Kiefer Sutherland on how audiences' attitudes to his music surprised him
Kiefer Sutherland is instantly recognisable as Jack Bauer, the unrelentingly tough anti-terrorism agent of Sky's hit series 24. But there's another side to the Canadian, who in 2016 released an album of authentic blues and country. He tells us why he was willing to stake his reputation on a chance to sing and what drives him to defy his critics
IT TAKES guts to turn your back on a Hollywood career and risk it all for the life of a hard-touring, fast-living country musician.
But that's what Kiefer Sutherland did when, three years ago, he took a break from filming to finish a record – Down In A Hole – and take it across the world.
"What I get from touring that I don't get from making films or doing plays is that jolt the second the show is finished," he says. "For a brief moment you feel invincible. It's that kind of charge."
A 30-year career has seen Sutherland star in blockbuster films and series such as Flatliners, Stand By Me, 24 and, most recently the hit political thriller series Designated Survivor, in which he plays the US president.
This is no perhaps unsurprising given his pedigree – son of veteran thespians Donald Sutherland and Shirley Douglas. But something was missing.
He adds: "There's a kind of camaraderie in a band that you don't get with a cast of a show that is going home every night. We're like submariners. We go through something together that no-one else will ever fully understand."
In person, Sutherland presents more as dandy-ish troubadour than grizzled hardman. Sitting back in a deep sofa inside a Soho club where we meet, a silk scarf and green jacket lend the 52-year-old a civilised if foppish glamour.
"I remember when we were making the first record – before I'd really toured. I was thinking being an actor would somehow help me," he laughs. "But I had deeply miscalculated that one factor – that there was no character.
"All of a sudden you're telling very personal, intimate stories about your own life to a bunch of strangers. That's something counter-intuitive. That's something I have protected for 35 years. That was tricky at first. That took me a minute to get used to."
To mark the release of his second album, Reckless & Me, Sutherland is embarking on a tour of Europe and the UK.
The whiskey-soaked collection of autobiographical tales – a mishmash of country, blues and rock – focuses on his failed relationships and love of drink.
"I remember telling those stories on stage and I remember this sense that my shoulders dropped," he recalls. "I felt that I relaxed for the first time in maybe a very long time. It became very cathartic for me, singing these songs on stage."
This time Sutherland plays acoustically in more relaxed settings – churches, working men's clubs and ramshackle theatres.
"It's been really special," he says. "The full band stuff is much more of a rock show than a country show. We used to go pretty loud – balls out – and so there is something very nice about being able to walk on stage with an acoustic guitar and just start to play."
But Sutherland is loath to paint a cosy picture of his band's tour schedule.
"It's tough," he says as a grin creeps across his face. "When we're doing 50 or 60 shows in a run, and then take a couple of weeks off and do another 50 or 60 shows, those are hard schedules.
"That's a grind but in the end there's no chance this record's getting in the top 40 on radio so what's your alternative to getting it out there?"
Despite reasonable chart success (his debut entered the US country music top 40) Sutherland is still dogged by the shadow cast by his acting career.
"I get it. I really do," he sighs. "I had no intention of making a record. The stigma of an actor doing music is horrendous.
"It was a series of things that led to that happening. But I have been surprised at the goodwill that we've been received with. It's moved me, and it's really mattered."
This concern stems from his obsession with getting things right. Sutherland is a perfectionist.
This was no more clear than on 24 where each season, comprising 24 episodes, covered 24 hours in agent Jack Bauer's life in real time. Only the most rigorous actor could have been the lynchpin of such an operation.
Famously, Sutherland refuses to watch himself back on film and so reluctant is he to catch his reflection that he removed all the mirrors from his house.
But music is different. To Sutherland it's a world of black and white where a melody or bass line is either right or wrong.
"I avoid watching myself at all costs," he says. "I've been in films I've directed and I will cut my part to shreds. I don't have any mirrors in my house. I've just always tried to avoid that.
He adds: "But listening back to the music is different. It's a tone thing. You can hear that you've got it or you can hear that you don't."
Is Sutherland, with his Golden Globe and Emmy awards, driven by fear of failure?
Not quite. What lies beneath this need to defy his critics is a sense of duty.
"I always worried they were only coming because they wanted to see a car wreck," he admits. "I adopted a negative kind of thing – like the audience is almost adversarial.
"But that's not been my experience. They want you to do well. They want it to be good. And that took me a while to accept.
"If that's the case, you have an obligation to blow their f***ing minds."
:: Kiefer Sutherland plays The Academy in Dublin on October 17 (ticketmaster.ie). Reckless & Me is released today.