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David Duchovny finds footing with third album 'Gestureland': 'I'm not terrified and ashamed'

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David Duchovny is aware that when people hear he’s releasing an album – albeit his third in six years – reactions tend to run from raised eyebrows to rolled eyes.

When his interviewer comments that his latest, “Gestureland,” is “really good,” with a bit too much high-pitch emphasis, he chuckles. “Ah, see, there’s the tone!”

“Gestureland,” which arrives Friday, is truly a solid collection of rock songs tinged with country, folk and Americana, even if the guy who created them is primarily known as brooding skeptic Fox Mulder (“The X-Files”) and music-loving mess Hank Moody (“Californication”).

But no matter what you think of it, Duchovny just wants his art to be judged fairly, regardless of the name or face behind offerings such as the grimy-yet-melodic “Nights Are Harder These Days” and lyrically bracing “Layin’ on the Tracks.” (“It’s a killing joke that no one laughs at,” he growls in the song he pointedly released before last November’s election.)

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David Duchovny's new album, "Gestureland," is out Friday.
David Duchovny's new album, "Gestureland," is out Friday.

“If I’m getting cut on that double-edged sword (of celebrity), I’m the one who pulled it out in the first place,” Duchovny says. “But good or bad, just take (the album) seriously as a piece of music.”

Two of the most intriguing aspects about Duchovny’s third album – recorded with his five-piece band in upstate New York – are its title and cover.

He went into the studio for “Gestureland” in February 2020, but the encroaching pandemic halted its progress. During the ensuing months, Duchovny found that “my contact with the world was coming through screens and seeing all of these gestures, old and new and reinterpreted and reapportioned. Where is the substantive conversation and the human meeting? And that phrase came to mind, almost like a postcard: Welcome to Miami. Welcome to Gestureland.”

The album cover for David Duchovny's third album, "Gestureland."
The album cover for David Duchovny's third album, "Gestureland."

The photo that adorns the release – a young girl balancing a monkey on her arm – also intrigued Duchovny. The image came from his music manager Brad Davidson, whose wife, Irina Fedonina, is shown in the photo as a child.

“I don’t know what it means, but I was moved by the photo in a weird way,” Duchovny says. “There was the innocence of that young person and the beauty of the animal next to her. And then you have this idea of a poor animal not in the wild who was being used to take pictures all the time. And you see the girl is all dressed up and the Russian tapestry behind her, so it feels like it was an important moment.”

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Duchovny, 61, is still square-jawed handsome in his peach polo shirt and tanned skin, making eye contact through Zoom, but sometimes looking down as he ponders his responses.

He loves talking about music – how he wanted his guitarist Pat McCusker to put a Neil Young feel on a gripping solo in “Nights Are Harder These Days,” for example, or the way he listens to Pink Floyd now, appreciating the production and “good use of silence.”

Duchovny mostly self-taught himself to play guitar a few years ago, but he only sings on “Gestureland,” a skill that has become “both easier and harder” for him.

David Duchovny and his band - (from left) Keenan O’Meara, Davis Rowan, Colin Lee, Duchovny, Pat McCusker and Mitchell Stewart - recorded "Gestureland" starting in February 2020 in upstate New York.
David Duchovny and his band - (from left) Keenan O’Meara, Davis Rowan, Colin Lee, Duchovny, Pat McCusker and Mitchell Stewart - recorded "Gestureland" starting in February 2020 in upstate New York.

“It’s easier that I’m not terrified and ashamed, as I was with my first album (2015's “Hell or Highwater”),” he says. “I don’t have a great melodic voice or perfect pitch. I don’t have any of those things that one associates with a great singer but I keep trying to get it right. But now that I’ve recorded more and played live a bunch, it cures you of any preciousness of hitting notes smack dab in the middle. I have no compunction about getting in a (vocal) booth right now and trying to sing a song, but now I know I’m capable and push myself.”

Along with his evolving vocal skills, Duchovny is also a contemplative lyricist, most evident on “Call Me When You Land” and the layered “Tessera.”

The former, Duchovny calls his “Cat’s in the Cradle,” Harry Chapin’s heart-wrencher that, “as hokey as it is, manages to slay me ... and this was my attempt" to write something like that, he says.

The ballad was inspired by Madelaine, 22, his daughter with ex-wife Téa Leoni, when she started to fly by herself.

“ ‘Call me when you land’ – it’s one of those things we say and it’s so deep, like, ‘I’m losing you,’ ‘You’re breaking up.’ All these things we say on the phone that are poems,” he says.

David Duchovny has released three albums in the midst of his acting career.
David Duchovny has released three albums in the midst of his acting career.

While Duchovny would like to take his new material for a run on the road, he’s waiting for the right time in the midst of the surging pandemic. While vaccinated himself, he realizes that “you’re still asking people to come breathe on each other.”

He’s also developing a TV series based on his latest book, “Truly Like Lightning.” When it’s mentioned that Deadline reports he'll star in and co-executive produce the series on Showtime, he laughs, tart as always.

“Nothing is a sure thing until you’re eating off the craft service tables,” he says. “And those don’t exist anymore because of COVID.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: David Duchovny on 'Gestureland' album, conquering his singing fears