Billy Ray Cyrus Interview: ‘Change My Mind’ Star Continues to Count His Blessings After 20 Years of Making Music
In the 20 years that Billy Ray Cyrus has been making music, he has scored countless accolades and helped pave the road for many up-and-comers in the country music industry. But music isn’t Cyrus’ only forte. In addition to selling millions of albums and cranking out the hits since 1992, he has also taken over the big screen, trying his hand at acting, and plans to head to New York this month to prepare for his Broadway debut in ‘Chicago.’
But this week, Cyrus is focused on celebrating the release of his 13th studio album, ‘Change My Mind.’ The disc contains some of Cyrus’ best work to date, and gives fans a little bit of everything so they’ll keep coming back for more.
Taste of Country recently caught up with Cyrus to discuss his new tunes, his nerves over hitting Broadway, and the past 20 years of his life that he has shared through country music.
ToC: Your 13th studio album, ‘Change My Mind,’ hit stores this week. For fans who have been awaiting new music from you, what can they expect when they pick up the collection?
Billy Ray Cyrus: It’s got a little bit of everything on there. It’s certainly a tip of the hat to my roots and influences, from bluegrass to outlaw country to southern rock ‘n’ roll … it’s all there. We had the right songs with the right band at the right time. Everything just came together to make a really special record.
Did you write everything on the project?
I did. I wrote or co-wrote everything on there.
Do some of the usual suspects pop up as your co-writers on the tracks?
Well, I got one on there with my buddy Don Von Tress (who wrote ‘Achy Breaky Heart’). I wrote the new single [and title track] with my buddy Michael Joe Sagraves, who played guitar with me for years, and the rest might be me alone, I believe.
You are in the 20th year of your music career. Do you feel this album, and your songwriting on the project, show a lot of growth as a result of the years of experience you have under your belt?
What it is is a snapshot of where I’ve been, where I’m at and where I’m going musically. Again, it’s a tip of the hat to my roots and my influences. There’s a lot of realism and a lot of truth and honesty in the album. At the same time, I made the record with a philosophy of no rules, no limits and no preconceived notions. I’m here to make music, and this music is just going to be real. Whatever that evolves into, that’s the way it comes down.
Luckily I had the right band at the right time and the right songs, and I added a couple of guys like Tony Frittata on the banjo and Luke Price on the fiddle. He ended up being priceless. What Luke and Tony added to the band, it really made the goal all come together of this album needs to reflect all of my roots and all of my influences. When the banjo and the fiddle came in with all those rock guitars, as far as the lyrics go, it’s just honesty. To me, that’s what music and the artists that I’ve always loved brought… the honesty of the singer who is living what he’s singing and singing about what he’s living. That was kind of the intent.
Some of my favorite artists like [Johnny] Cash and Bruce Springsteen and Waylon Jennings and [Kris] Kristofferson are guys who you could tell they were living the music. I think that ‘Change My Mind’ is an honest snapshot of where my world is.
Talk about the song ‘Change My Mind’ and tell us how the idea came about when you sat down to write it with Michael Joe Sagraves.
It’s really interesting. We came up with the chorus in late 1992 or early spring of 1993. Isn’t that crazy? To be honest, life was just in a whirlwind — a rocket ride — at that time. It was one of those songs that just sort of slipped through the cracks. We never finished it. As we were cutting the second album, ‘It Won’t Be the Last,’ I think I chugged out a chorus, just so me and him would have a demo of what we were writing. Life was moving so fast. That album got completed and done, and we moved on to the third. Somehow we forgot about ‘Change My Mind.’
A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my studio working on some of the songs that I had written for this album. I had me a big ol’ Marshall amplifier all cranked up and an electric guitar. I was making some pretty rockin’ little noises [laughs]. I just got carried away. My mind just flashed back to ‘I’m thinkin’ about changing my mind.’ I always loved that hook. It’s a play on words. I just loved that chorus.
When I write a song, it comes really fast. While I was in the groove, I just kind of spit out the verse and just kept playing. That became the song. It just felt really fun to play. I have to tell you, that was the thing about ‘Change My Mind’ … it felt so fun to play. The producer and the band loved it, too. The shows that I have been playing, like TV shows, I have been playing ‘Change My Mind,’ and it’s been really, really fun to play that song. It’s just one of those songs that’s a party waiting to happen.