Actor and musician David Duchovny, best known for his roles on “The X-Files” and “Californication,” has released two novels and is readying a third. He is now touring in support of his first album, “Hell or Highwater.” (Adam Bradley)
Add David Duchovny to the long list of actors who have used their fame to become gigging musicians. The New York native best known for his role as the brooding Fox Mulder on “The X-Files” or bacchanalian Hank Moody on “Californication,” Duchovny released his first album, “Hell or Highwater,” last year.
A literature major with degrees from Princeton and Yale, Duchovny, 56, found it easy to match poetry he had been writing to the music he was just learning on guitar. He also writes prose, having published two successful novels and readying a third.
Following a short inaugural European tour, Duchovny and his band will make their Birchmere debut Feb. 26. We spoke to the actor-musician recently while he was en route to his first U.S. tour date in San Diego.
Q: What brought you to music this late in your career?
A: I’ve always loved music, and it was just something where I had a lot of down time. I always told myself I was always going to learn guitar at some point, and I finally did. I’m in my trailer so long. As an actor, you sit on your hands for three hours and then you act for 10 minutes. That’s just the nature of it. So while I wait, why don’t I learn guitar, because that will make me happy to be able to play music and listen to it. It kind of organically grew from just knowing a guitar well enough to throw some chords together, and then putting some melodies over those chords. I guess the lyrics came most easily because I’ve always written words. So before I knew it, I was putting songs together.
Q: Are people skeptical of this new direction?
A: Sure. We only have so much room in our brains for other people. So people think of me a certain way. If they don’t think of me as “X-Files,” they think of me as “Californication,” or they maybe think of me from some other movie. But that’s probably as much as they care to think about me. So if I come and tell them I’m a singer as well, yeah, maybe they don’t want to think about that.
But certainly, there are some other examples of actors who make music. I don’t judge it categorically. I think music, of all the arts, is really the most unprejudiced. Your ears are not looking at anything; you’re just listening. And you either like the music or you don’t. I’m fine with that. Not everybody’s going to like it. Not everybody’s going to hate it. I’m making music for myself and for those who might get something out of it as well.
Q: What music got you inspired enough to pick up a guitar?
A: I’m a pretty much a child of the late ’60s. I had an older brother who kind of defined my music taste, because he had enough money to buy albums, and he had a record player. So he was the DJ of the house. So I would say my tastes were really formed by ’60s music. You know, the British Invasion, Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, Zeppelin … And then when I got $4 in my pocket to buy an album, I went a little softer than my brother. I was kind of into Elton John, then I went to Steely Dan. I was into Yes, like, prog-rock for a while. I also liked funk. After that, Bowie, Lou Reed, so I was kind of all over the place … I do like the singer-songwriters as well.
Q: Do you see yourself in that tradition?
A: I guess if I have to see myself in that tradition. I’m a guy who’s writing songs on a guitar. I guess that’s a singer-songwriter.
Q: Do you think music is something you will continue to do? It’s not a phase?
A: I don’t think it’s a phase. It’s definitely like a new door that I opened later in my creative life. It just seems fertile for me. It’s been an interesting way to express myself and connect in ways that the other things that I’ve done don’t.
Q: Who do you see in your audiences? Fans of your acting?
A: I imagine they are. I’m not vain enough to think they’re coming out because they know the music. It’s hard to make an impression in the music business. Especially because I don’t think my stuff is exactly what’s radio friendly right now. It’s like, “Come for the actor, stay for the music.” So if I get you in there, you’re going to hear the music, and you’re going to like it or not. And maybe you’ll come back. In Europe, honestly, one of the most amazing things was people singing along to my songs in a language that wasn’t their first. That was special.
Q: Do you have new acting projects coming up?
A: I’m looking at new shows to do right now. I’ve got a few things that are taking shape and are pretty interesting to me. I’ve got a movie script of [my novel] “Bucky F—— Dent” that I want to make as a director. The nice thing about music is that I can do it wherever I am.
Q: You returned to “The X-Files” last year. How was that experience, and is there talk of doing more of those?
A: We’re talking about doing more of those soon. The experience was strange at first to go back to something that I’d started, at the time, over 20 years ago, and I hadn’t done for seven or eight years. But since I had done that character for so long, it was really simple to find it again. But it was also an interesting challenge, because it was playing a guy who’s older, and maybe character doesn’t change, but we change a little bit — our energy changes as we age. Our maturity changes. So it was interesting to try to bring that to the guy.
Q: I understand you’re returning to play another character after 25 years, transgender Special Agent Denise Bryson on “Twin Peaks,” when the show returns this spring.
A: Yes. That character was kind of ahead of her time way back when. And I believe that society has caught up to Denise Bryson finally. I feel good about that.
David Duchovny Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. Tickets: $35. 703-549-7500. birchmere.com.