Photo: Fred Blauth
Trace Cyrus spoke with me before his show at Altar Bar on April 27th. Miley’s brother. Billy Ray’s son. Shirtless, covered in tattoos, and without removing his sunglasses he prepared for my barrage of questions, a slight disinterest in his body language. You can imagine how one might feel conducting an interview with such a first impression. While I geared up in an attempt assert my own coolness despite my age, humble income, and complete lack of tattoos, Trace Cyrus began to open up about his shortcomings as a songwriter and musician. He freely spoke of his family’s connection to the industry and how fortunate he has been because of it. He acknowledged that without his sister he wouldn’t have had access to his first band (it was on the set of Hannah Montana where he was connected with Metro Station, a teen pop foursome who made a splash on the charts with their single “Shake It.”) All in all, Trace Cyrus is an extremely likable guy, humble and down to earth. Shame on me for assuming otherwise.
All that being said, real people like you and I may acknowledge that while he may be down to earth what earth is he down to? Certainly not mine. He never finished high school, never had a real job, and experienced immediate musical success. But our experiences are always our own and there are still universal emotions and struggles. Trace Cyrus isn’t entirely void of the existential crises that post-modern intellectuals like to boast.
Growing up with Billy Ray Cyrus as a father would get any Nashville youngster in the early-mid ’90s an immediate identity, and perhaps it brought more comforts than most people have. But his identity, regardless of its fortunes, was crafted. Crafted by the music industry and music fans. This realization does not escape him. His celebrity persona followed him to Toronto, Canada where Billy Ray agreed to make a television show. “I hated living in Canada,” Cyrus admits. “I got bullied a lot, it was probably the worst part of my life.”
All this time Cyrus had attended nine different schools, his father was continuously under pressure to repeat the success of “Achey Breaky Heart,” and Trace had no identity to call his own. Then, on the brink of adult hood, Trace made a bold decision. He dropped out of high school and moved to California. ” In California, nobody gave a crap that my dad was Billy Ray, I just got to be me.”
Hollywood clubs, and parties attracted the young Cyrus. Now he admits that those days are over and looks forward to moving back to Tennessee and buying a house. At the the time however, upper tier socializing advanced his confidence and laid the foundation for his energetic on-stage presence that served Metro Station well. All of this he credits to California.
That is not to say that it has been one success after another. Metro Station parted ways, best friends separating. His first album under the moniker Ashland High, Geronimo, was released to mixed reviews, and Trace admits that Miley and Billy Ray are still referenced whenever anyone discusses his music–it has to happen, though and ultimately Cyrus knows that.
Growing up within the music industry is still growing up and the pressures of adult hood have not gone unnoticed by the 24 year old. Cyrus takes in all in stride, however. He’s recreated himself once, he can do it again.While he still mainly plays to the 15-17 year old market, and this is not surprising, Cyrus strays little from the teen-pop genre, Trace asserts that he is trying to reach out to his older fans who grew up with Metro Station. It seems as if it is working. There was a substantial number of folks in their early 20’s who attended the show. Maybe they were there out of nostalgia, or maybe, as Cyrus’ presence has become far more personal on stage old Metro Station fans are getting a vision of what one of their teenage idols has experienced entering adulthood. And they’re realizing that he’s feeling the same sort of pressure, expectations, and confusion they are.
While there is certainly room for the young Cyrus to grow musically and lyrically, Trace Cyrus doesn’t seem to ignore experience and so it is a growth that is sure to happen.