Some people collect baseball cards or stamps. Actor Kiefer Sutherland collects guitars.
“I’ve collected guitars for a long time, mainly because I had a lot of friends who were really great musicians, and they’d be going out on their first tour, and they didn’t have a really good guitar to play with, so I’d lend them one,” Sutherland says during a recent phone conversation. “And then they all did well, so the guitars started coming back and you’d have three Strats in a rack that were beautiful and all of the sudden, you go, ‘Oh, two more and I can finish that rack.’ So the collecting became almost kind of almost a disease for me."
But he thinks of guitars as "works of art."
"Different guitars inspire you to play different styles and inspire you to play more," he says. "The collection got a little out of hand, but I’ve brought it way down to about 30 guitars and out of that, there’s at least 10 that I’m using regularly. And then a couple others that I’ll make a cup of tea and just look at for a while.”
Having spoken with musicians who own 100 guitars or more, Sutherland’s current number seems moderate and appropriate to this reporter. He’s got a rule in place that should help to control the population going forward.
“I got it to a point now where I’ve gotten it down to a kind of a reasonable number where they’re actually all in my house, and they’re hanging up. And if I see another guitar that I want to buy, I have to get rid of one,” he says with a big laugh. “So it’s slowed the process down considerably.”
Music has been a part of his world for a long time, going back to when he was four years old and began playing the violin, something that his mother made him stick with until he was 10 years old. At that point, he got his first guitar and he was in a band by the time he was 12 and writing his first songs. He later met singer-songwriter Jude Cole, who would become a good friend and eventually, an important piece of Sutherland’s musical storyline.
“I met Jude and Jude was such an extraordinary guitar player that I kind of put my guitar under my bed for about six or seven years, because I was embarrassed to play around him,” he says. “I missed it, and I just started playing a lot again. When I started doing [the TV drama] 24
that was occupying so much time, I had a guitar in the trailer and obviously when you’re shooting something, there’s a lot of downtime waiting for the crew to set up a shot and everything else. So you know, I was playing four or five hours a day for a decade and I was writing a lot through that period and it would help me pass the time.”
Once 24 wrapped up, Sutherland found himself with a hefty stack of songs and he started to play some of them for Cole.
“I had a couple of songs that I wanted to do demos with and get them to BMI and Sony and see if any other artists would like to record them,” he remembers. “We did two or three songs that way and you know, Jude’s known me for a really long time and he knew what the songs were about. He really liked the songs and he liked the way that I played them and he said, ‘You should hold onto these. These should be for you.’ I kind of laughed about that and he said, ‘Have you got anymore?’ So I played him a couple other things I’d been working on, and we worked on stuff together. Two songs became four and four songs became 10 and at some point I had to kind of come to terms with the fact that I really liked the way the songs had come out and I really liked the way [these] songs were recorded [by] Jude and I and Brian Macleod [Sheryl Crow, Toy Matinee, Wire Train], who played drums on the album."
Sutherland admits that leading up to all of this he had to find confidence in his songs and his own voice before he was comfortable with the idea of releasing an album. Even then, he knew that he wanted to tread carefully.
“I just had to come to that for myself, that, you know, this is something I can stand by, this is something I would be proud of. I mean, let’s face it, an actor releasing music is not a new thing, and it rarely ever goes over well,” he laughs. “I’m completely aware of that. So I had to take all of those things into consideration and I still felt really strongly that not only did I want to put the record out, but really, my favorite part, is playing the shows. To be able to play 12 or 13 songs a night — and trust me, there’s moments in the show where I’ll explain, you know, that this one artist had a real influence on me and this is why and I’ll play a song from that artist. So there will be songs that people will be familiar with a couple of those through the set. I’m into storytelling — it’s what I love about acting and it’s what I love about playing music live and it’s what I loved about writing this album. So for me, it’s really kind of an extension of that and you know, we’ll see what happens.”
April and May will find the veteran actor playing club shows, including a Cleveland stop at the Grog Shop. He’s been playing shows in the California area recently and was pleasantly surprised with the reception that he received.
“Having never played these songs for anybody ever, there was nothing on the internet...nothing at all...and the first show was like 350 people. It wasn’t small — it was a bar down in Long Beach, and I was amazed,” he says. “I expected maybe a quarter of them to kind of drift off or go out to the smoking patio or do something, but they didn’t — they stayed with us for the whole show. So I was grateful for that. The graciousness of the audiences so far, you know, we’ve only played about 20 shows in California, I was just really kind of moved by that, to be honest with you.”
