Longtime TV watchers are accustomed to seeing Christian Kane’s face over the years. Beginning on Fame L.A. in 1997, the rugged Texas native played an evil lawyer on Angel and now is Eliot Spencer, the resident tough guy of the team of do-gooders on TNTs Leverage. Along the way, he’s had songs show up on those same TV show because — as it may be a surprise to some but not to his faithful “Kaniacs” — he’s a heck of a country singer, too. The former frontman of the eponymous rock band Kane releases his debut solo country album The House Rules today, and is in the midst of a long tour that will go all the way till the spring, when Kane returns to Portland to film the fourth season of Leverage. (His co-star Timothy Hutton directed the music video for the first single, the album’s title track.) The show ends its third year in explosive fashion with a two-part season finale starting Sunday night. Before heading out on the road with his band, Kane checked in from his Nashville home while pondering a second single — “I have an idea of what it could be, but there’s many a slip between a cup and a lip,” he quips — to talk about the album, being an action star and his own house rule. Read below for the interview, and check out a clip from Sunday’s episode of Leverage featuring the rough-and-tumble Eliot undercover as a mall Santa Claus.
Photos by Mark DeLong and Karen Neal
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Was there anything that happened to get you fired up to do this album amid your busy acting career?
Not really. A lot of people don’t know I got my first acting job because I was a country singer. With Fame L.A., you had to sing, dance or act, or whatever your talent was, and I just happened to be a singer. That’s one of the reasons I got the role. It’s so much fun right now because we’ve been doing music for over 10 years, I’ve lived in Nashville for six years, and finally we’re reaping the benefits of that. I never really stopped trying to do country music — I was just always acting. At one point, I just said, “OK, look, if I’m going to do this, I need to do it. I’m not getting any younger.” So I moved to Nashville and I really wasn’t going to take another job on the acting side until I really gave this a shot. Then [Leverage creator] John Rogers called me in Nashville and said, “What are you doing, buddy? I’ve got a great little role for you.” Of course, I jumped at it because the role on Leverage is the role I moved to Hollywood to play, the role every little kid in the world would love to have. If somebody says, “Hey, one day you’re gonna get to play Mr. T,” you jump at it. [Laughs]
How long had you been cooking up some of these songs with your co-writers?
Some of them are as new as a year, some of them have been around for five or six years. Oh man, I’ve been writing in this town for almost 10 years, going back and forth flying out here. That’s why I love the album so much: It’s literally 10 years of my life packed into a CD.
As a songwriter, are you better with lyrics than music, or vice versa?
I think I’m more of a lyricist than I am a musician to be honest with you. When I write songs, I tend to write very visually, and it’s probably my acting background. But when I write a song, I see the music video in my head while I’m writing it and as the song takes place. If I can’t see a video from A to B, then it’s probably not the song for me. I don’t know why that is. Some people see music notes in the air, some people hear the music and just flow with that. I really honestly see the song and the story visually. That’s the great thing about country music: To have a successful song most of the time, you have to write a little three-and-a-half-minute movie. You can’t stray too far outside the box. You really have to keep it together and tell a story.
So if you look at your album as 11 stories, what theme do you find runs through them?
I take it the opposite way. I wanted an eclectic album. I like to call this album Baskin-Robbins — it’s got 31 flavors. Whatever emotion you’re feeling at that time, you can find a song in there for you. If you went through a bad relationship or breakup, a lot of people will listen to songs that hurt even more. I know I do. I don’t know what it is about human nature — that’s what you do. There’s one for that. If you want to laugh, if you want to cry, if you want to drink, if you want to be happy, there’s a song in there for you. That was really important for me. I didn’t really want to have a theme, because I just love albums. A couple of my favorite albums, like August and Everything After by Counting Crows, it wasn’t the same song over and over again. It was different emotions on a record, and that to me is a successful record. That’s what we really shot for.
Your version of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car is probably the only cover of it I’ve heard that surpasses the original. You really seem to connect with it.
I do. I sung that song for a couple of people when I got my first job. I could have sang a Garth Brooks song or a George Strait song, but I ended up singing Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. I don’t know why I did it — I think it was because it was in my car. So I owe a lot to her. I didn’t want to steer away from what she did and I didn’t want to add guitars or anything. We didn’t go off the road there and try something new: “Hey, here’s a little souped-up version!” I just kept it really and truly honest to what Tracy had done. It was already a great song, and I really hate it when people take a good song and change it. The funny thing about that was they did the music and stuff in Nashville and I was filming Leverage in Portland, so I just went into a studio by myself. It was literally just me and an engineer on the other side of the wall somewhere. I just went in there, took the lights down and sang it down about four or five times by myself, man. It was pretty cool.
