Actor Michael Chiklis bounced around several titles for his solo album debut.
"I almost called it Fits and Starts," he says with a laugh, "because we recorded the album like that over a little better than two years. Then I almost called it Sonic Postcards, because the tracks happen to be songs I primarily wrote in the last five years while I was on different set locations. But then Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters put out Sonic Highways. And it was, 'Ah shit, I can't name it that.'"
Influence is the title that Chiklis -- who currently appears in the hit TV show Gotham and won an Emmy for his role as detective Vic Mackey in the groundbreaking series The Shield -- did choose. And listeners who check out his independent project will find it a very apropos choice. The 11-track album -- available this Friday (Sept. 16) and premiering exclusively on Billboard below -- features nine original songs written by Chiklis, one cover and an ancient Irish lullaby that all reflect Chiklis' deep musical roots and biggest influences: Queen and The Police, along with David Bowie, Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Listen to the exclusive Influence full-album stream here:
"I wanted my first solo album to be a celebration of those musical influences," Chiklis says during a phone interview from his home recording studio in Los Angeles. "Plus I saw a hole in what I've been hearing. If you listen to rock radio, everyone is playing the same songs from between 35-40 years ago. There are precious few new rock bands or current rock bands making new rock, especially directly influenced by acts like Bowie, Yes, Genesis or Van Halen."
Chiklis actually started the ball rolling for his solo bow six years ago. That's when the actor, then filming the stoner comedy High School with Adrien Brody and Colin Hanks, was asked to pen a song for the soundtrack after the director heard a cover of The Beatles' "Oh! Darling" by Chiklis and his best friend/musician Bob Pascarella. The result: the tongue-in-cheek Aerosmith-meets-Boston mock hit "Make Me High." Five stand-alone singles later, including the patriotic tribute song "Til I Come Home" (which Chiklis performed with the Boston Pops), and Chiklis was determined to carve out time between his various television and film projects to finally record a full-length album.
In addition to Pascarella, the multi-gen album features performances by musicians Andres Forero (Broadway's Hamilton), Steve Lukather (Toto) and Scott Healy, Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg and Jerry Vivino from the Conan late-night band. A college prog-rock trio, introduced to Chiklis by his daughter Autumn, provided the tracks' solid rhythm foundation. "I wanted a rhythm section that was live," says the Boston-area native, "and brought in people to put textures over these beautiful, pristine basics."
Performing in bands since seventh grade, drummer/vocalist Chiklis (who writes on bass and guitar) describes himself as having a "very eclectic music head. My mother had a beautiful mezzo-soprano voice and my father was a jazz aficionado. Then I moved into fusion when I started to play. When you listen to this record, it's sonically cohesive but it's also genre schizophrenic."
That's why he's adamant that people not dismiss Influence as a vanity project. "There's this sort of stigma attached to actors who put out records," he explains. "It's 'Oh my God' and then you get the eye roll. But this is a lifelong passion for me."
Chiklis and a 10-piece band, including members of the Conan crew, will perform selections from Influence at their first show in Los Angeles on Nov. 19. Below, the actor/singer shares the special stories behind four of the album's tracks:
"Angel of Mine": This is an ancient Irish lullaby that my grandmother used to sing to me when I was a child. It's never been recorded and its original writer is unknown. And though, it's supposed be sung by a proper Irish tenor, I think I did a soulful version anyway.
"Fame": I knew I was going to do one cover and this is one of my all-time favorite singles.We tried it in different time signatures. And what we cam to is let's just honor the song; do the track as it appears but sort of update it sonically. His recording is raw. This is a little more of a slick version. I was in the studio recording backup vocals when word came that David Bowie had passed. So it went from being a cover to a tribute, unfortunately. We had so much fun recording it.
"Little Bit a Funk": I was working in New Orleans, but Autumn and I took day trips into Texas and Alabama … the "Redneck Riviera" as they call it. We ended up at this place called Florabama, I kid you not. It's on the border of Florida and Alabama. A big roadhouse with literally 20 venues in it. We didn't know it was a famous place. But we walked in and there was everything from bluegrass to southern fried rock bands; all these different sounds. I was never big on country but did love Stevie Ray Vaughan, Little Feat and the Allman Brothers. This song came out of that.
"Dime La Verdad": I was in Puerto Rico last August shooting a cameo in Adam Sandler's movie [The Do-Over]. I was hearing all these great Latin sounds. I heard this couple yelling at each other pretty heatedly in Spanish in a nearby suite. So I made up this scenario in my head about what they were saying. It sort of blew out of me. Hamilton drummer Andres [Forero] threw down on that track and another, "Now & Forever," which I wrote in Miami.