On his third album Gestureland, the acclaimed television and film actor finally embraces his inner rock star
There can be skepticism when actors try their hand at making music. So when David Duchovny – best known for his starring roles on the television shows The X-Files and Californication – began releasing albums, he braced himself for bashing from the critics.
“The first one was like, ‘Oh, Jesus, don’t kill me!’” he says with a laugh, during a call from his California home. “The second one was saying, ‘Okay, I’m here for a while – it wasn’t just one album.’” In August, he released his third album, Gestureland, and he’s finally feeling fully comfortable: “This one is more like, ‘This is part of what I do,’ and it felt more natural.”
For his first two albums (2015’s Hell or Highwater and 2018’s Every Third Thought), Duchovny shouldered the songwriting duties himself, but with Gestureland, “It’s more of a band collaboration,” he says. “That feels different and cool to me. In the past, I didn’t know that I would be recording songs, really, so I would finish them myself. When I started to record, I allowed the band to come in and tweak things. I became more comfortable with that.” (His band members are Colin Lee on keyboards, Pat McCusker on guitars and synths, Mitchell Stewart on bass, Keenan O’Meara on guitars, and Davis Rowan on drums.)
In fact, Duchovny got so comfortable with letting his bandmates into the process that “I wouldn’t even necessarily finish the song If I got stuck on something, or if I just had a verse or a chorus that I liked,” he says. “I’d bring it to them and then we’d write it together. It can sound lazy, like, ‘Oh, I didn’t feel the need to finish the song now and then’ – but it’s also trusting the guys that I’m working with and seeing what happens.”
He says he’s grateful for his bandmates’ input because they can help him realize the songs that he’s imagining but doesn’t always quite know how to create himself.
“I’m not Stevie Wonder; I can’t play every instrument,” he says, “and I’m not particularly trained, musically. So sometimes I’ll be going, ‘I can’t find the chord that I want. Does anybody know what chord I’m looking for, and it sounds something like this?’”
Once they finished writing the songs, Duchovny says that he and his bandmates managed to record the bulk of Gestureland just in the nick of time: “We were recording right before the [COVID pandemic] lockdown over a year and a half ago now. We were three quarters of the way there.” Recording his vocals was for one track “was literally the last time I left my house except to walk a dog or get groceries or whatever. I remember taking the Uber home, and that was the last time that I was in a car for ages.”
As the pandemic restrictions eased, they were able to finish recording – but the delay meant that the album’s release date had to be postponed for several months. Duchovny says this is all right because the songs remain relevant.
“They’re not necessarily ripped from today’s headlines – they can exist in a kind of timeless way,” he says. “I don’t think there’s a concept so much as I think there’s a consciousness. I think of each song as being a different character in a play, in a way, or a different person. Maybe the consciousness that exists between the songs, there’s maybe a point of view that ties them together.”
Naming the album Gestureland was specifically in reference to the pandemic experience, however, because Duchovny felt that was a time when “we’ve all been forced to consume the world through our screens. We were doing that to a certain extent before, but that became our lives, just watching the world through screens. I felt like my existence had become two dimensional, and that conversation was gestural and not substantive. I was just yearning for three dimensions.”
VIDEO: David Duchovny on The Late Late Show With James Corden promoting Gestureland
Duchovny, who seems to have a knack for finding a unique perspective on a universal subject, says that writing has always come easily for him. It was his first creative outlet, even before acting. “The first kind of writing that I did was poetry, [in] grade school and high school. That was my initial falling in love with writing. That segued into lyric writing.” (He’s also published four novels.)
When his acting career took off, Duchovny put his other creative endeavors on the back burner. Eventually, looking for another creative outlet, he turned to songwriting simply for his own amusement – and admits he surprised himself a bit when he actually finished his first song.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I wrote a song!’” Duchovny says. “It was “The Things” on [my] first album. The reason it’s called “The Things” was because I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to write a song, but anti-confessional: I do not want to talk about myself at all. What’s the most neutral way I can do that?’ Just talk about things: this thing, that thing, the things you said, the things I did. As neutral and shadowy as I could be.”
These days, Duchovny is more interested in creating a deeper connection with his listeners through his lyrics. “I just try to make them for everyone,” he says. “I figure if I can delve into my personal experience in an honest way, that’s going to be human enough for a person to sing along with.”
As for what’s next in what Duchovny calls “the second phase of my career,” he and his band are already thinking about their next album, though he admits it may take a while to actually get to that point. “We have enough for another one, but I don’t know when we’re going to have time to really focus and see what’s there,” he says.
For now, though, Duchovny is just happy that he can continue pursuing his creativity on his own terms. “After just acting for a long time, to be able to write novels and songs has been a chance for me to express my point of view – that’s what a creative person does, just looks around and says, ‘This is what I see.’”
Duchovny’s unique perspective – and evolving way of writing about it – make Gestureland his most accomplished album yet.