WHEN Kiefer Sutherland’s latest album Reckless & Me hit No. 9 in 2019, he felt he had finally rid himself of the “actor becomes musician” cliché and responded to critics who thought his music was a vain project.
With a hit album and over 100 live performances, Sutherland – best known as Jack Bauer on the TV drama 24 – felt he deserved his accolades. Well, at least a glass of whiskey.
He says, “Yes, it was important and I know it will come back to bite me, but every once in a while you feel like you really deserve a drink. And it was definitely one of those moments.”
Now the actor and musician is hoping for more success with his third album, Bloor Street, which he says is centered on love and positivity, blends blues, American and country and was mostly written during lockdown.
He says: “I would say that three-quarters of the songs were written during the pandemic.
“It was a moment to reflect on how lucky I am and how grateful I am. I wanted to share that with these songs.”
Sutherland communicates via video link from his Los Angeles home, where he has been staying throughout the pandemic.
He’s charming, and in his white shirt and tortoiseshell glasses, he looks smart and well-groomed – unlike the scruffy rebel he’s often portrayed as.
He continues: “It’s good to be home, since I’ve been on the road for ten years now.
“Usually I don’t see my house for more than two weeks. I’ve been here the longest and it’s given me a lot of time to think and write.
“I came to terms with the fact that I took some things for granted and started writing songs that just never would have come out of me before.
“Songs like So Full Of Love are an expression of gratitude, kindness and humility.
“I woke up singing this tune, then I’m in the shower singing it. So when I went to the kitchen island to dry off, where I write a lot of songs, half of me laughed, thinking it was the most banal thing I’ve ever written.
“I never write such songs. I want to be cool, but these gratitude songs keep coming out.
“I have been very fortunate in life and while I certainly don’t want to downplay the hardships many people have faced during the pandemic, on a very personal level it was a moment to reflect on how grateful I am. “
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 The Return of Max Dugan.
Since then, his many high-profile roles have included Stand By Me, Lost Boys and Young Guns on the big screen, as well as Designated Survivor and 24 on TV.
But thanks to his love for Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, as well as writing his first song as a teenager, Sutherland gradually felt more confident when he released his debut album Down In A Hole in 2016.
However, when childhood friend and music partner Jude Cole first suggested it, his response was “Over my dead body.”
But Sutherland says writing a third album has given him new confidence in his own experiences and life stories. Feelings of nostalgia for his childhood inspired Sutherland’s 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. I grew up there, I went to school there – well, no matter how I went to school.
“And I was walking down Bloor Street, which was my first corner — there was my first job as a dishwasher in the food court, my first meaningful kiss was at the entrance to the subway.
“And the first time I was beaten, I did something stupid. I realized that everything I went through helped me become a young man. Everything happened on this street.
“My twin sister (Rachel) also still lives in the city, so a wave of nostalgia swept over me. Writing Bloor Street was very personal and it was also a good title for an album.”
The time in Toronto was a sentimental time for Sutherland. His mom, actress and activist Shirley Douglas, died in April 2020 and Sutherland wrote the song So Full Of Love as a tribute to her.
He said: “My mother passed away at the beginning of the pandemic. She was a huge part of my life.
“I wrote about my daughter and mother on the last album, in the songs Saskatchewan and Song For A Daughter.
“American music allows you to write history in the first person, and since I have never written magazines, the songs will be the closest thing to a diary.
“When all this stuff starts coming out, whether you like it or not, the script becomes therapeutic.
“But it’s all good. I think time has softened me. I’m like a good old shiny rock that started out as a jagged piece of granite.”
Being personal and open is something Sutherland has had to get used to since he started his musical career.
He says, “After 30+ years of being in front of the 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 when I stand in front of 400 strangers and tell them something personal about myself in a way that I’ve never done in an interview.
“But I love how the music interacts with the audience. When you see someone in the third row nod their head because they’ve had a similar experience, that’s what it’s all about.
“I had such a generous audience. If you can connect with the crowd like that, man, these are going to be the best nights you’ll ever have.
“And at first it was very difficult. But if it wasn’t for the very warm reception of the public, it might have been a very short experience, but the fact is that I’ve been doing this for ten years now. And I love it.”
The gentle piano ballad County Jail Gate is another standout on the album. This is a story about a lifelong criminal who can’t help but go to jail.
Sutherland himself spent 48 days in jail in California for drunk driving in 2007 – so what’s in this song – his own story?
He tells me, “This is absolutely my story. But in this song, the character has been in prison for a long time.
“I watched the movie and the beginning was about how a man gets out of prison. The prison gates began to open and you could hear the buzzer and see the flashing lights.
“I was so uncomfortable watching it and I came up with the line, ‘There’s not a single sound I’ve learned to hate more than the county jail gate.’
“The times I got into trouble because of the mistakes I made were some of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I’m really concerned about my behavior that led to those times.”
Sutherland’s past misdemeanors include drunk driving, assault, and carrying a concealed and loaded weapon. He says: “The first time I got into trouble was when I was 12 and the song is about how I stopped whining and got over it – it was time to move on.
“I certainly don’t sing a song about how cool it is to go to jail. It’s very simple – you don’t have to fight this person, just walk away.
“Most of all I was worried that I behaved irresponsibly, and I am a father. I really got mad at myself about it the most. I’m just glad I got through it.
“So yeah, it’s a song that says, ‘Don’t do this or you’ll feel like a total idiot. This is my story. Guilty as charged.”
Sutherland is a self-proclaimed workaholic who once said, “I realized early on that if I had too much free time, I’d be screwed.”
In addition to releasing his new album, he will also appear on television this year as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the upcoming drama First Lady.
He says it was “heartbreaking” for him 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 already have three albums and a great show, so it’s been hard to postpone, but we’re in a pandemic.
“I’m filming a TV show from May to September, then I’ll be ready for the tour. I remain confident that this will happen and that eventually this virus will end up in our rearview mirror. I can’t wait to flip it.”
KIEFER – Bloor Street
- Bloor Street
- To go down
- Two steps in time
- so full of love
- County Jail Gate
- lean towards me
- Chasing the rain
- Nothing left to say
- set me free
- Along the line
- Bloor Street releases January 21st.