Actor Michael Chiklis has never been content to do what is expected of him. In 1989 he went from obscurity to the national spotlight playing beloved comic John Belushi in the film “Wired” — a part that both launched his career and almost killed it. He then landed the lead in the cop sitcom “The Commish,” and refined his comedic chops during guest spots on shows like “Seinfeld.”
Not content to be typecast, Mr. Chiklis hit the gym, shaved his head and transformed himself into the ultimate dirty cop, Vic Mackey, for seven seasons on “The Shield” on FX.
It’s no surprise then that his latest move is a return to his pre-acting rock roots. His debut CD, “Influence,” is so damn good you may forget Mr. Chiklis works as an actor. Mr. Chiklis spoke to The Washington Times at his California home to discuss the album and his cosmic connection to David Bowie.
Question: Why did you decide to record an album, and why now?
Answer: I’ve been a musician since I was young. I always wanted to do this. I just never had the time to dedicate and do it correctly. I’m not a person who does things at half-measures.
Just after college I was gigging and playing in a lot of bands. That would have been the most likely time for me to do it. But I got this lead playing John Belushi in “Wired.” After that, acting took over. Then I got married, had kids. Twenty-five years went by.
Q: Where does this album fit in today’s musical landscape?
A: I don’t really care. I know there are millions of people like me. I know there is an audience for it. I don’t believe rock ‘n’roll is dead. But when I listen to rock ‘n’ roll radio, I am still listening to the same tracks from 30 years ago. I would like to hear new rock that harks [back to] those days but is brought into this decade. That’s what I tried to do with this record.
Q: Why is the album called “Influence”?
A: Every actor, every painter, every artist is influenced by their predecessors, the people they loved growing up. With this album I choose to acknowledge the music that made me who I am.
Q: Who are your musical influences?
A: British rockers of the ‘70s: Queen, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Yes, Led Zeppelin. Americans like Van Halen. Also The Tubes. I have so many different influences and they’re very eclectic.
If you listen to the whole album, it is sonically very cohesive. Because it’s the same primary players, recorded in the same space with my vocals. But in terms of genre, it’s schizophrenic.
Q: I pick up some Bad Company and Soundgarden.
A: I get accused of that. I love Chris Cornell, and that’s a great accusation. Cornell is one of my favorite singers.
Q: Did you write all the songs on the record?
A: There are only two songs on the record I didn’t write — “Fame” by Bowie and Lennon, and the last song on the record, which is an ancient Irish lullaby my grandmother used to sing to me.
When my first daughter was born, I had to sing to her to get her to sleep. One night I just sang that song. It just came to me. When it came to the record, I thought, “No one knows that song. It’s ancient. It will just be lost to antiquity if I don’t record it.”
Q: Why did you decide to cover “Fame”?
A: I knew the whole time I wanted to do one cover. I believe that whatever music we loved between the ages of 13 and 19, those songs stay with you. I wanted to pick an artist from that period that had a tremendous influence on me.
The band was sitting here talking about covers in December of 2015. I happened to be thinking of Bowie. Everybody in the room said, “Let’s do ‘Fame!’” We laid it right down.
About a month later I was here recording backup vocals. Word came that David had passed, which was stunning. Two days later, my showrunner from “The Shield” sent me a note saying, “Read this to the end.” It was an article by Tony Visconti, the producer and longtime friend of David’s, chronicling Bowie’s last year. In the last year of life, Bowie was walking around Central Park writing the lyrics and melodies to his last record. While he was doing that, I was in New York shooting “Gotham” and walking around Central Park finishing the melodies and lyrics to this album — we were in the same park at the same time, never meeting. At the bottom of the article, it said, “He was addicted to the American crime drama ‘The Shield.’” That blew my mind.
Q: Do you worry about critics who don’t know you have a musical past who will say, “He’s just an actor trying to sing”?
A: At the end of the day, the music has to speak. I think people are far too willing to condemn something before they have heard it. If you hear that I’ve made a record and you roll your eyes and immediately condemn it, then shame on you. You’ve missed out. But if you listen to my whole record and you don’t like it, OK.
Music is a subjective art form. This is not just some vanity piece by an actor. I grew up listening to the Rat Pack. Those guys were insane talents [with] great movie and TV careers. Phenomenal music careers.
I always thought of music and acting as opposite sides of the same coin. I thought you could always move from one to the next. Only in recent years there seems to be this stigma that actors shouldn’t try to sing. That’s f***ing bulls***.
“Influence” is out now.