Actor David Duchovny is best known as portraying the stoic FBI agent Fox Mulder in the once-in-a-generation sci-fi show The X-Files. He’s also taken to the other end of the spectrum playing novelist Hank Moody on the Showtime comedy Californication. His most personal role is his recent step away from the spotlight and camera in exchange for a microphone, with the release of his second album entitled Every Third Thought. The record is a collection of songs that run the gamut from hard-nosed Americana to Bowie-style glam all with the thread of Duchovny’s distinct, gravelly voice smashing through the middle of it. This is not the comfort of the theremin-tinged X-Files theme song, this might be something much weirder. However, the songs are well-done with Duchovny’s Leonard Cohen-esque delivery , which is certainly a complement. mxdwn recently spoke with Duchovny to discuss his music career, the similarities between being a musician and an actor and his thoughts on the future of The X-Files.
mxdwn: There is a distinct jump in sound from Hell or High Water to Every Third Thought. How did you approach this record differently than you approached the previous record?
David Duchony: I think what happened was, I just opened myself up to collaborate more with my bandmates. All my songs are written the same way, which is just me throwing chords together on an acoustic guitar and coming up with melody and some lyrics. But having been through the process on the first album, I realized that production is so important to an album. I kind of opened myself up to the idea that I could produce different types of sounds using the same fundamental base of my songwriting. I could come in and say: this is a song and it’s a folky kind of song as I’ve written it, but I hear a Bowie vibe on it, or I’m hearing more of an acoustic Americana from the ’70s vibe. Or even, “Last First Time,” which has a ’70s REO Speedwagon vibe. I felt freer to do that as I was so insecure the first time around, which was pretty much me saying to the band, do whatever the fuck you want with my songs.
mxdwn: The record moves from country-tinged Americana Eagles-y vibe, to full on glam rock in the same vein as T-Rex.
DD: Something like “Mo” which is a song I wrote strumming… I couldn’t find a pick and I was strumming it with my thumb rather than my forefingers and I kept on hitting the bass E string, and created a bass line by mistake over the song because of the rhythm of the way I was strumming it. Then I went to Mitch Stewart and pretty much told him “here’s the bass line,” which I had never done before. And then I said “I want this to be like a Fleetwood Mac song,” the bass and the drum, tom-tom sound should be up front with that tight Fleetwood Mac percussion sound. I just have more confidence that my taste could be executed this time around.
mxdwn: Hell or High Water was a great record, but Every Third Thought sounds more complete than its predecessor, especially your voice.
DD: I’m really just more confident as a singer. It was all so new to me the first time around, and I haven’t been a singer my entire life, not to say that I haven’t recorded, I just haven’t sung. Having been through the experience of recording the first album, and then playing it live, you really just have to sing I was just way more confident and willing to take chances vocally.
mxdwn: How did you come to want to play music now and did you have a defining moment where you knew that you could play music and really be good at it?
DD: It just all happened one step at a time. Really only because other people around me nurtured it. First of all, it was just to amuse myself to learn to play guitar. As an actor you have a lot of downtime in the trailer or as a parent you have a lot of down time. I had a love of music, and I wanted to play songs that I loved and it naturally, or unnaturally, being the person that I am, I thought why can’t I write a song? It doesn’t look that hard. I see these same chord progressions over and over again. Nobody reinvents the wheel every time out.
So I started writing songs. An old friend of mine, Keaton Simons, an amazing guitarist and recording artist, said to send him my songs. Through him I met Brad Davidson, and he was the one that said to make an album, and every step of the way I kept asking them are you sure? Are you sure you want to do this? I was ballsy enough to bring it out of my room and then fortunate enough that once I stepped out of my room they kept pushing me and said, “Hey, you’re gonna be singing, you should take some lessons,” and I was like “I’m not so sure I’m gonna get any better.” And then thinking to myself “Looks like I can get better.”
mxdwn: I love it how when I ask musicians how they approach a song many of them say…”well it was just a mistake”, or “it just kind of happened.”
