We are living in a golden age of David Duchovny. Since wrapping his Showtime series “Californication” last year, he has released his first novel, “Holy Cow: A Modern-Day Daily Tale,” shot all 13 episodes of NBC’s upcoming ’60s period cop drama “Aquarius,” and is prepping to reprise his role as Fox Mulder on the limited-run “X-Files” reboot.
First up, though, is his debut LP “Hell or Highwater.” And if you never thought you’d hear the words “David Duchovny” paired with “musician,” he’s right there with you. “I wasn’t a musician and still don’t consider myself a musician,” he says. “The idea was only to amuse myself.” The album features 12 country-rock tracks that features Duchovny’s trademark wit that often lines many of his onscreen characters.
Speakeasy recently talked with the actor as he was driving to the airport in Los Angeles. Below, an edited transcript.
You’ve made a record. Is this surreal to you?
Yeah, it is. It’s not something I’ve always dreamed of doing. I played a little guitar the past five years or so. I felt like I always had words and was always interested in lyrics and seeing how there’s this alchemy of lyrics on a page and lyrics in a song. It’s all about the melody. I wondered if I had any melodies in me and it seemed like I did.
It sounds like it was a hobby.
Yeah. And that way, it’s actually the purest thing I’ve ever come out with any kind of creative output in my life. At any step of the way, there was never a sense of let’s make money off of this [or] let’s make this part of who I am. These [songs] are just coming from a place that’s sincere and now we’re going to share with people.
What’s your personal history with music? What did you first get obsessed with?
I was born in the ’60s, so I first purchased singles, because it was cheaper. I could go down to Woolworth’s and get the single for 99 cents or even less. An album was like $3.99. I used to shop at Free Being on 8th Street and 2nd Avenue; I grew up on 11th Street and 2nd Avenue. I used to go over to Free Being and had a five dollar bill and that was good for one album. It was like “What one album am I going to get for that month?” It was an important decision back then.
My brother was four years older, because I was coming of age just at the ‘70s were beginning. Rock was, in my mind, getting a little soft. He had me into the Allman Bros, Cream, Hendrix, the original British invasion. From my own generation, I came in with some Motown. I liked Sly and the Family Stone, funk and R&B. I loved Elton John. The first single I ever bought was by the First Edition. I played that to death. I purchased a single called “Backfield in Motion by Mel &Tim. I don’t know why I remember that. The backfield in motion was a woman’s rear end. That was a big hit. I had no idea what they were making a joke about.
The ‘70s were a big decade for music. Punk, rock, folk, glam. Where did you fall?
I loved Bowie. I was a big Bowie fan. I never really got into punk rock. I liked the Ramones and I liked the Clash, but I was never obsessed like some people were. I love Zeppelin now. I didn’t really listen to Zeppelin in high school. I didn’t really listen to hard rock like AC/DC. I wasn’t even really into the Who. I like hard rock better now. In high school, I was listening to Elton John and Steely Dan.
That’s an acquired taste.
Well, I understand the rock and roll purists who don’t like that overproduced stuff. There’s a lot of horns and jazzy chords. I get the accusations of pretentiousness and all that. I appreciate them lyrically. They were very obtuse, yet funny. They were evocative of something. I never really knew what they were talking about and I liked that.
Here’s an important question: Where do you stand on Rush?
I can’t stand Rush. I don’t know that I’d listen to them anymore, but I was a huge fan of Yes.
What’s “Hell or Highwater” about?
I hate to talk about lyrics because I feel like they’re written down that way because that’s the way I wanted them to be heard. Not explain them or make them literal. But “Hell or Highwater” is…I like to think there’s a sense of humor there – it’s bleak, but someone’s still laughing. Someone’s still there.
Is singing something you worked at in finding a voice that you’re comfortable with?
Totally. But I’m way, way more comfortable than when I began. I never sang my whole life. Nobody ever asked me to sing. A lot of people asked me to stop singing. When it became clear to me that I was going to record this album, I’d say “With autotune you can make me sound perfect, right?” And they’d say “We can make you pretty close. You have to be in the ballpark, bro.”
The trailer for your new show “Aquarius” finds you beating up hippies and tracking down Charles Manson. This seems intense.
It is intense. I play a man of the ‘20s and ‘30s in the ‘60s. I’m not down with the hippies and the flower power and the drugs. I’m Joe Friday and I don’t like what I’m seeing. My worst feelings are confirmed when I get involved a little with Charlie Manson.
You were around seven or eight when this show takes place. Was the hippy movement and that scene lost on you?
No, it wasn’t lost on me at all. I shopped at Free Being! I grew up on St. Marks Place so when I was 8 in ’68 it was right in front of me. I saw it happen.
NBC is making all the episodes of “Aquarius” available online after the premiere. Is this a binge-worthy show?
It was conceived originally as a cable show. A 13-episode run. I was surprised when NBC wanted to do it. We made it on network and it is a network show – but it still has its roots in a cable storytelling soul. It doesn’t necessary fire all its guns at once, which is what you have to do on network, to keep ‘em coming back next week. It’s a little bit more leisurely, a little bit more dense. It stands up to watching a few episodes at a time.
When do you start shooting “X-Files”?
A little over a month. I don’t have a hard start date, but I think the first or second week of June.
Are you involved in it more this time, like directing or producing?
I would’ve directed but there’s only going to be six [episodes]. The problem [with] directing, you have to be absent as an actor for the episode before – you have to prep it. With only six, I think that’s unfair. So, no.
Why is it a good time to revisit the “X-Files”?
I don’t know why this is a good time, but this is the time. What happened was, much like when I did “Californication,” it was like they are running 12 a year and it doesn’t have to completely dominate your life for a 10 month span – which is what “The X-Files” used to do. The networks, “Aquarius” being case in point, to attract different types of storytellers and different kinds of talent, are doing the same things in terms of limited runs. It made it possible to come back to a network without doing 22 or 25 or them. It’s kind of perfect.
What’s going to be the challenges for Mulder and Scully?
[Laughs.] I don’t know! Honestly, I haven’t seen word one. I’m supposed to get a script maybe this weekend. You know, the challenges might be fitting into the clothes.
Would Mulder enjoy listening to David Duchovny’s “Hell or Highwater”?
I don’t really remember Mulder listening to any music or watching television or seeing a movie even. But I do think it’s good music to eat sunflower seeds to.