Chris Sullivan Talks Debut Album and a New Song He Submitted for This Is Us to Use Someday
"It was probably one of the greatest honors of my life," Chris Sullivan tells PEOPLE of working with Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith
Another This Is Us star is launching new music!
Chris Sullivan, who plays Toby Damon on the NBC series, is getting ready to release his debut album under the name Joseph The Spouse. The actor, 40, is set to premiere Six Feet From Under on Thursday and fans will get to know him on a more personal level through his songs that are a mix of country, blues and folk music.
The record was produced and co-written by Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith, who also happens to be married to Sullivan's costar Mandy Moore.
Ahead of the release, Sullivan spoke with PEOPLE about his new project and the one song This Is Us viewers may want to keep an ear out for.
PEOPLE: Congratulations on the new record! How long have you been working on this?
CHRIS SULLIVAN: It's been a project over the last few years and we had all these tracks ready about a year ago in November. And we were playing shows around Los Angeles and then the world shut down and considering all of the things going on outside the pandemic, it just didn't seem like the right time to be releasing a record. So we held onto it and we're going to put it out now.
Because you had extra time, did you work on the album even more or fine-tune it, maybe even add stuff to it?
No, actually we talked about it. We did a couple of different recordings of one song just to kind of see the different ways it could go. And we did a kind of a more, This Is Us-friendly recording of one of the songs in a different form, but the album is going to remain the same. We're just really happy with the tracks and the way they came out.
What do you mean by This is Us-friendly?
There was one track on the record called "Messiah Moon," which is kind of spacey and trippy. And then when we did it live, we stripped it down to just piano and vocals. [Creator and showrunner] Dan Fogelman really liked it. And so we went and re-recorded it in that fashion. And we really liked where that came out too.
Does that mean the song will be featured in an forthcoming episode?
Well, nothing is guaranteed. But Dan and the editors have the record. They're seeing if there's a place for it. And of course, we can't force anything, but if an appropriate place comes up, then we shall see.
What was the inspiration behind the name Joseph The Spouse?
Randomly, I was sitting in an Easter mass service. I'm not Catholic myself, but I went with some family members a couple of Easters ago, and they started rattling off the names of all the saints. There were all the familiar ones that maybe some of us have heard of. And then all of a sudden they said, "Joseph the spouse." Joseph in the Jesus story is a saint, which I didn't know. And they call him Joseph the spouse. And I was like, "What an odd title." I started thinking that and how he is. His role in this story is kind of witness to the miracle, right? I kind of started relating to it in that, that's kind of how I feel about playing music, writing songs and playing music with other people. I kind of feel like I'm witnessing this miracle of creativity, kind of all of these people coming together and putting their energy into this song and the song right before our eyes becomes something that it wasn't before. And so the name just kind of stuck.
How did you come up with the album title Six Feet From Under?
It's kind of the photo negative way of describing, of letting someone know that you're still alive. The through-line theme of the songs is addressing the idea of mortality and the fact that all of this is going to end someday. So what are we going to do with the time we have?
What was it like to work with Taylor? You guys have performed together in the past.
It was probably one of the greatest honors of my life. He was so excited to jump in and work on it. He brought in a couple of other band members from Dawes to play on the record. And that was an incredible honor to have Griffin Goldsmith and Lee Pardini on the record. And then he brought in another friend, Johnny Flower, to play bass. I think so highly of [Taylor]. I think he's one of the greatest living American songwriters and to have him collaborate on something like this with me was just a dream come true.
During the creative process, what did you learn from Taylor?
What I learned most from Taylor was to just get out of my own way, to not overthink, to not overthink things, and allow music to be organic and imperfect. To not over-polish things and just let them be what they are. It just made it a really enjoyable experience.
What kind of themes can fans expect?
The overall theme is exactly kind of what we were talking about that the only way out is through. And through the darkness, there always seems to be light on the other side of it. I think a lot of the songs kind of approach that theme from different angles.
Music is a new avenue for you, what do you hope fans take away from the album? Some might just know you as the star of This Is Us, but now you'll be a star in the music genre.
One of the things that I've learned about making music, or expressing ourselves in ways that people don't expect, is it's scary and it's vulnerable. Sometimes you feel unworthy, but I think everybody has the right to redefine themselves or to define themselves as they see fit. I hope people will do that in their own lives. It's fun to constantly reevaluate who I want to be and how I want to express myself. And so this is just another iteration.
Six Feet From Under is available on Nov. 19.
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