Track by Track is a recurring new music feature in which an artist offers a comprehensive rundown of their new album.
David Duchovny is a jack of all trades. He acts, he writes, he directs, and, yes, he plays music. Now, nearly three years after he dropped his full-length debut, 2015’s Hell or Highwater, the Golden Globe-winning actor returns with Every Third Thought.
Due out February 9th via King Baby/GMG, the sophomore album offers a strikingly intimate portrait of Duchovny, who meditates on his late father and past relationships through songs like “Stranger in the Sacred Heart”, “Jericho”, and “Half Life”.
Below, you can stream the incredible album ahead of its release and read our exclusive Track by Track interview with Duchovny. You’ll quickly see he’s just as sharp and intuitive as he traditionally is on screen in The X-Files, Californication, et al.
I’m not a scientific person, but I guess I’ve written poetry in my life that’s sometimes been inspired by scientific notions. I’ve seen that science and poetry inhabit the same territory. I’ve heard researchers who have made scientific discoveries talk about how it’s often a poetic leap that leads them there, and not necessarily a rational way to get to what they’ve discovered or created.
I think we all know the Heisenberg principal — that you can’t look at a thing without affecting it; you can’t measure something without changing what you’re measuring; the idea that perception is actually an impediment to seeing something clearly — and to me that was always a poem, that principle is a poem.
Or Schrodinger’s cat. Or Zeno’s paradox, where in order to get somewhere, you have to get halfway there first. But you have to get halfway to halfway, and halfway to halfway, and it’s obvious that you can never get anywhere if you keep going half that distance. There will always be another half, it’s very Kafka-esque.
These are thought experiments in a way. To me, these are the kind of things that happen when I hear something about science. And I’m way too stupid to understand these things scientifically, but I can kind of apprehend them poetically. That’s kind of what happened with “Half Life”. Somewhere along the line, even though I haven’t had much psychics, I heard about that term, ‘half-life,’ with the K of the radioactive half-life.
This is a song that’s kind of about divorce, about losing somebody that you’ve been with for a long time. Divorce being half and half, you split things half and half. And also, it could be half way through your life, it could be a midway song. It just kind of struck me to speak about these emotional issues in a scientific way. On the surface, it would make it kind of emotionless, but somehow through the alchemy of music make it emotional.
“Every Third Thought”:
It’s a little bit about obsession, but also a rut one can get into in love or out of love or just in life. Where you’re living your life and doing your thing, and you have that thought and you have another thought, and then every third thought is on that thing that’s really obsessing you. So, it’s kind of about that. And the singer is questioning when am I gonna change? When am I gonna have a new thought? When am I not gonna have every third thought on you? I see the seasons changing, but I remain the same.
What I like about lyric writing is that you never have to come down specifically on what you mean. And sometimes the necessity of rhyming is going to push you places that you might not normally go. You’ll change your thought in order to hit that rhyme and I love having to do that. I think [“Every Third Thought”] is more about wanting the change to come, wanting the change on the inside to marry the change on the outside – like, when am I going to turn the album over?
“Maybe I Can’t”:
I’d say I’m a spiritual person in the sense that if I’m any kind of religion I’d be a Buddhist maybe. My conception of god comes mostly from my history of being an English literature major. So much of English literature, at least until this century, comes out of the Bible and with people struggling. So much of Shakespeare is informed by the Bible. So, the Bible is always a text, I always read it as a text as my work for an English major. So, I’m pretty well acquainted with the Bible, but not really as a worshipper but more as a reader.
“Stranger in the Sacred Heart”:
If you had to ask me if I had a song that says something like who am I or what do I believe in it would be [“Stranger in the Sacred Heart”]. We were touring in Europe and we were playing in Paris. I woke up the day we were going to play that night — my father had died in Paris in 2003 and this was a decade or so later or whatever — and I was staying near the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. I’d heard about it, so we walked up the sail and I was told that the tradition is that people pray there for the world, not for themselves or their friends. It’s not like this self-interested prayer, but more for humanity in general.
I was like, “That’s true religion.” I really like that as opposed to what I get in America, which is like I’m praying for a new car, I’m praying for a house. So, just dealing with the idea that maybe I hadn’t really come to terms with my father’s death or I had never really honored him in his own adopted city that he died in. And then this idea of taking up somebody else’s point of view, which is kind of what you do when you pray at the Sacred Heart … that’s what informed that. I even wanted to name the album that, but they were like, “Oh, they’re going to think it’s a Christian album.” [Laughs.]
Anybody who’s self-deprecating can be seen as using that as a way to not be self-deprecating. What do they call it, ‘humble bragging’? I come more from my dad’s side — the Jewish side — where I’m honestly self-loathing. So, it’s not only self-deprecating, it’s like, I’m telling you the truth, I suck. [“Mo'”] came out of that thought: if less is more is the converse true? If more is less, what does that mean? So, the song started out as a let’s all be happy for what we have. If less is more, we can be happy for not having a lot. But then, me, I’ve been given a lot in this life. I have more. So, if more is less well I’m really blessed.
