10 Questions with ... David Duchovny
July 6, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Born and raised in New York City, actor, writer, director and singer-songwriter, David Duchovny emerged to become one of the most highly acclaimed actors in Hollywood. The star of Fox Television's hit The X-Files, David was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for his role as FBI Agent Fox Mulder. His other long running comedy-drama series "Californication" ended its seven year run this past summer for Showtime.
Duchovny's also riding the success of his new allegorical book Holy Cow (with another novel on the way next year), chasing Charles Manson as a cop in the new '60s-set NBC drama Aquarius, reuniting with Gillian Anderson to bring The X-Files back to life for a six-episode miniseries in January 2016.
Duchovny recently released the title track to his debut album, "Hell or Highwater" to AC radio.
1) We all know you as FBI Agent, Fox Mulder on the science fiction horror drama series, The X-Files and of course the alcoholic, drug-abusing, womanizing novelist Hank Moody on the HBO comedy-drama series, "Californication" which have both earned you Golden Globe awards. For those not as familiar with your music, how did that whole chapter begin for you, David? Who or what was the catalyst for you to pick up a guitar, sing and put out an album?
I picked up a guitar about five years ago. I always wanted to play an instrument and the guitar seemed like the most fun instrument because it's mobile. I was kind of inspired by the fact that I always tell my kids, you gotta practice something to be good at it and you can't give up. It's always frustrating in the beginning because you're no good at it and they look around at the adult world and they see adults doing stuff all the time, they don't see adults learning stuff ... so I thought it might be interesting if they saw me frustrated and incompetent at something aside from being a father.
So, that was kind of the impetus of doing it, aside from getting myself to do something that I like with music. I started playing for like five minutes a day and committed to it and within a few months, I started to throw a few chords together and I was able to play a few songs that I liked.
2) Did you know you always wanted to make an album?
All I ever wanted to do was play some classic rock songs that I grew up liking and then I started to notice that they were not that complicated in terms of chord progression. Rock N' Roll is really a basic and great music form and it's all about the melody and the lyrics. I knew I had the lyrics because I've always been a writer, so I wondered if I had the melody too. So, that was really the question, once I found chords that I liked and certain progressions and wondering can I hear a song over them? Can I hear a melody over those chords? And I guess I could.
A prodigy can sit down at a piano and just play. That's not the experience of most people and that doesn't make a prodigy any happier. It's just something that they can do.
"I think, in my life, I've learned a lot more at not being good at stuff than being good at stuff. When you're good at stuff, you don't learn much ... you just kinda do it."
3) Can you share the inspiration for your current single and title track, "Hell or Highwater?"
I think for me, songs exist for the person who is listening to it. I almost have a superstitious denial of wanting to explicate a song because I get to make them what I want.
When you hear a song...and Paul McCartney is like, "I was eating an orange when I wrote this but I wish it was a strawberry ... a strawberry field". I feel like, I get to make a whole mythology about Strawberry Fields on my own, which is what makes music so great. Once you give someone a song, it's theirs."
My lyrics come out of personal experience or observational experience. It's not confessional or autobiographical. I intentionally wrote them in a way to be universal so they are open to interpretation and reinterpretation by whoever decides to listen to it. But I think my songs all deal with very human situations.
I would say the 12 songs on "Hell or Highwater" are love songs about the greatness and the difficulty of the finding, and the losing, and the finding again of love. I think that is what most songs are about. So, the fact that I think a song means this or that is almost inhibiting the song from it being more than it can be.
4) Who are your musical influences?
The music that I grew up on influenced me in a way where, even before I could form a G chord ... I liked hearing it. So The Beatles, The Rolling Stones (even though, I don't write like The Stones ...) and the later generation of classic rock like, Tom Petty and R.E.M. I also like a lot of funk and soul, even though I don't write like that. It's not even stuff I like, that I write like ... I would assume I write folk music basically and when it's produced it sounds more like rock music.
That's what rock music is...you add a little blues to the folk music and you electrify it and you got rock music.
