Renaissance Man: David Duchovny Explains Genesis of Debut Album, "Hell or Highwater"

Photo Credit: Adam Bradley

If you're scrolling iTunes, you may be surprised to see an otherwise familiar name among the music charts: actor, David Duchovny. Like Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Jr. and other male actors who've tried their hand at singing (a form often associated with the punctuated speak-song of William Shatner), Duchovny's joined the ranks this week with his debut album, "Hell or Highwater." But hold your guffaw, because the two-time Golden Globe winner cannot be easily dismissed. The Princeton and Yale English graduate proved the cynics wrong earlier this year when his first-ever book, novel Holy Cow, became a New York Times bestseller. With an inherent, although not widely known, mastery of language and a deep love for music, Duchovny's poised to do it again--or at least earn a few nods of respect--proving himself to be the unexpected Renaissance man.

A "lifelong rock and roll fan," Duchovny says that "About five years ago, I was just kind of bemoaning the fact: why can't I play guitar," he pondered--a thought many can relate to, debating dream projects that don't often materialize. "I have been wanting to get up and play guitar for a little bit and you know, [I thought] maybe one day I will be able to sing along and play some songs," he explained of the spark that led to this project. "After about a year, or a year and a half [working on his guitar skills], I was like, well these songs that I'm playing are things that I like, they're simple. I'm not saying they are easy... but if I liked the melody, I would just connect them with some chords. I just started doing that and writing was the most natural thing for me--to put lyrics on a melody... Now I'm writing songs."

Known for his starring roles in TV shows like "The X-Files," "Californication," and the forthcoming serial killer drama, "Aquarius," as well as in films, Duchovny shared that as much as his inspiration comes from his own natural curiosity, so does his artistic process. "I don't know about influences as a musician," he said, adding humbly with perspective, "Because I just can't call myself any kind of musician. I play guitar, but I play it with people who really play guitar. Next to them, I'm not a musician but I can play as I hear the songs come out of me." Those songs are expressed in a series of 12 tracks with a blend of folk, rock and contemporary singer-songwriter style. While they're unique to Duchovny and mirror his own perceived approach, he actually seems to be influenced by the styles predominant in the '60s, '70s and '80s (Duchovny is now 54), with an ear conditioned by major stars of his generation like a Johnny Cash and Tom Petty. About this, he acknowledged the comparison and added, "I mean I love Petty. I love Dylan. I love the [Rolling] Stones. I love the Beatles. I don't think I sound like the Beatles or the Stones. I don't know who I end up sounding like, but I can tell you who I love."

An actor who's built a career around generally mild tempered characters with a precision that makes any "explosion" of emotion that much more surprising as well as impactful, he admits to a similar energy in real life and parallel in his music pursuits. "I am more introverted than I would appear to be," Duchovny said. "So, I think that songwriting was a way for me to be more extroverted-introverted... And it was just another way of pushing myself into a new area [and to] express something."

While there are certainly similarities between playing a character, creating a novel built on a fictional story and poetry told through song, Duchovny added that "book writing is actually more natural than acting because I grew up identifying myself as a writer more than anything else. I never acted or thought of acting. Period." He says that focus shifted in his late 20s, but believes, "any kind of personal expression, any kind of creativity from me in my life would have started with words... not the acting and not the [actual] music, but the words of the music, the words of whatever prose I'm going to write. It just feels like that is my natural mode."

Artistry and intention aside though, Duchovny is aware that given the general perception of him as an actor that he's opening himself up to snark, and dismissive criticism. "I guess in a way that is inevitable but it is like, if people's ears don't give a shit about what somebody does for a living, they're just listening to the songs," he said. "All I ask is that you listen to it. But you know, there is going to be snarky comments. That's just part of the game I guess." However, "I'm not saying that doesn't hurt or it's not frustrating," he added, yet flipped the coin: "On the other hand, I get to use [my persona] in another field to get attention for this [project]. If I was just some 54 year old dude who loved some songs and had an album, I wouldn't be able to perform on [NBC's] TODAY show. So I can't complain."

"I know [fans] know me from another incarnation, so I can't turn around and go 'hey, take me seriously'. All I ask is read the book, listen to the album, and then try to form an opinion."

Steve Schonberg is the editor-in-chief of