Much like his character Fox Mulder in The X-Files, David Duchovny is a bit of an enigma.
He is quite comfortable, alone with his thoughts, out in left field. He backs himself but is also his harshest critic.
Why, people ask, is Duchovny making music and, heaven forbid, actually recording and touring it, when he is an award-winning actor, filmmaker, director and New York Times best-selling author? Why would he bother?
The truth is, of course, always out there so Weekender asked the question and Duchovny’s answer was surprisingly simple.
Because he can.
He enjoys it. He finds it challenging. And he doesn’t need anyone’s approval to continue doing it.
Duchovny is, of course, best known for his roles in television series The X-Files, Aquarius, Californication and Twin Peaks. His film credits include Kalifornia, Zoolander, Evolution, House of D, Beethoven, The Rapture, The X-Files: I Want To Believe and Julia Has Two Lovers.
For fans of The X-Files, some good news. Season 11 of the hit series will return in 2018 and star both Duchovny as Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully.
But today, we’re talking music and his upcoming Australian tour, which includes a night in Newcastle.
Debut album Hell Or Highwater was a collection of Duchovny’s musings on pride, loss and remorse. If you haven’t heard it, it is a nod to his musical heroes: Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Leonard Cohen and R.E.M. His second album, Every Third Thought, is due for release in 2018.
Duchovny supports the D’Addario Foundation and believes music education can change lives, especially those of disadvantaged children.
It has certainly changed his own.
“When it comes to music education, well, I didn’t really have any,” he says.
“But I do think that as I have learned a little about it, I can objectively and scientifically see how music education increases performance by students in all areas, not just in music. It’s an integral part of the brain that needs to be fed. Now that’s a scientific fact.”
The only instrument he knew how to play “until about seven years ago” when he picked up a guitar was the humble recorder.
“I don’t know if you had that instrument in Australian schools but in the US it’s what they used to make kids learn. And that was the extent of my music education,” he says.
“I liked it but I didn’t go beyond the recorder, unfortunately, until I started learning the guitar.”
Recorder lessons were once common in NSW schools, I tell him, much to the despair of many a parent.
I also remind him of something he was once quoted as saying: “I may not ever be a good singer but I can sing.”
“That’s right. You don’t have to be born with a good voice to be a singer.
“There is so much about speaking out or singing out loud that is scary to people. People are afraid to be heard in that way if they’re not confident about being in tune or whatever.
“There is a lot of fear involved and there certainly was for me.
“I was lucky enough to find a guy who was a really great teacher of voice, Don Lawrence, and somehow from the first lesson he kind of liberated me and turned me around. I had to work at it though.”
And then there is the question of pitch. Good pitch. Duchovny says he is one of those people “born without it”.
“Some people are and they can just sing. Effortlessly. But if you’re not born with good pitch you can actually get better at it. It is like a muscle.
“And I don’t think I will ever have a kick-arse voice but I have got my voice.
“I’m not going to win any contests and I’m not going to go up there without a microphone but I’m pretty confident that I can learn my tunes and sing my melodies to within about 80 to 85 per cent accuracy.
“And for a live performance that’s fine. I’m not looking for 100 per cent.”
Duchovny is brutally honest when it comes to his musicianship, too.
“I’m never going to be even a good musician. I’ll be OK. I can play the guitar well enough to throw chords together to write rock ‘n’ roll songs,” he says.
“But I’m not a composer. I’m not an educated musician. I’m humble enough, and been humbled enough, to have been around some amazing musicians and there is a huge difference between me and them. But what I do is, I throw chords together and I come up with melodies and I write lyrics and I can write songs for some reason and I don’t know why.
“I certainly never could until about four or five years ago so I’m as surprised as anyone else that I can do it. But it doesn’t have anything to do with me being a good musician, which I’m not. It just happens.”
It is perhaps no coincidence that he started writing songs in the wake of his divorce from actor Tea Leoni. The couple share custody of their two children.
He is in two minds when asked if he feels vulnerable singing lyrics he has written to an audience. He feels the need to distance himself from his words.
“It is a vulnerable position but it’s still a performance,” he explains.
“Even when I write a song I don’t feel like it’s me writing the song. Yes, it’s my point of view, but it was mine on the day that I wrote the song. Which is not necessarily my point of view now.
“So for me, all the songs are kind of characters in a way, or all of the songs from an album are similar characters from a similar time.
“I don’t feel like they are me – I feel that they were me when I wrote the song.”
He continues on the subject of lyrics, saying that it’s all up to the listener and how they interpret them. That’s what ultimately gives them meaning.
“I don’t think great lyrics are straight-up confessionals, like what I did today and what I’m feeling and these are my political views,” Duchovny says.
“But I think great lyrics are somehow very personal but also abstract and universal at the same time.
“It’s very interesting to go back and sing a song that you wrote a few years ago and try to inhabit it. That’s where singing on stage is a bit of an acting performance, when you want to convey the emotion of the song.
“In some ways I think that’s why covers are easier to do than your own songs because you’re not covering yourself. You can throw all your emotion into a cover because somebody else wrote it.”
When suggested it takes guts to do what he’s doing because of his public profile, Duchovny agrees.
“People are going to take their shots and people are going to want to dismiss somebody doing something that they are not known for. That just seems to be the way it goes.
“You might buy my album or come to my concert because you like my work as an actor but that’s not going to make you like the music. Once you get in there, your ears don’t care what else I’ve done in my life. Your ears are your ears. You’re either going to like it or you’re not.
“All I want you to do is listen to the music. I don’t care why you’re at my show, I don’t care about your skepticism, I don’t care if you’re a fan or if you came to watch me fail or whatever, all those things are fine. But open up your ears and it is very possible that you’re going to like this stuff. That’s how I feel.”
So, can the Newcastle audience expect him to whip out the recorder during his set?
“Well, you know, maybe I should. We don’t have enough recorder solos in rock’n’roll. Maybe it’s time to change that.”