Confession: Without “The X-Files,” I wouldn’t be a professional writer.
Way back in middle school, I thought I hated writing. At least, I hated writing dry, research-based essays for class.
But every Sunday night I found inspiration in the form of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, characters whose investigations into paranormal phenomenon inspired me so much that I routinely borrowed the themes to write stories of my own.
So when, in eighth grade, my best friend applied to the creative writing program at a nearby performing arts high school, I decided to do the same. I auditioned with a folder full of “X-Files” fan fiction, made it in and have been writing ever since.
Imagine my delight when I discovered that David Duchovny, best known for his award-winning performances as Mulder in “The X Files” and Hank Moody in “Californication,” is a multi-faceted writer, too.
In January, he published a New York Times bestseller called Holy Cow: A Modern Day Dairy Tale. (His second book, Bucky F&%@ing Dent, is now available for pre-order.)
This year brought more big news for Duchovny fans: a six-episode revival of the “The X-Files” (cue fangirl screaming), his small screen reappearance inAquarius and his release of a self-penned alt-rock music album, called Hell or Highwater.
Perhaps no one is more surprised by this artistic turn of events than Duchovny himself, who spoke to C-VILLE Weekly in a phone conversation prior to his October 7 musical performance for Sessions at Willow Grove, a television concert series filmed at The Inn at Willow Grove in Orange.
C-VILLE Weekly: You were an English major at Princeton and received your M.A. from Yale. Have you always been making different types of art? Maybe more in the background than what people have seen?
David Duchovny: My artistic roots are in writing. I’m more of a writer who’s been acting than an actor who’s now writing (in my own mind, anyway).
But the music is a total surprise. Especially because I didn’t sing or play an instrument. But I love music, and I just decided one day four or five years ago that I was going to teach myself to play guitar because I wanted to amuse myself and play with my kids.
Then it progressed to playing decently enough to wonder about chord progressions. You know, the rock ‘n’ roll that I like, ’70s rock, ’60s rock, it’s not prog rock. I’m not writing any prog rock jazz fusion. I’m writing pretty straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. It’s really all about the melody and the lyrics because the chord progressions are all pretty standard.
What was the impetus to make your own music?
I remember very clearly, it must have been around this time of year because I remember walking and it was hot, and I was just thinking, “Well, why can’t I write a song? It seems like everybody should be able to write a song.”
I just threw some chords together, and I went for a walk and tried to hear a melody. It was surprising to me that I could hear a melody because I’m not really a singer. At least, I wasn’t then.
I’ve worked hard on my voice, and I’ve worked with a guy named Don Lawrence to uncover whatever it is I have. I’m not going to go on Broadway and belt anything out, but I do what I do, and he’s been able to find that.
I just remember strolling around and coming up with that melody for “The Things,” which is the first song I wrote for the album. It was just like da da da da [singing]. It was just very simple. Then I tried to find some lyrics.
Half an hour later, there was a song. I was like, “Okay. Well, you know, I wrote a song. At least I wrote one song in my life.”
Tell me about writing your lyrics.
With “The Things” I wanted to write this song that was very unspecific. I was never going to say really anything in it, but I was going to say a lot. It’s just me repeating ‘the things,’ which is about as vague as you can be.
I didn’t want it to be autobiographical. I don’t want air my dirty laundry. That’s not interesting to me. What’s interesting to me is the process of your personal life, not to just kind of put it on reality TV or whatever.
So to me, it made sense. It was this real dodgy kind of way to go about writing a lyric. It’s very vague and maybe evocative.
“Stars” happened because forever I’ve been hearing that we see light from stars that are so far away that the stars are dead. But we’re still seeing the light because it just takes so long to get here. To me, that made sense for an end-of-love song.
Do you gravitate toward certain themes in your work, or is making music a mode of feeling, a way to work through life with art?
I was always struck by the fact that you would hear these great songs and be taken with these lyrics, then you’d see the lyrics written out on the page and it’d be very underwhelming. I’m not going to read Leonard Cohen’s lyrics over a great poet, but I love to listen to his music and the words together.
There’s something that happens when the words and the music lock together in a way that makes them both soar.
To me, that’s always the magic. If there is any magic in what I do, it’s just to hear how the music and the words make each other better than they are alone.
You’re on tour now, coming to this boutique hotel on a rural estate in Virginia. What’s it like playing in these kinds of venues?
I like it because it’s only going to happen that one time. It’s not about singing the songs perfectly, which is good because I don’t have that kind of voice. It’s about making an evening with the people that chose to show up and making a connection.
I love that part. It’s like doing a play as opposed to doing a movie or a television show. It’s just happening in that moment. I like it especially in this world where everything’s documented. As much as people take pictures and movies, that doesn’t make it last forever. It really is just that one moment.
For more information about David Duchovny’s performance, go to innatwillowgrove.com.