How grand are your musical aspirations? Do you still dream of headlining arenas one day or are your expectations tempered because you have this other job?
Sure, we want to headline arenas. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it. This is not a hobby for me, and I think I’ve proven that to people. I was with Columbia Records for a while and things didn’t work out there. I didn’t put my tail between my legs and drive back to L.A., which is what most people thought I was going to do. I’ve turned down a couple of movies and a couple of roles pursuing music. I turned around and drove back to Nashville and said, “Hey, I’m not going anywhere. I’m not giving up. You’re sure as hell not going to run me out of town.” We want to be as big as we can be. Saying that, it doesn’t necessarily mean I need to be Kenny Chesney or Toby Keith. What we’re looking for in this business right now, and the same thing in acting, is just longevity. That’s the best thing you can have. Look, I drove to L.A. to be Brad Pitt and I drove to Nashville to be Keith Urban, but at this point, I’ve grown up and I realize who I really want to be. I really want to be Gene Hackman and George Strait, the guy you call in when you need to get [stuff] done.
When you listen to country music as a fan, do your tastes veer older?
I love what Zac Brown’s doing. I’m a big fan of Jason Aldean. But I do lend my ear toward the older country. Instead of the more traditional country, I like to throw in a little bit of the Highwaymen, a little Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and those guys. I listen to all kinds of music, not just country music. I really find it hard if you call yourself a songwriter and don’t listen to other genres of music because there’s so much more stuff out there. I’m very eclectic. I mean, my favorite band is Alice in Chains. I like to rock with my country a little bit. You have to be very careful because you have to love what you put out there. It could be the song that defines you for the rest of your life and then you end up singing it for the rest of your life if you’re serious about music. That could be the one you’re known forever. In saying that, I gotta make sure in some of my songs I sprinkle a little rock ‘n’ roll in there because we love having fun. Garth Brooks said it best, and I don’t know this verbatim, but he said, “No matter what ticket you had, no matter where you were sitting, if you were front row or if you were backstage, I’m still the one that had the most fun.” It’s gotta be that way. I heard that a long time ago and it affected me when I was younger, and I’ve kept that with me in my back pocket. We play to that rule.
What can you say about the two-part Leverage season finale?
It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done. Twice the amount of fight scenes I’ve ever done. I’ll usually get four to six hours to fight, and this one I got two 15-hour days in a warehouse. It is the biggest fight I’ve ever done, TV or film, and it is the coolest thing I’ve probably ever done in my life.
Did you put your whole body on ice afterward?
Trust me, I did, man. [Laughs] And when you see it, you’ll realize why.
What else can fans expect, other than the big fight?
The same thing we’re known for for season finales: We don’t always win. This one’s out of left field. One of the great things that fans have come to look forward to is that we usually pretty much know that we kinda know what’s going on, but in the season finales, we’re very famous for not doing that. This one doesn’t let you down at all.
Is the physical aspect of the role your favorite part?
Yeah. I’m so fortunate the producers let me do my own stunts and choreograph fights. I don’t have a stunt double, and you just don’t find that in television. Most people would never ever let one of their lead actors do their own stunts or do as much stuff as I do. I really look forward to that and take pride in that. The fun aspect about it is there’s a little bit of comedy involved with our drama, and that keeps everything light. I think that’s why we’re such a successful show. I don’t know if this show is supposed to be as comedy-driven as it is. It was a pretty serious pilot, and we had so much fun with it that we found our show.
Because the producers let you do all the fighting, do you worry in the back of your mind about breaking a hand or getting a fist to the mouth or throat that may affect the ol’ music career?
[Laughs] I would be lying if I said I didn’t, but the fact is, if you think that way, that’s usually when you get hurt. You have to shoot from the hip. It’s the same thing as if you know you’re going to get in a car accident and you tense up, you’re gonna get really hurt. Most of the time if you’re sleeping in the back seat, everything’s fine because your body’s relaxed. I’m a big believer of what you put out into the universe. If I prepare for that, then I’m setting myself up for failure. I just go 110%, man, and if I break my hand, then I’ll just sing and somebody else will have to play guitar that night. [Laughs] I can’t worry about that too much or I won’t be any good for anybody.