David Duchovny made his name on TV and cinema – and now he’s taking on the music world, writes Lorraine Wylie.
After 30 years in the entertainment business, David Duchovny, aka FBI agent Fox Mulder from television’s The X-Files, says he can spot hypocrisy a mile off. No doubt this particular skill comes in handy, especially now that the actor, director, producer, and novelist has recently come under scrutiny for his latest undertaking — that of singer/songwriter.
Ahead of his performance in Dublin, I caught up with the sci-fi star who told me about his foray into music and why it’s important for him to keep things real.
“Authenticity is really the only thing for me,” he drawls, his American accent instantly recognisable. “It’s the only worthwhile thing on this planet. Sure, artifice may be pretty and fun, but I know when somebody is being authentic with me. I mean, you can give me 10 articles that says this song is the best ever and I’ll say bullshit, that’s a shitty song.”
Some A-list actors turned musicians can come across as prickly or defensive, but Duchovny is refreshingly candid. He readily acknowledges that his guitar skills could do with some fine-tuning and his vocals will occasionally hit a ‘clunker’. Having said that, reviews of his debut studio album, Come Hell or High Water in 2015, as well as the current Every Third Thought, have been mostly positive.
What prompted him to embark on this musical odyssey?
“Well, it wasn’t down to any real burning desire,” he explains. “It was kind of an organic growth, from learning to play an instrument and beginning to sing. I wanted to reach out and connect, but first I had to figure out if I had something to express that was worthwhile or pleasing. I tried to listen objectively to what I was doing, the melodies, the words, and ask myself if it was any good. Was it just noise or maybe it was something that would please people? I guess I came down on the side that it was worthwhile.
Duchovny’s CV is impressive. He has earned a string of accolades and awards across the entertainment industry, including two Golden Globes for his role as Mulder in The X-Files and the character Hank Moody in the American comedy/drama Californication. I wondered whether he finds performing in concert, where there’s no predetermined script, more stressful than acting on a set.
“Oddly no, I don’t, because in music, when I’m performing live, it’s really just me in that moment. It’s me being a human being trying to ride that moment in time. Each song, I kind of think of it as a character, like each one has a specific point or a story to tell and I’m focused on trying to tell that story. You know, on set, it’s probably harder because I’m speaking someone else’s words or performing someone else’s directed piece. I feel a certain pressure to give what they want.
“When I’m onstage singing, I’m performing as myself and I know exactly who I’m giving for. It just doesn’t feel like stress to me. There’s a lot more pressure when I’m in a movie with a script some guy has invested years in. It’s his dream movie and I know it has to make money so I’ll always be asking myself: ‘Have I done enough?’”
I ask whether his confidence during live performances is one of the advantages of getting older — that time when criticism loses its sting.
“That’s a good question,” he laughs. “Yes, I think as you get older, you do begin to care less about other people’s judgements. Of course, not everybody gets to that stage. But with me, it’s that word ‘authentic’ again. I know I’m being authentic and so if somebody criticises, then there’s no hurt in that. You didn’t like what I did? Fair enough, that’s cool, I have no problem with that. It’s only if you’re being fake that these things matter. Then you probably think: ‘I wish I’d been a bit more sincere’. As you get older, you either get calcified in bullshit or you get really good at being authentic! For me, this adventure is exciting. In any art form, I take what I do to heart. I learned early on to approach each individual art, despite having lots of experience, as a newcomer. In this instance, I already am a newcomer, so I don’t have to try too hard.”
How does music make him feel?
“Well, when I’m playing, I feel like a 19-year-old! I know I’m not, because I’m not delusional. But I am starting out on something new and I see that as a great gift to be able to do this now.”
His voice has been described as ‘melancholy’ but missing the ‘growl’ that could make it great. Having listened to him sing, I find his gravelled tones pleasant and easy on the ears. There is some justification for the ‘dad dancing’ label, but judging by the whistles and screams of female fans, the 58-year-old has all the right moves.
You can’t fault his enthusiasm, but where does he get the energy?
“When there’s a crowd of anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 people, there’s a vibe that keeps you going. Don’t forget — they’re out to have a good time, not to hear you’re tired. Ultimately it’s a rock and roll show we’re doing, and I’m kind of like the MC out there, it’s my job to keep the party moving. I guess though, I have two modes and sometimes I’m torn between the ‘come on, let’s jump around and have a great night’ or if it’s a particular song that I feel imparts something, I’ll want to say: ‘Hey, listen to this song, I really think it’ll mean something to you’. It just depends on the night.”
One of his songs, Stranger in the Sacred Heart, inspired by thoughts of his father, means a lot to David.
Was he close to his dad?
“Yeah, well, I’m a human child, we do tend to be close to our dads,” he laughs. “Seriously though, I didn’t spend a lot of time with my dad after the age of 11, but while I don’t know if I was ever that close to him, I loved him. I feel he’s with me now, in my heart and will be forever.”
A few of his earlier tracks are reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s style, but one of David’s favourite singers is Van Morrison.
“Let me just say that Van Morrison has one of the best voices ever. I mean have you listened to Astral Weeks? That is one beautiful, stripped-down album, the man’s voice is astonishing. I’m a huge fan. I met him once when I flew over to appear on The David Letterman Show in London. He was singing with Sinead O’Connor, Have I Told You Lately That I Love You. Wow — amazing.”
What would he be doing now if he hadn’t headed down the entertainment route?
“I probably would have gone into teaching,” he says.
“I don’t know that I’d be cut out to do anything else. My mum was a teacher, my sister is a teacher and at one point, I taught when I was in graduate school, so I’d probably have ended up teaching college students. Looking back, I really enjoyed my time as a teaching assistant.”
It’s been four or five years since he started his singer/songwriting career, how does he feel it’s shaping up?
“You know, it’s magical,” he says. “This is not something I ever expected. It’s gonna sound weird, but the songs are actually good! At this stage in the journey, it’s beginning to feel part of what I do. Some of the novelty has worn off, but it still continues to amaze me.” With his Dublin gig looming I ask if he’s ever been to Ireland?
“No, I haven’t. My mother is from Aberdeen in Scotland so I’ve been there numerous times. But I’ve heard a lot of good things about Ireland and I’m really looking forward to performing there. I think it’ll be great fun!”
David Duchovny and his band will be performing Dublin’s Academy Feb 20. For more info, see: www.davidduchovnymusic.com