Kiefer Sutherland has played a lot of roles in his lifetime -- Jack Bauer, the hardened special agent in 24, a low-level cabinet member turned president of the United States in the political thriller Designated Survivor, the leader of a gang of vampires in the cult-classic The Lost Boys and more. But on his new country album Reckless & Me, out today (April 26), Sutherland is mainly interested in telling one story: his own.
"The thing that I'm interested right now as a writer is being able to tell something personal from my own life given that I've had a long enough life to have something to say about it -- something on a personal level that might be relatable to what you're going through in your life," Sutherland tells Wide Open Country. "I consider myself one of the luckiest people on the planet. Having said that, I don't care how rich you are; I don't care how lucky you are or what anybody else might think about your life, you're never gonna get through it without losing someone you love...you're never gonna get through it without having your heart broken, you're never gonna get through it without disappointments of one kind of another. These are all common threads and you're never going to get through it without making mistakes."
Country music's stories of heartbreak, struggle and redemption have long appealed to Sutherland. The 52-year-old actor joined the rodeo circuit as a team roper in the early '90s (he also raised horses on a Montana ranch and operated a cattle ranch in California) and country music became the soundtrack of his life.
"When I started rodeoing and ranching through the '90s, I was exposed to serious country music, which was at that time, for me, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson," Sutherland says. "That whole group that almost walked away from Nashville in their own way and broke out on their own. It was the honesty of their music that really spoke to me," Sutherland says. "It made me feel like I was talking to a friend who was making me feel a little bit better about some of the choices I wish I hadn't made."
Reckless & Me, the follow-up to Sutherland's 2016 album Down in a Hole, is filled with road warrior anthems ("Reckless & Me," "Open Road"), tales of hardships and new beginnings ("Something You Love") and rollicking story songs ("Agave"). Sutherland even puts his own delightful spin on the Patty Loveless classic "Blame it on Your Heart."
The tender "Song For A Daughter" feels like the most personal song on the record, which was produced by Jude Cole at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles.
Sutherland has no patience for those who don't respect country music or dismiss the genre entirely.
"I thought about all the people who had kind of maybe made fun of that and I thought 'How dare you? You don't know what you're talking about.' When I was ranching, that truck was everything. And I didn't have a puppy dog -- I had a working dog. And I spent hours on horseback with that dog moving cattle, so the people that don't understand why certain themes are so prevalent in country music don't understand what it's like to farm, don't understand what it's like to raise cattle, don't understand what it's like to wake up at five in the morning and go to work --hard work--- till seven at night," Sutherland says. The next time you go to the supermarket and you can feed an entire family of five for $30, think about those people because that's what those songs are about."
"Country music is about people who've had to work too hard to make their world work and to make other people's world work as well and it talks about those hardships," he continues. "I get into the mindset when I listen to country music and I find it profoundly moving."
Sutherland says the most incredible experience of his career as a singer-songwriter was playing the Grand Ole Opry.
"I had the fortune of playing that three times now. I'd like to say the very first time I was so nervous but, to be honest, all three times I was incredibly nervous," Sutherland says, laughing. "It was the one place that I've ever felt this: there's six or seven acts on the bill that night and every one of them I felt was rooting for you. Not once did I ever feel for a second 'Oh, I hope he flops.' When I used to back into a rodeo box with my horse to go team roping, I'd get heckled by all the other cowboys. They'd call me 'Hollywood,' they'd call me a bunch of things. The film world and television world, it's incredibly competitive and so is the music world. But when I was at the Grand Ole Opry, I felt from the very first time that if my guitar strap broke, someone would've handed me a guitar strap in two seconds. If my strings broke, someone would've handed me their guitar. I never felt such a sense of community amongst any group of people in my life."
After performing one of country's most beloved institutions, Sutherland has had the opportunity to meet several of his country heroes, including the late Merle Haggard. But when asked who he'd most like to collaborate with, the actor and singer has a tough time narrowing it down.
"The list is so long I would bore you with it," Sutherland says. "I think Colter Wall is an incredible artist. He's doing some really old school stuff, I really appreciate his sensibilities and I think ....Chris Stapleton has a voice from God and he's just an incredible songwriter. "Whiskey and You" is one of my favorite songs and Traveller was just an incredible record. Brad Paisley -- I would do anything to have him play guitar on one of my records."
Sutherland says he's well aware of the stigma attached to actors becoming musicians. But doesn't really mind the doubters. He just hopes people will listen.
"I was shocked after the first record came out. People were incredibly generous about it. Probably my favorite review that I got was the first review that said in the first three lines 'You have no idea how much I wanted to hate this.' It makes me laugh to this day," he says says. "I thank him for being so honest. People have been really generous. They've given it a chance...I'm incredibly grateful."
Sutherland will hit the road this summer in support of the new album, including stops at Austin City Limits Live, Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth and the Grand Ole Opry. For a full list of tour dates, visit his official website.
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