DD: What Keaton said to me when I first started bringing him my songs was, “I really like working with you, cause you remind me of how I used to write when I was a kid.” Cause I didn’t know the rules, so I was breaking them. Sometimes it just sounded like shit and sometimes it sounded cool.
mxdwn: Besides the obvious differences in music and acting as art forms, how do you approach the framing of writing a song differently than how you would approach the framing of an acting role?
DD: The differences are obvious, but that’s a good question because what’s not obvious are the similarities in the way it’s come to me. If you ask me about songs I would say the singer in that song is talking like this. I don’t think of it as me, I think of it as the singer of that song. Usually that song would have been written on some random day and that day my mind was occupied with this thing which is the song. Each song, to me, is kind of like a character that came through me, but is not me. It’s just part and parcel of that tune, not in the way of a concept album, there is no overriding concept of the album. Each song is its own guy. The guy that sings “Last First Time” is definitely different from the guy that sings ”Half-Life.” To me it’s a little like acting, more like acting than you would think. The truth is, most great rock n roll bands peak at 22-23 years old. Most of those guys pick up their instruments 4-5 years prior to that. So, it’s not that outrageous that I’m doing this now, I’m just not 22 years old. But I’ve been playing the guitar, not well mind you, but at least as long as Hendrix was playing the guitar when he was blowing everybody’s mind. I just happen to suck. But I’ve put in some time, I just picked it up late.
mxdwn: Do you foresee any future opportunities to involve your music in your acting career?
DD: I’m not really the kind of guy who can write a score. I don’t read music and I wouldn’t really know how to compose a score. I certainly involve myself in the choice of soundtrack music when I’m asked. I brought Warren Zevon to Californication and he became a go-to guy. Certainly Elton John was somebody that I like putting on that soundtrack. Chris Carter was nice enough to have a cover done of one of my songs and put on the X-Files show in the 3rd episode. But I tend to want to keep them distinct a little bit. The great thing about making movies and being on television is the collaboration. You get to use the talents of people that are way better than you. When you direct, you’re just hiring people that are better than you. That’s what a great director does, they hire guys that are better at that thing. That’s how I look at it. I want to hire actors that are better than me. I want to hire musicians who are better than me. I want to hire DPs that are better than me and then I get to take credit for all of it.
mxdwn: What are the musicians that have influenced you the most in your career?
DD: I still go back to the stuff I listened to in high school. I think we’re all the same. I can be a fan of contemporary music but it’s never going to go as deeply as when music was so important to me, which is when I was young. I’ll still go back and I’ll listen to Sly & the Family Stone, Steely Dan, Al Green, James Brown, The Beatles, Stones and The Who. That’s where I’ll go when I need to. The window kind of closed on the songs that are going to be the soundtrack of my life. And not because the music back then was any better, but there was a mind-meld back then that remains.
mxdwn: What do you hold for the future of the X-Files in this season and beyond especially now that Gillian Anderson has said she is leaving the show?
DD: I have never really thought of the future in that way. When I originally left the television show, I thought that we were just going to continue on and do movies, I never wanted the show to end. The movie arena for the show dried up, and I just thought it was the end, but then cable came along and the shortened season kind of came over to network television. It was something I knew that we could do in a shortened version of the show. I’ve been surprised all along the way. I have no idea what form it takes. Do we get to do a movie? And then who wants to do the movie? I’d rather look at these 10 episodes as really good television and not think that it’s the end because we certainly didn’t shoot it like it was the end.
mxdwn: What’s next for David Duchovny?
DD: Music I can do while I do the other stuff. I’m lucky enough now that I have collaborators. If I’m lucky enough to write some songs, then we’ll turn them into proper songs. There is a couple of television projects that I am developing that I’m looking at. There’s a movie version of Bucky Fucking Dent that I want to direct. So there’s stuff, but it’s just a matter of what is going to come first. We do have a tour coming in Australia, but not North America yet because I have to come back and focus on my next project, but I’m sure we will figure out little mini-tours here and there.