Now that he’s an established actor with some clout in Hollywood, Billy Ray Cyrus successfully lobbied for Hannah Montana: The Movie — starring his daughter, Miley Cyrus — to be filmed in and around Nashville. In many ways, Middle Tennessee is one of the co-stars in the film.
“You’re gonna get a real look at the real Tennessee,” he says. “It’s not Hollywood’s version of Tennessee. This is Middle Tennessee at its best, with two Tennesseans right in the middle of it, just living life and being real. Tennessee itself is an inspiration. It’s about the music and about the people. That’s what I write about, and that’s what I sing about.”
Appropriately, “Back to Tennessee” is the title of his current single and his new album that was released last week.
In a recent interview with CMT.com, Cyrus talks about his latest music video, living out of his car and the day his hero, Waylon Jennings, met his not-yet-famous daughter.
CMT: What goes through your mind when you see the video, “Back to Tennessee”?
Cyrus: When I see the video for “Back to Tennessee,” there’s a lot of emotion there. It’s a combination between the Hannah Montana movie and going back to the actual spot where I wrote the song. I wrote the song in Malibu, and we went back to Malibu to film the video. I had never done a video exactly where I wrote the song. Then we take my little blue truck from the movie and travel back across the country. Again, it becomes a very articulate picture of what that song’s about. It’s everything a video is supposed to be.
I’ve read that you were living out of your car when you first got a record deal.
Yep, that’s right.
What do you remember the most about that time?
Well, I just looked out your back window there [of the CMT offices] towards the stadium and the river. And the album cover for Some Gave All was shot on that river back there before the stadium was built. If you look on that album cover, you’ll see some old factories and stuff back in the background. They’re gone now. The stadium’s there. I look at it and I go, “Man!” … I had on a blue jean jacket on the cover. It started getting cool, so I just threw that jacket on, and that became the cover of that album. I remember my car being parked there because that’s where I lived. That’s where all my stuff was, so it wasn’t like I had wardrobe. That was my closet.
Can you tell me how you and Waylon Jennings crossed paths?
Yeah, we crossed paths right down here at the KDF radio station [WKDF-FM/Nashville] doing a show with [radio personality] Carl P. Mayfield. Carl P. was also a friend of mine. Carl P. felt that Waylon and I had a lot in common. He wanted to get us together, so we met live on Carl P.’s radio show one morning. From that moment on, we just really became very … I want to say kind of like a brother. There was a feeling about Waylon that was sort of like a best friend, but there was more. I really loved him and, as a matter of fact, we left that radio station and went to his house, and he put on a pot of coffee. We sat there by Buddy Holly’s motorcycle and drank coffee and just talked for hours and laughed a lot. I remember that laughter and the stories he would tell. Just one thing led to another.
A few days later, he came out to my house. I remember Miley sitting beside him. Waylon showed her the chords to “Good Hearted Woman,” and she had her little guitar out there. I look at Miley now, and I think about the influences that she’s been around. You can’t sit and talk to Waylon and have him teach you the chords to “Good Hearted Woman” and some of that not rub off on you in some way.
I feel the same way about Carl Perkins. Carl came out, and he and I walked with Miley on the property as he was letting his rabbit dogs run. Neither one of us were hunters. We didn’t carry guns, but he just liked to hear his dogs chase rabbits. At one point he looked at Miley — and the dogs were barking and going through the field — and he said, ‘Now, honey, I want you to always remember this: Me and your daddy ain’t out here to kill a rabbit. It ain’t about that. It’s about the chase.’ And for Miley, it’s art imitating life. Now she’s sings this song that’s all about the climb. “The Climb” is the chase. It’s exactly what Carl Perkins was talking about. It’s not about necessarily arriving at a place, it’s about what it was like getting there. What did you have to do to get to that spot?
Her video for “The Climb” is doing really well, too.
Ah, yeah, man, that thing is … it’s just a beautiful video. Beautiful. It fits the song. It’s powerful and poignant. I have no doubt that it’s going to continue to climb.
With everything you’ve accomplished, how important is it for you to trust your instincts?
Really, that’s all I’ve got — instincts. I play music by ear. I play what I feel. I write and sing what is real. It’s all about instinct. Acting to me is really … I don’t consider myself an actor at all. I just go out there with all the lights and try to make it real and what would feel real to me. Instinct is what I go on.