Kiefer Sutherland knows music lovers are often skeptical when actors look to add to singer/songwriter to their resume, but with his sophomore album, Reckless & Me, he continues to win over doubters with his relatable songs and gritty, evocative voice.
“When I think of the writers I really love, whether it’s Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings, those guys to me wrote songs that really let me not only into their world, but made me feel better about mine,” Sutherland tells Sounds Like Nashville. “If I was going through a difficult time, I could put on a Merle Haggard record and I would realize I wasn’t alone—that we’re all going through difficult times.”
Sutherland’s goal was to write with that same level of vulnerability and authenticity. “I’ve tried to make a point to myself that if I’m going through something… if I could be honest and share it, if someone else is going through the same thing and they can relate and realize they’re not alone, that would be my honor to be able to do that,” he says, “because all these other artists have done it for us.”
Sutherland appreciates the nobility in crafting a poignant country song, and he’s grown to crave the feeling he gets sharing them with a live audience. “I didn’t expect to fall in love with touring and I have,” says Sutherland, proudly noting that he’s played nearly 300 shows in the last three years. “It’s a combination of a real respect and admiration and love of the audiences that we’ve played for—they’ve been so generous and so kind—and then I love the band that I play with. We have an absolute blast together. Most other people would want to go on a vacation or go to Hawaii for two weeks. I would rather go out with this band any day. That’s what I’ve enjoyed the most in the last few years and that’s why I’m doing it.”
The time he’s spent performing live had a definite impact on the songs he wrote for his new album, which released April 26 via BMG. Though his debut album, 2016’s Down in a Hole, received positive reviews and the songs were well received when he performed them live, Sutherland learned a lot from touring about the kind of songs he wanted to create for his new project. “It was realizing what kind of songs I wanted for the set and what kind of songs did I want to play live. What songs did I think would help us make a better show? That’s what informed songs like ‘This is How It’s Done,’ ‘Blame It On Your Heart’ and ‘Something You Love.’ They were more up-tempo,” he says. “So it was this love that I developed of playing live that really informed the writing of the second record. I’m very excited about the show that we’ve got and as a bonus, I’m really happy with the record that we’ve made.”
One of the upbeat songs Sutherland delivers on the new record is a cover of the Patty Loveless hit “Blame it on Your Heart.” Penned by songwriting legend Harlan Howard and Kostas, the song hit No. 1 for Loveless in June 1993. “She’s an incredible artist and I’m such a fan,” says Sutherland, who also had another motive. “I wanted to make a statement about songwriting. That song is so clearly a huge hit sung by a woman and I think a really great song could go both ways. I love her performance of that song. I love the writing of that song and I just felt we could have fun with it. I thought that people might be surprised that a guy is singing that song, but you realize just what a great song that is. I guess the politically correct way to say this is both sides of the aisle can have a broken heart and be messed around with by another person.”
In addition to having more stage friendly fare on the new album, Sutherland also gets personal on several tracks including “Saskatchewan,” which he penned for his ailing mother, Canadian actress/activist Shirley Jean Douglas and “Song for a Daughter,” inspired by his daughter, actress Sarah Sutherland.
“I hadn’t been home for almost seven months because I was filming a television show called Designated Survivor and playing a lot of shows in Europe,” says Sutherland, briefly mentioning the TV series, which will move to Netflix this summer. “I finally got home and I was unpacking my bags and started the laundry. I was just walking around and I have these pictures of my daughter when she was really young just all along the shelves and I was really missing her. So I just started humming this kind of lullaby. I picked up the guitar and I wrote the song very quickly.”
“I wrote it kind of towards this one picture, matter of fact I’m looking at it right now as I’m sitting on my couch,” says Sutherland who called to do the interview from his California home. “The song was a combination of two things. It was me expressing for myself how much I love my daughter and missed her and also realizing that I’m getting older. I wanted to write something that she would have for the rest of her life, long after I’m gone that would always remind her how much she meant to me in my life. So I got very emotional actually when I wrote it and then I played it for her and she got emotional too, which I was really grateful for. I said, ‘This song is yours and I would like to put it on the record, if it’s alright with you’ because she is very private, but she was kind enough to say ‘Yes, I would love it if you’d put it on the record.’ And I did.”
Writing songs is a cathartic experience for Sutherland, and penning “Saskatchewan” has helped him deal with his mother’s mortality as her health has declined in recent years. “I’ve done everything I can to be as straight about things that I’m going through in my life and I have to say there’s something about sharing those moments with other people that—as much as it might be helpful for someone else—it’s been incredibly helpful to me,” he says. “I don’t quite know how to explain that, but it is. For instance, when I wrote ‘Saskatchewan,’ which was dealing with my mom, it put me in a better place. It gave me a kind of perspective of what I was dealing with in a way that I never had before I had written that song.”
Sutherland just released a video for the upbeat anthem “Something You Love,” co-written with his longtime friend and producer Jude Cole. “He didn’t have any of the verses. He played me the chorus and said, ‘I need to finish this.’ I said, ‘I’ll finish it with you. I know where to take that song,’ and he said that would be great,” Sutherland recalls. “I absolutely love that chorus and the first verse came really easy. It was just one of those things that happened. I love playing that song so much. We play it pretty early in the set and it gets people up and moving.”
The title track, “Reckless & Me,” was inspired by Sutherland’s rodeo days. “I used to rodeo and used to tour on the USTRC circuit as a team roper,” he says. “I started writing this song about going from rodeo to rodeo with this horse called Reckless. What was very funny to me about that song was half way through it I couldn’t figure out if I was writing about the horse or myself and my own personality. Sometimes I’ve done some stupid and reckless stuff and so the song kind of was a double entendre for me. It was either about the horse or the personality. I talk about that with the audience. I say, ‘You get to decide for yourself which one it was.’”
Sutherland is looking forward to hitting the road this summer and his upcoming dates including shows at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, Texas, the Franklin Theater outside Nashville and Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ as well as appearances at CMA Music Fest and a return visit to the Grand Ole Opry.
“If any of the readers have been to one of my shows, I just want to thank them for coming out in the first place and giving me and my band a shot because their time is precious,” Sutherland says. “I just want to thank them for all the love they’ve given us and let them know they are the reason that the touring has been so special for me.”