5) Do you remember the first album you bought for yourself? Nowadays everything is so instant with services like Spotify and the like where you just push a few buttons and it's yours. What album did you save up your money for back in the day?
Yeah, for sure! Its different now as you say, because first of all I didn't have a lot of money and I certainly didn't have a lot of money to spend on albums. There was a store called, "Free Being"... this hippie store (how good is that name?) in Manhattan and I would go in there with like $3.99. This was back in 1971 or '72, so it was about comparable to now. But it was money that I didn't necessarily have, so I would get $4 or $5 bucks together for an album. I couldn't just get it, so I researched that album since I couldn't sample it. It was like buying a car. It was that kind of pressure. And then I would leave "Free Being" and be like, "I don't even know if I want it?" Then there were things like a KISS album that were a sure thing.
The first album I bought though, to answer your question was Honky Chateau by Elton John.
6) What was the first song you fell in love with or wish you had written yourself?
Gosh, yeah, I mean there are so many songs that I wish I had written. For me, I'm just happy that people want to play my songs and sing it better than I can sing it.
7) Who is in your current playlist? You mentioned your kids. What bands or artists have they turned you onto?
My daughter listens to stuff that I would never get to ... 3 out of 10, I'll say, "Hey, that sounds pretty decent." And 7 out of 10, I'll say "What the hell...?!?" She's turned me on to alt-J, The Kooks, Arctic Monkeys ...my daughter has good taste in music!"
8) For those that don't know, you also have a B.A. in English Literature from Princeton University and an M.A. in English Literature from Yale University. You subsequently began work on a Ph.D. that remains unfinished. Any plans to get "back to the books" anytime soon, since you have so much free time on your hands?
If I thought I could, I would, but honestly ... I would have to get in that mind set. And it would have to be a serious year or two where that was all that I was doing. It's not really where my heart is right now. I wish I'd done it as I consider myself someone who finishes things. That's something I didn't finish and something I don't think I'll ever finish, so it's a little out of character for me. So there it is ... it happened, or it didn't happen.
I gave a talk to some students at Harvard as one of our first shows was in Boston, and they gave me an honorary member diploma. It was an honor and a sweet gesture, so I consider myself a professor now, without a Ph.D."
9) Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming show Aquarius?
I love that project because it was really a cable project that NBC and the network decided to take a chance on and they decided to stream it (13 episodes in Season 1) and you can view it in its entirety. It's the kind of show that doesn't wrap up week by week. It's a long form story type of deal. The original idea was to go five or six years and keep getting people involved in the story.
It's really a story about America that goes from the 1960's to the present with Charles Manson being the symbol of when the '60s turned dark. We went from the summer of love to the Manson murders.
And after that, it was like all these revolutionary movements like flower power and free love, black power, feminism ... it all got colored by the fact that this is what happens when all these movements happen. Murder happens and now we gotta shut it down.
And in a lot of ways, we're recoiling away from the ideals of the 60s and as a country, it's very interesting to see that this guy (who had nothing to do with this) Manson who murdered people, became a symbol for what was wrong with the 60s. So, revisiting the 60s, this symbolic moment, was really fascinating.
I think we as a country and as the world, there were worldwide revolutions during the 60s, it wasn't just in the U.S. It was a very turbulent time, all over the globe. I think in America we keep coming back to it ... whether it's the styles, like the TV show, "That '70s Show" or "The Goldbergs" or whatever. It's like, "oh, bellbottoms, ha! ha! ha!" Aquarius is different. We keep coming back to the '60s ... it's like we can never get the answer and I think this is another attempt to find the answer.
10) Are you excited to get back to filming The X-Files?
Yeah! The X-Files is only like a two and a half month commitment. I'll be done in the summer and hopefully then I can still go out and do a little music tour.
The nice thing about music is we don't have to get out there right away with it ... it's not like a movie, where if it doesn't hit right away, it's dead. I can let it breathe a bit. I'm sure I'll play some shows soon.
*Special thanks to Nicole DeRosa who conducted this interview.