Up until 2015, David Duchovny was known primarily as an actor, the star of several hit TV series – The X-Files and Californication – and movies like Kalifornia and Return To Me. But 2015 turned pivotal for the native New Yorker as it was the year he not only published his first book, Holy Cow, but he emerged as a singer/songwriter with his debut album, Hell Or Highwater. “I didn’t do it with any other goal in mind, except to express this particular something musically at this particular point in my life,” Duchovny told Esquire Magazine at the time. “I didn’t do it to make money. I didn’t do it to be a rock star. I didn’t do any of this for any reason, except that these are the things that were coming out of me and these are how they sound.”
With the muse returning, Duchovny has just released his second album, Every Third Thought, again exploring thoughts and characters in different scenarios. With strong melodies and more focus, songs like “Half Life,” “Stranger In The Sacred Heart,” “Mo” and the title track come to life. While remaining to hang more to the folk-y side of music, the sonics have grown to add in more kick, utilizing his band’s energy.
Words are not exactly foreign to Duchovny. Son of a teacher and writer, he himself attended university for Literature. He turned to theatre, a perfect atmosphere in which to enhance emotions on a wider, verbally expressive stage. His TV and movie roles often reflect his way with language, the rhythm and flow of a character’s analysis or argument or passion, whether it’s comedy, science-fiction, drama or psychological thrillers. Later this spring, Duchovny will release his third book, Miss Subways, and again step behind the big camera to direct, something he began doing in 1999 for an episode of The X-Files and has continued through his most recent series, the Charles Manson-themed Aquarius.
But today, he is all about his songs. “Music has always been important in my life,” Duchovny announced on Twitter Friday morning, his album’s official release day. I had a quick chat with the multi-talented artist a few days ago about Every Third Thought and being a late bloomer in the music genre.
There are a few songs that are really old on the album that would have come from like my first burst of writing, songs that might have been on Hell Or Highwater. There are a bunch of songs that are newer and then there’s a couple songs that are primarily written by the band that I work with. Probably “Jericho” is one of the oldest songs I’ve written, and maybe the third or fourth song I ever wrote. Then “Half Life” is kind of an older song. So I think “Jericho” and “Half Life” and “When The Whistle Blows,” those are the oldest songs. Then the newest songs are probably “Last First Time” and “Stranger In The Sacred Heart” and “Roman Coin.” And in the middle of all those is “Every Third Thought.” The band wrote “Spiral.” I had nothing to do with that. And “Marble Sun” was written by me and Colin [Lee, keyboards] and the band.
Did you know almost right away after your first album that you wanted to do another one?
Sure, I’d love to keep recording but nobody was making me sit in a room and write songs. So I just didn’t know if the songs were going to come or not, you know, so I was kind of waiting until I had fifteen or twenty songs that I thought were close to being actual songs and that took a while. But yeah, once I recorded I was like, I’d like to do that again.
Of the twelve songs that are on this new record, which one would you say changed the most from your original conception and how so?
That’s a good question. I think probably “When The Whistle Blows,” which was pretty much written as a ballad. Like I said, it’s one of the older songs that I wrote before I even met any of these guys in the band and it would have just been me strumming my guitar and singing that. So it probably sounds a lot more folk-y or country-rock. It’s kind of a heavy head-nodder at this point with that heavy backbeat and the distorted guitars. So I think that’s probably the furthest from when I originally started to sing it.
Can you tell us a bit more about the title track?
“Every Third Thought”? Yeah, that one just started kind of bluesy for me. I remember what I wanted to get across in that song was kind of like the compulsively repeated, kind of state-of-mind, that you can get in if you’re obsessed with something that’s gone, obsessing on a person or a thing or a place or a time, and just how your brain is just turning over and over with the same thoughts and ideas. So the music would have to kind of mirror that. So it was a simple little melody that kind of repeated and repeated.
Are you more satisfied as a songwriter when you dig out of your own emotions or when you imagine someone else’s story?
I’m not interested in telling my specific story musically, or as a fiction writer. I’m not going to write a memoir. That kind of stuff doesn’t interest me. I’m not saying I’m not interested in reading other people’s memoirs, sure. But I do think of each song almost as a different person. I mean, even if they seem to be talking about similar things. Like, “Last First Time,” to me, is like a different kind of point of view from something like “Jericho” or “Stranger In The Sacred Heart;” it’s a very different kind of guy singing than “Every Third Thought” or “Half Life.” I let the words kind of take me places and it is me obviously, it’s coming out of me, but it’s not as simple as saying, this is what I believe; it’s like, this is the form this song took and these are the lyrics that attached themselves to it and here we are.
After you did the first record and got that under your belt, when you started working on this record, was there something you knew that you did not want to do or do different this time?
Yeah, I wanted to expand the palette, like sonically. I wanted to allow the band to kind of influence my sound more. I wanted us to be more of a band, not only in the writing but also in the production. I wanted to allow Colin to kind of push me vocally. The good thing about when I started to write with Colin and Pat [McCusker, guitar] and Mitch [Stewart, bass], is that they all kind of pushed me melodically to places that I won’t normally do just sitting in my room, you know. Then all of a sudden, I’ve got to be singing these notes, these melodies, that may or may not be in my range and that makes me a better singer.
Did you only sing on this record or did you get to play some guitar?
No, no, I don’t play guitar on any albums. My guitar playing is really one-of-a-kind, let’s say, and not in a good way (laughs).
So you don’t play during your performances?
Well, so far, I’ve only played guitar on one song in concert. I’ll play it on a cover we do of a Tom Petty song called “Square One.” Other than that I haven’t played guitar live.
You’re kind of late to this music game
Yeah, you know, that’s the great thing about music is that it really belongs to everyone, right, it’s democratic, you don’t need a degree to do it and you don’t need a degree to practice music, where you might need one to practice brain surgery, you know. I would have loved to have been educated musically and to have played my whole life but that didn’t happen for me so I come at it from a different place. I’m not saying I come at it any better, I’m just saying it doesn’t disqualify me.
What do you hope the listeners will get out of this record?
I think what I get out of music that I like to listen to is it hits me on an emotional or unconscious kind of level and it moves something in me and that, to me, is what great songs do; or they can make you dance or whatever. There is some kind of reaction that happens where you join with the music or you join with the point of view of the lyrics or the lyrics mean something to you even though you realize this guy that you don’t know wrote them. So it’s like there is something mystical that can happen. It’s very one-on-one personal between people and music and that’s kind of what I hope.
Was this the kind of music you were listening to when you were younger?
Well, the music you listen to when you are young, it’s like it’s so dependent on chance and how old you were and what was available to you. I don’t know what it would be like to grow up now where you have all kinds of music available to you at the touch of your fingertips. I didn’t have that. I had the radio and the radio gave me Top 40. So that was the music I grew up on. I grew up with The Beatles, the Stones, and unless you really went out of your way, there was no access to other stuff. That’s what got me, that’s what hooked me.
And what are your plans for this year?
We have The X-Files out right now, ten episodes playing. Then I’m going to go tour Australia with the band next week and come back and I think I’ll be directing a film this summer in New York.