WHEN Kiefer Sutherland’s latest album, Reckless & Me, reached No. 9 in 2019, he felt he had finally abandoned the “actor becomes a musician” clichés and responded to critics who saw his music as a vanity project.
With a hit album and more than 100 live performances, Sutherland – better known as Jack Bauer on the TV drama 24 – felt he had earned his stripes. Well, a glass of whiskey at least.
He says, “Yeah, that was important, and I know it’s going to come back to bite me, but every once in a while it feels like you’ve won a drink.” And it was definitely one of those times.
Now the actor and musician is hoping for more success with his third album Bloor Street, which he says centers on love and positivity, and combines blues, Americana and country and was mostly written during lockdown.
He says, “I would say three-quarters of the songs were written during the pandemic.
“It was a moment of reflection on how lucky I was and how grateful I was. I wanted to share that with these songs.
Sutherland is chatting via video call from his home in Los Angeles where he has been based throughout the pandemic.
He’s charming, and in his white shirt and tortoiseshell glasses he looks sleek and neat – unlike the scruffy character from hell he’s often portrayed.
He continues: “It feels good to be home because I have been on the road for ten years.
“I usually don’t see my house for more than two weeks. It’s the longest I’ve been here and it’s given me plenty of time to think and write.
“I realized that I had taken some things for granted and started writing songs that would never have come out to me before.
“Songs like So Full Of Love are an expression of gratitude, kindness and humility.
“I woke up humming this melody and then I’m in the shower singing it. So when I went to dry off on the kitchen island, where I write a lot of songs, half of me was laughing, thinking it was the corniest thing I’ve ever written.
“I never write those kinds of songs. I want to be cool, but those gratitude songs kept coming out.
“I’ve been very lucky in my life and while I certainly don’t want to downplay the hardship so many people have faced in the pandemic, on a very personal level it was a moment of reflection on my gratitude.”
Born in London but raised in Canada, Sutherland left school at 15 to pursue an acting career and made his screen debut, alongside his famous father Donald, in the 1983 film Max Dugan Returns.
His many high-profile roles since then include Stand By Me, The Lost Boys and Young Guns on the big screen, as well as Designated Survivor and 24 on television.
But with a love for Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, and having written his first song as a teenager, Sutherland gradually felt more confident when he released his debut album Down In A Hole in 2016.
Even so, when his childhood friend and musical partner Jude Cole first suggested it, his response was “Over my corpse.”
But Sutherland says writing a third album has given her new confidence in her own life experiences and stories. Feeling nostalgic for his childhood inspired the song and album title Bloor Street, which Sutherland wrote after working in Canada.
He tells me: “It was one of the songs written before the pandemic. I was filming Designated Survivor in Toronto. That’s where I grew up, where I went to school — in a way, I don’t haven’t been to school.
“And I was walking down Bloor Street, which was the corner of firsts for me – my first dishwasher job in a food court was there, my first meaningful kiss was at the subway entrance.
“And the first time I was beaten, doing something stupid was there. I realized that all the things that I went through helped me to become a young man. Everything happened in this Street.
“My twin sister (Rachel) still lives in town too, so a wave of nostalgia hit me. Writing Bloor Street was extremely personal, and it was a great title for the record as well.
Being in Toronto was a sentimental time for Sutherland. His mother, actress and activist Shirley Douglas, died in April 2020, and Sutherland wrote the song So Full Of Love in tribute to her.
He said: “My mother died at the start of the pandemic. She was a big part of my life.
“I had written about my daughter and my mother on the last album, on the songs Saskatchewan and Song For A Daughter.
“Americana music allows you to write a story in the first person and since I’ve never written a diary, the songs will be the closest I have to a diary.
“When this all starts to come out, whether you like it or not, the writing is going to be therapeutic.
” But everything is fine. I think time has mellowed me. I’m like a good old shiny rock that started out as a jagged piece of granite.
Being personal and opening up is something Sutherland has had to get used to since he launched his music career.
He says: “After 30 years working in front of a camera or on stage as an actor, I have found that being on stage as a musician is very different from hiding behind a character or a script.
“It’s in front of 400 strangers telling them something personal about myself in a way that I’ve never done in an interview.
“But I love how the music connects with the audience. When you can see someone in the third row nodding because they’ve had a similar experience, that’s what it’s about.
“I had such a generous audience. If you can connect with the crowd like that, man, those are the best nights you’ll ever have.
“And it was really difficult at first. But if it hadn’t been for the really warm acceptance from the public, it might have been a very short-lived experience, but the thing is, I’ve been doing it for ten years now. And I like it.”
The tender piano ballad County Jail Gate is another standout on the album. This is the story of a lifelong criminal who cannot stay out of prison.
Sutherland himself spent 48 days in jail in California for drunk driving in 2007 – so how much of the song is his own story?
He said to me, “This is absolutely my story. Except that in this song, the character has been in prison for a long time.
“I was watching a movie and the beginning was a man getting out of jail. The jail door started to open, and you heard the bells ringing and saw the lights flashing.
“It made me so uncomfortable watching it and I found the phrase, ‘There’s no sound I’ve grown to hate more than a county jail door.’
“The times I got in trouble because of mistakes I made are some of the most embarrassing times of my life. I’m really embarrassed by my behavior leading up to those times.
Sutherland’s past offenses include driving under the influence, assault, and carrying a concealed and loaded weapon. He says: “I first got into trouble when I was 12 and the song is about how I stopped whining and coped with it – it was time to move on.
“I’m definitely not singing a song about how cool it is to go to jail. It’s very simple – you don’t need to fight this person, just walk away.
“What bothered me the most was that I was not behaving responsibly and being a father. I was really mad at myself about that the most. I’m just glad I made it.
“So yeah, it’s a song that says don’t do this or you’re gonna feel like an absolute jerk. That’s my story. Guilty as accused.”
Sutherland is an avowed workaholic who once said, “I discovered very early in life that if I had too much free time, I would screw myself up.”
Along with releasing his new album, he will also be on TV this year as President Franklin D Roosevelt in the upcoming drama The First Lady.
He says it was “heartbreaking” to have to postpone his UK tour, which was due to start at the end of January.
He adds: “I’ve been rehearsing for almost two years, I now have three albums and a great show, so having to postpone was difficult, but we are in a pandemic.
“I’m shooting a TV show from May to September, then I’ll be ready to go on tour. I keep the faith that it will happen and that eventually this virus will be in our rear view mirror. I can’t wait to turn it off.
KIEFER – Bloor Street
- Bloor Street
- Two steps in time
- so full of love
- county jail door
- lean on me
- chasing the rain
- Nothing to say
- Liberate myself
- all along the line
- Bloor Street releases January 21