If there’s one regret David Duchovny has, it’s that he never wrote in his 20s and 30s. Acting his way throughout the ’90s, reaching cult status as Fox Mulder on the The X-Files before a seven-season run on Californication, Duchovny never considered himself a writer, much less a songwriter. A later bloomer in the medium, at the age of 55 Duchovny released his debut album Hell or Highwater and first novel Holy Cow in 2015. Still significantly younger than his father, Amram, who published his first book while he was in his 70s, Duchovny insists “It’s never too late,” releasing his third album Gestureland (GMG / Westbound Kyd).
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Following his second album Every Third Thought in 2018, Duchovny found himself with more than 20 songs after an unexpected wave of writing, then made it a more intentional process. “I didn’t ever want it to feel like a job, but I also feel like I’m an experienced enough creator of things to know that you can’t just rely on that initial inspiration forever,” says Duchovny. “After a certain point, there is a discipline, and I’m not going to write a song unless I pick up my guitar and tell myself to write a song. If you’re lucky enough to get the momentum, there’s nothing better, but if you have to sit down when it’s not going well—that’s where the real glory comes. Anybody can write when they’re inspired.”
Unlike Every Third Thought, which featured songs written before his debut, Gestureland is a collection of completely new songs, which Duchovny recorded after a brief pause during the pandemic, along with keyboardist Colin Lee, guitarists Pat McCusker and Keenan O’Meara, bassist Mitchell Stewart, and drummer Davis Rowan.
“This is really the first album that has any kind of complete newness to it,” says Duchovny. “When I first started writing the songs, all of a sudden, I had this rush of 20, 25 songs in a short span. It was a new forum, and I had all these things I want to say, and all these chord progressions that were new to me.”
Gestureland trails through all the signs, illusions, disillusionments, and gestures in life and all its nuances, from the indie pulses of “Nights Are Harder These Days” and folkier inflection of “Holding Patterns” and “Chapter and Verse,” the latter which came to Duchovny in a dream and was completed two years later. “Everything is Noise,” written by O’Meara, lends some sentimental pop, with “Tessera” offering tenderer ear around the political nudge of “Layin’ On The Tracks”—The crowds will gather in the poison rain / To hear what they want / Scream and cheer for what was once insane / That passes for fun. Driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, David Duchovny remembers thinking the sun shines brighter on the Pacific Coast Highway because all the lights are going my way, which sounded like his very own “Hotel California.”
“They’re all about disillusionment in a way or the freedom once you see through the illusion”, says Duchovny. “On ‘Pacific Coast Highway’ it’s the smoke and mirrors of Hollywood and on ‘Mind of Winter’ it’s the philosophies that you’re taught as a child or the stories that you have to move away from it in order to come back and see clearly.”
Gestureland closes around “Sea of Tranquility,” a song initially inspired by the moon landing of 1969 and the astronaut’s Tranquility Base. “They landed in the ‘Sea of Tranquility,’ and that just always struck me as beautiful, and it’s phrase that’s been in my mind since childhood,” shares Duchovny, who also linked the song to an article he read about a meth-addicted couple who believed the moon was made of drugs with references his dog Blue, who passed away, and the act of being blue. “We look up at the moon, and it affects us, and if you’re really fragile, you might think it’s made of drugs or something else,” says Duchovny. “I love swimming in the ocean, and I also thought about swimming in the sea of tranquility, and all these images started to come together.”
On Gestureland, there are stories being told, but it’s nothing personal.
“I do feel like every song is a different character,” says Duchovny. “When I’m singing or writing lyrics I have the sense that it’s not necessarily me. It’s this other guy or a voice starting to talk. Yes, it’s coming from inside me, but the translation of feeling into words and music causes it to be not me.”
He adds, “When a song works, it actually speaks for the listener. It’s not a puzzle to be decoded. I want to leave room for you if I can. Those are my favorite songs… when somebody left room.”
Reflecting on the protests and the pandemic, it’s more evidence why that “room” in songs is critical, says Duchovny. “I think a good song can fit anytime, anywhere,” he says. “If you think of the great protest songs like ‘For What It’s Worth,’ it’s specific to things that happened in LA, but that doesn’t matter. There’s something in the spirit of the song that translates, and you don’t have to be a Christian to be moved by or ‘Amazing Grace,’ so I would hope that my songs take on new meaning.”
Though Duchovny started later on, he still has more stories to tell. Set to star in the upcoming Showtime series based on his fourth book Truly Like Lightning, Duchovny also finished filming the Judd Apatow-helmed The Bubble. Still as much a part of the screen as his own stories, Gestureland is part of Duchovny’s continuing script.
“I’m fascinated by the idea of gestures and signs and meanings, especially in this day and age of social media where everybody’s signaling to one another and pictures are parsed and moments become hugely significant images,” says Duchovny. “That was on my mind, but I don’t think it actually informs the songs. I don’t think my songs are about now. They’re just human.”
Now three albums in, Duchovny finally considers himself a songwriter and is cognizant of his subject matter.
“I write rock and roll, popular songs, radio songs, or whatever you want to call this enterprise, but they’re not usually written by 60-year-old people,” says Duchovny. “Rock and roll is about getting laid and having fun and drinking, and heartbreak. It’s the soundtrack of our youth. I wasn’t writing back then, so I can only write what’s going on for me now, in my mind, and in my heart.”