Before Sling Blade, Angelina and Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton played drums in a ZZ Top tribute band.
After that and other musical efforts in Arkansas and Texas, Thornton moved to Los Angeles in 1981 to pursue acting. Even during the making of his breakthrough Sling Blade, which earned him an Academy Award in 1996 for best adapted screenplay, Thornton gathered old bandmates for impromptu jam sessions.
Over the years, Thornton, who also sings and composes songs, has released four solo albums, including the just-issued Beautiful Door, an introspective set that touches on life, death and personal politics. He co-wrote the songs with Brad Davis, who plays in Thornton's band and in bluegrass great Earl Scruggs' outfit.
The title song, Beautiful Door, is about religion and war.
It's about religion being mixed up in war and politics, how religion is used to perpetuate war. I'm saying that these guys think there's a magical door they're going to walk through after they kill a bunch of innocent people. Normally, I don't write songs like that. But what's going on in the world is with you at all times. I wanted to say something.
Your record sustains a mood throughout.
We demoed about 30 songs, all different types. But we wanted 11 or 12 of the same type of song, so we kept going until we had a dozen songs that worked pretty good together. I remember decades ago when albums were sequenced and one song sort of led to another. That's pretty much lost today since most people just download individual songs.
Music or movies?
I love acting but music is much more immediately gratifying. You're face to face with people, and I love that.