David Duchovny was wearing a T-shirt featuring David Duchovny on it Friday at Joe’s Bar. To be more specific, it was a T-shirt featuring a portrait photo of “The X-Files” and “Californication” star when he was about 10 years old, with “Hell or Highwater” — the name of his debut folk-rock album, released in May — written underneath it. That’s right, Duchovny sings now. He wore the ironic T-shirt to the sound check for his concert later that evening.
“This is our merchandise,” said Duchovny, seated in the upstairs level overlooking the stage at Joe’s after wrapping up his sound check. “This is the first day I’ve seen it. I just think it’s funny.”
The rehearsal was Duchovny’s first with his band since May due to “X-Files” filming. Fox is bringing the cult hit back for a six-episode run beginning in January, with Duchovny reprising his role as Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson reprising her role as Dana Scully. Once Duchovny is done filming the show in Vancouver at the end of this month, he hopes to schedule a few tour dates before filming on Season 2 of his NBC crime drama “Aquarius” starts in November.
The main reason he was performing in Chicago was because his 16-year-old daughter Madelaine badly wanted to go to Lollapalooza. He figured he’d kill two birds with one stone and had his people book a pair of shows while here (he performed Saturday at Bub City).
During our conversation, Duchovny was self-deprecating, which wasn’t a surprise given his t-shirt, and spoke about the potential awkwardness of performing in front of Madelaine, actors-turned-musicians and why he thought he’d never play Mulder again. (The following is an edited transcript of a longer interview).
Q: How long have you had this itch to pursue music?
A: Not that long. I’ve wanted to play guitar for a long time. That’s what led to this whole thing. I picked up the guitar and taught myself five years ago. One thing led to another. I never sang. Nobody ever asked me to sing. I don’t have a good voice. I have worked on it. I sing now. I try to sing.
Q: How did your friends and family react when you told them you wanted to record an album?
A: They were completely surprised. It’s been a surprise to me. Up until I started doing this, singing in public would have been my biggest fear. It would be like a nightmare. But it doesn’t feel that way when I sing. Not because I’m so good, I’m just not worried about it that way. I feel like the songs are stories, and I want to tell that story. It’s not like “American Idol” where I’m trying to hit the right notes. I’m still blown away that I get to do it.
Q: What did Madelaine think of your album?
A: I don’t know if she’s heard it. She may have. We’ve never talked about the album. She might come (Friday). She’s definitely going to come (Saturday). That’ll be interesting. I have a song for her that I hope she can hear. The album is kind of heavy. There’s pain in it. There are lots of emotions in it. When you’re a kid, you don’t think of your father like that. Your father doesn’t have those feelings. It’s almost too much information.
Q: What has the audience demographic been like at your shows?
A: I’ve only played two shows of this size, so I don’t know. I imagine it’s not really young. I’d like it to be younger, probably. But this kind of music — it’s so hard to get people to hear music unless you get right on the radio.
Q: The public tends to roll its eyes when an actor releases an album. What sort of response did you have to that sort of thing in the past?
A: I didn’t respond in any way. I understand when people have some kind of bias, but because I’m on this side I don’t think of it that way. I’m like, “Oh, that guy is doing that,” or “Oh, that actor is now directing.” Why not? I don’t think it’s like a meritocracy. If you make good music, that makes you a musician.
Q: Is it true some of your music will be used in “The X-Files”?
A: I don’t know. (Creator) Chris (Carter) has said one song was going on it. And one of the songs is on the “Aquarius” soundtrack.
Q: What was that first day back on set like?
A: Being in Vancouver was like traveling back in time. There were a lot of feelings, a lot of things to manage. I was kind of feeling my way through doing the same character, but this many years later.
Q: Did you think you were done playing Mulder after 2008’s “X-Files: I Want to Believe” movie?
A: We always hoped we would continue to do movies. When that movie didn’t do as well as we all wanted it to, I figured it was done. But television revolutionized itself in terms of what a season is. Because of cable there are new models. It’s such a great format for storytelling. You’re going to get storytellers who — “Oh, I get eight hours to do this. I don’t have to do it in an hour-and-45-minute movie.” There are certain types of stories you can tell that you can’t in movies. I think the episodes are really good. I’d forgotten the show is really good. People used to ask me, “Why is the show so successful? Is it the aliens?” I’d say “If you make a good show, people generally will watch it.”