us as human beings. “The truth is, I ended up falling in love with touring, and I ended up falling in love with playing with a good band, I’ve had the same band for all these years and and I’ve enjoyed that immensely. When you’re doing a live show, you can figure out how to find all of the things that you might have in common and you realise that we’re a lot closer than you think. Bruce Springsteen, he sold out Broadway for two or three years till the pandemic came. He was playing shows exactly like that, where it’s like, Oh, my God, I didn’t know Bruce Springsteen had to go through something like that. You feel a connection to someone because you realise that you’re not alone in something, you feel like you belong and that’s a really nice feeling.”
A word of encouragement
Now releasing his third album ‘Bloor Street’ and embarking on another UK tour, Sutherland is becoming somewhat of a staple in the UK country and americana scene. He is even making a guest appearance at the Americana Music Awards later this month. However, for a while, though he enjoyed writing and performing, he resisted becoming an actor-musician. “I had no intention of ever doing music, I’m an actor and I will be an actor until the day I die. It’s what I do for a living.” Sutherland insists. He grew up surrounded by film sets as his father Donald Sutherland and mother Shirley Douglas were both prolific actors too. Sutherland made a name for himself in the 80’s and 90’s with starring roles in films such as ‘Stand by Me’. He has had a long and successful career on stage and screen and showed a reluctance to music ever being more than just a hobby. “If you can see me right now, I’m kind of squirming,” he laughs, “I’m certainly aware of the stigma of being an actor doing music, so I never wanted to do anything remotely like that.”
It was a friend of Sutherland’s who encouraged him to take his music a step further. “Jude Cole is an incredible musician, great singer, songwriter. I was playing in a band and I had a couple of original songs and we would just play for fun. We’d play in bars outside of Los Angeles, I think that was our only rule that we had; if we were going to play a show it had to be 15 miles outside of LA so that no one that we knew would go! He came and saw a show and he really liked it so he suggested that I make a record and I was like, No, that’s ridiculous. And he said, “You’ve got some songs, let me record them and then you make your decision.” So we did and I loved the way he made the songs. So we ended up doing that first and second record together. I finally came to a moment where I liked the songs and I liked the way they sound. I was really prepared to defend it. That’s how it started. I will always be grateful to Jude, who was the one who really pushed me forward to making that first record.”
Just like the other two albums before, ‘Bloor Street’ allows Sutherland to wear his heart on his sleeve as he shares the stories behind the songs. “It usually starts with a lyric idea, or my memory will spark something, it’s always personal. ‘County Jail Gate’ is a perfect example, I was sitting watching a movie and it opened with these huge prison gates opening up, the creaky sound that they made. The guy sitting next to me didn’t have that same prison experience that I had but that opening scene sparked a memory inside of me that inspired the song.” Similarly, ‘Going Down’ is a very personal track for Sutherland on the record that revisits some painful moments within his life. “It was about a breakup that was really significant in my life,” he says, “That moment when you realise that it’s just going to be bad, there’s no way you’re going to fix it, and you both might feel bad about it but you know it’s just gonna knock you down. I think everybody has that kind of moment when they’re young, the first time they really get hurt and it’s not something you ever really forget. That’s the one that takes you from a child to an adult. That’s the one that you don’t get over for a few years, if ever.”
For this album, Sutherland created a lot of it alone, partly due to the pandemic and Jude Cole being busy with other projects. The pandemic gave him time to reflect upon his life – the good and the bad – and channel all of that into these songs. As we talk, I ask him to recall his proudest moment, “If there’s a proudest moment, I certainly haven’t had it yet,” he laughs. “I will often tell people at a show that I consider myself to be the luckiest person I know. I was so fortunate with the success of ’24’, to be able to be in films, like ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Lost Boys’ and ‘A Few Good Men’ in my younger years. A really great moment for me was getting to work with my father on a film called ‘Forsaken’. You know, on our last tour, we played a show in Manchester, where the audience was amazing, those moments are really special, where they’ll make you blush. I’ve had so many moments where, I wouldn’t call them moments of pride, but moments where I’m just really grateful and happy to be alive and feel so lucky that I got to have that experience.”
Sutherland crafts an authentic sound to accompany his authentic stories, just like on his previous two records. Though an actor by trade he has lived the country lifestyle something that his last album ‘Reckless and Me’ highlighted as he told tales of his rodeo days. “I rode as a team roper in the United States team roping championships,” he reflects fondly, he learnt a lot about life and the world during those years as he travelled the country. “I roped with a guy named John English for the most part. We went to the US national finals, in 94 and 96, and won a bunch of rodeos. It was an amazing time of my life, I was travelling around with really great friends of mine. We would just go from rodeo to rodeo, very much like bands go from town to town. We were also pretty good at what we did. I never went to university so those kinds of friendships that you make at university that lasts a lifetime, all the social stuff that you get to do, I didn’t do that. I started working when I was really young and I’m grateful for it, make no mistake about it, but my college years, I often think of, were my rodeo years where I just got to hang out with a bunch of different guys. We had our own life experiences, and we will be friends till the day we die.”
As he releases ‘Bloor Street’ and embarks on a lengthy European tour, Sutherland still finds time to work on film and TV sets too as he shares with us the different projects he’s excited about right now. “I just finished a 10 part series called ‘The First Lady’. It chronicles the lives of three first ladies in America. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Betty Ford, Viola Davis plays Michelle Obama, and Gillian Anderson plays Eleanor Roosevelt. I play Franklin Roosevelt. He was one of my favourite public figures in American history and was a real challenge to play, so I’m very excited about that.” He also hints at another couple of films in the pipeline that he’s not able to share with us just yet.
From an actor to a champion roper and now a country star, is there anything Kiefer Sutherland can’t do? The new record is a must have in any country/americana fans collection and his UK tour is one that shouldn’t be missed. I’ll hope to be a part of that special Manchester crowd when he stops by later this year!
Read the full interview in the January issue of Maverick Magazine available HERE!