There were all these counterintuitive thoughts going on, but it really was about trying to look soberly at what we have and ask if that’s enough … and it probably is. Musically, that was always a Fleetwood Mac song. I told my bassist that I even had the bass line in my head. But, the way that I play is so ham-fisted that I was hitting my bass strings as I was strumming it and it was creating a bass line. And then I said, “You know that classic, air-tight Fleetwood Mac production sound…”
“Someone Else’s Girl”:
There’s a type of rock ‘n’ roll song where the guy comes after your girl, and [“Someone Else’s Girl”] is in that genre. It’s a playful song and when it came time to produce it, we definitely were thinking of a Beatles vibe like “Octopus’s Garden”.
It was a freewheelin’ experience. I was just hearing all these rhymes and I hadn’t heard “bliss” rhymed with “communist.” Basically, I’m just saying I want everyone to get there, I want everyone to be happy, I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade.
But the song is really about one guy lusting after another guy’s girl, it’s that song. It’s still that song, but the guy has gotta make excuses first before he says, “I’m coming after your girl.” He has to say, “Well, I’m not this kind of guy.”
“When the Whistle Blows”:
There’s a swagger in the song, but the guy is in bad shape. He’s been asked to stay away, but he can’t move on, he can’t move. He’s not in good shape. So, he’s basically saying, “Things aren’t working out for me this way, but I do acknowledge that I’m in the place I gotta be, but just know that I’m the guy to count on. When it’s all over, I’ll still be standing here.” So, it’s kind of making that promise. Like, I acknowledge that this thing is over, but you can still rely on me. [The heavy vibe] was a surprise to me, that was something the band came up with, but the lyrics are heavy and the chorus feels somewhat hopeful. So, it’s kind of pushing in two different ways, which I like.
I didn’t write this song. That’s the one song I had nothing to do with on the album. But the band pitched it to me, and I was like, “Ooh, I like it.” I didn’t write a word, didn’t write a note. But I do like the way the drums come in at the end. We had just been rehearsing to tour, and I’d never played it before live and it’ll be a really good song live.
I’m always reading, so things stick to me. [“Roman Coin”] came to me right after we were touring. The image was just of ending your life and meeting your maker or whatever and accounting for your life, then feeling like a weight still bringing you back down to Earth for some reason, like something was unfinished or undone.
The idea was I saw this coin in my pocket, it was weighing me down, but then that became this love as well. Then you have all these congruences between money and love being like a currency, drawing the differences and the similarities between the two and how a coin passes from hand to hand and that we have histories as lovers and things like that.
I like the idea of tossing the coin into the fountain at the end.
“Jericho” is a dialogue with my father. He was Jewish, but I’d say he was more culturally Jewish. I went to Episcopalian school, so even before I had to read the Bible as an English major, I had to read the Bible for Bible class, and I sang those hymns: “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down.”
So, it’s all in me and it came out in the song. The idea of having two different kinds of horns: You’ve got the horn of destruction at Jericho, that’s able to knock walls down. Then you’ve got Gabriel’s horn, like the rebirth, the kind of karmic horn.
In relation to my dad, every son has points of contention with their parents, and with me becoming a dad myself, all these things were coming into play. There’s the destructive part of me and the healing, rebirthing part.
It was putting these things into play.
“Last First Time”:
You run out of last first times as you get older, I guess, because you’ve tried certain things. I think this is a real Springsteen kind of song, especially the pre-chorus. To me, that was the Springsteen I grew up loving; he used to write these kinds of really big pre-choruses where you make all these huge claims for yourself. Like calling out East of Eden and saying something like “north of our youth,” just shit like that — really confident, lyrically confident. I just felt like it was a ’70s song and I was very sure of what I was trying to say the whole time. So, it’s of a piece. Lyrically, I think it’s strong and has a good vibe.
The first verse, the melody, and the music was written by Colin Lee, who produces and plays piano and some guitar in my band. He had come to me and said, “I would love for this to end the album,” and gave me the first verse. I was like, “This is a beautiful song, it shouldn’t just be a snippet like this. It doesn’t need to be a big deal, but it could be a song. It doesn’t have to be a fragment.” So, I wrote the second verse, and we just put it together like that.
When I sing, “I am walking on,” I don’t see it as walking away, I see it as persevering. I love the line, “I see the setting sun and you’re not the only one dying all day long.” You know, every day we watch the sun rise and fall, and we can take solace from that. We do walk on. So, it’s not really like moving on, it’s more like, I’m still going to put one foot in front of the other.