Sutherland says that music fans can expect a diverse experience when they come out to the shows and when they finally get to hear Down in a Hole
, which he’s hoping will be released in June.
“I think that the record is probably categorized in the Americana singer/songwriter category, but there’s some rock stuff. [The title track] ‘Down In A Hole’ is a straight up rock tune. ‘Shirley Jean’ is an old style, old school country song. ‘Can’t Stay Away,’ which is the first track off the record, is kind of more of a rock tune and then there’s a lot of Americana singer/songwriter songs kind of in the middle of that too. One of the things that was really important to me when we went out to do this and it was really important to me with [the record label] Ironworks, I felt that the focus on singles was so predominant in the music making process, certainly through the late '90s into the new millennium. I wasn’t hearing any more albums that I felt had real continuity from beginning to end and that was something that was really important to me. I think there really is a continuity in the music, even though it crosses certain genre borders. [The first single] ‘Not Enough Whiskey’ is an aspect of the record and it’s kind of a slower tempo song, but it really kind of expresses more of the country feel of the record. But songs like ‘Going Home’ and ‘Down In A Hole ’and ‘All She Wrote,’ those are much more up tempo and kind of driving songs and they really play well in the show.”
Cole played a key role in helping to realize the vision of the album and as Sutherland quips, he brought “everything and the kitchen sink” into the experience. Thanks to his extensive work with groups and artists, including the rock group Lifehouse, who Cole has been involved with as both a manager and a producer since their inception, he brought valuable knowledge to the process.
And as a fellow songwriter, he was able to help Sutherland get his songs where they needed to be.
“You know, Jude is amazing. As a writer, I really predominately focus on verse/chorus/verse/chorus/verse/chorus,” he says. “It’s not that I’m opposed to bridges — melodically, I don’t think in those kinds of terms. So Jude would say, “Well, I don’t like what you’ve done with that bridge there. Can we change it to this?” All of the sudden, the song would have kind of a cohesiveness that it didn’t have before. I think that Jude’s got million dollar ears, so even though the record is pretty sparse, the balance of it, I just think is extraordinary. What I’ve learned from him over the last year and a half during the process of making the record and putting up the show and everything else, Jude’s had a very, very large hand in all of it. I’ve felt this way for 30 years — I think he’s one of the most talented musicians I know and that I’ve ever heard.”
From 2002 until 2009, Sutherland and Cole were partners in Ironworks Music, a venture which began as a studio and eventually became a record label.
“I’d moved into a warehouse in East L.A. around Vermont and Santa Monica and there were a couple of really great bars that were playing music. Starlight was one of them, El Cid was another, Silverlake Lounge was another and they were all within walking distance. There was enough room in this warehouse to actually build a really great studio,” he says. “I was showing him the place, we went out and we saw this band play and they were unbelievably good and then we went and checked out another place and they had an unbelievably good band there and none of these guys were signed and none of them were getting signed. The music industry was going through a massive transition and unless you were doing pop or American Idol
— good luck getting a record out. I think it pissed both of us off. So we built the studio and that was really for Jude to work out of and then we just ended up finding artists in the area and really liking what they were doing, we would make their record and then we became a label and then ultimately we partnered with Universal/Republic and all of those artists went there. But it was really mainly just frustrating for us to watch incredible talent being squandered because technology and the industry were not meeting up properly.”
Sutherland remains passionate about his acting career, and he’s in the midst of shooting Designated Survivor
, a new thriller drama which will premiere on ABC this fall.
“You know, I had such a great run on 24, it’s kind of difficult, I think, for people to hear how excited I am to do this show, but I really am. Between the tour and being able to do this show, I’m kind of looking forward to having the best year of my life. I’m really grateful for it. We’re just about finished with the first episode and I’m as proud of this as I have been with anything I’ve ever done.”
He knows better than to think he’ll never see Jack Bauer come back around again and he’s got a bit of 24
-related activity on tap.
“I’m an executive producer on the new 24
, which it’s a great script. I think the writers are so relieved that they don’t have to write another bad day for Jack Bauer, because how many bad days can one guy have?” Sutherland laughs. “They’re about to start shooting in a week or so and I’ll be back in L.A. by that time. They’ve got a great cast. I think Jimmy Smits just got on board, so we’re thrilled about that. And you know, Jack Bauer’s out there — I’ve learned to never say never, so we’ll see what happens.”
Kiefer Sutherland, Austin Plaine. Shawn & Shelby, 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $15 ADV, $18 DOS, grogshop.gs.