Billy Ray Cyrus Thrills in ‘Tennessee’
Billy Ray Cyrus is going back to his roots. The singer/actor released his new album, 'Back to Tennessee,' this week. The title aptly reflects Cyrus' heart these days, having had to relocate his family in 2006 to Los Angeles to star alongside superstar daughter Miley in the Disney TV series, 'Hannah Montana.'
The Boot caught up with Cyrus at the AOL studios in Beverly Hills during a whirlwind media tour for his new album and new 'Hannah Montana' movie. After a little personal chit chat about plans to reinstate his mullet this summer (seriously!), we got down to the business of talking about 'Tennessee.'
'Back to Tennessee' is such a fitting title for you, given that you've stayed true to yourself amidst the craziness of Hollywood.
My dad was right -- life is a journey and you have to always be aware of where you're at, where you're going, but most importantly, never forget where you come from. That becomes a part of who you are. The song is very autobiographical of my life, my journey, where I've been, where I'm at, where I'm going.
Has life in L.A. been tough for you?
All you have to do is listen to the words of the song ... Of course it has. Can you imagine? But hey, nothing worth anything comes easy, does it? As I look back, I want to be positive and say you take what you work for and what you're given in life. While I hate to sound so cliché, do you get lemons or do you make lemonade? You get an opportunity, so it all comes down to what you're going to do with it. Isn't always true that the harder you work, the luckier you get?
But you've got to miss the peace and quiet of Tennessee.
That's been the easy part. It's more inside -- spiritually, emotionally, keeping up with the pace. This ain't my first rodeo of the series. Remember, I spent four and half years reciting Dr. Clint Cassidy's words [on the sitcom, 'Doc']. I remember when I did 'Doc,' and I wrote a poem called 'I'm Still Me,' but it was more that I was asking the question, 'Am I still me?' Because I say other people's words. I ran right back into another one, so it's been about ten years of this.
There are so many different nuances on this album. Even the vocals seem to be cut differently to match the different styles.
I think 'Thrill Billy' might be a monster. In one song, if you said, 'What is the spectrum that your music runs, in one song how far can it go?' 'Thrill Billy' is it.
It's hip-hop meets hillbilly.
That's exactly what it is! It's all the way back to what I wanted to do on this whole record – was go from Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley -- my earliest roots of music, with the main core of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and all of that that I grew up on, and then lean to the far edge of ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin. When [producer] Mark Bright and I first talked, he asked, 'Where do you want to go?' I said, 'Everywhere from Bill Monroe to Led Zeppelin.' That one particular song does that. That song is really very special.
'Somebody said a Prayer' resonates in a huge way to anyone going through a tough time, but particularly to those who've been touched by suicide. What's been the reaction you've gotten to that song?
It's a powerful, powerful song. I know of one life it's already saved. I can't go into details, but I know of one kid that happened to hear the song because [my son] Trace was in the video for that song. If that's the only one it touches, it's good enough for me. That's why I cut the song. I know it touched my life.
Were you disappointed that it wasn't a bigger hit on country radio?
I thought 'Somebody Said a Prayer' was going to be huge. I couldn't see anyway that song wouldn't have gone to No. 1. People at the record company thought it was going to be the song of the year. I'm hoping the depth of the album will be realized, because the proof is in the pudding. That song resonated with the people who heard it, but getting radio stations to play it was a different story. That's why I want to hit them with 'Thrill Billy' and say, 'Here, merry Christmas!'
As a protective parent, how do you handle the media circus that surrounds your family?
You have to stay focused on what's important and what's real. You have to realize, with the internet, that 90% of what you see on there ain't real anyway. Luckily, I'm on the inside and I know what's real and what ain't.
And when they're hard on Miley?
You just deal with it.
So you don't want to hurt people who hurt your kid?
Unfortunately that's illegal. [laughs]
What about all of the criticism about the age difference between Miley and her boyfriend, Justin Gaston? It doesn't bother you?
Not at all.
So it's okay that she's 16 and he's 20?
Oh my gosh, yes.
What are you protective about when it comes to all of your kids?
Reaching dreams and goals, being who you are, doing what you do in life, loving life, being all that you can be and about what matters most to you.
Is there another celebrity dad with a celebrity kid that you can relate to?
If Miley weren't in this business, do you ever think, 'Gosh, life would be so much simpler'?
No, because then she wouldn't have her dreams and she wouldn't be all the things she loves and wants to be in life. I lived my life for that moment, so everything is okay.
Getting back to your own dreams, you wrote two songs on the album and other songwriting credits include some some pretty big names.
I wanted great songs for the album. The caliber of material that was coming in, like 'Somebody Said a Prayer,' and 'Thrill Billy,' Jeffrey Steele and Tom Hambridge's 'Give it To Somebody,' 'Real Gone' by Sheryl Crow. My stamp of authenticity is in [the songs I wrote] 'I'm Just as Country as Country Can Be' and 'Back to Tennessee.' I just wanted the sound to be absolutely bullet proof -- that it's great songs from song-1 to song-12, ending with the song I do with Miley, 'Butterfly, Fly Away,' which was written by Glenn Ballard, who wrote 'Man in the Mirror' for Michael Jackson.
Another tear jerker. And it sounds like there is another male voice on that track, in addition to yours?
It's me. Every male on there is me. Stacks and stacks. And Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics is on there with me, playing guitar -- what a rock legend. So what was my goal with this album? I wanted to go from A-Z.
Gus Ruelas, AP
Noel Vasquez, Getty Images
Peter Kramer, AP
Jeff Christensen, AP
George Pimentel, WireImage
Chris Pizzello, AP
Kevork Djansezian, AP
Noel Vasquez, Getty Images
Jeff Christensen, AP