Trace Cyrus (Ashland High)

HV: What inspired the creation of Ashland High and where did the name come from?
Trace: The name: my hometown in Kentucky where I was born and raised was called Ashland, KY and I just added the “high” on it to make it a little more youthful and interesting. I always say that if I never moved from there that’d be the high school I went to- Ashland High School.

Ashland High was a project I started after the split of my last band, Metro Station. I just expected to be doing it for fun but now it’s turned into a full time job and I’m trying to just take it more seriously. I knew I loved music and I wanted to keep doing it. I knew I couldn’t let the split of my last band slow me down. As soon as my last band broke up I started recording songs nonstop. About two years later it took me to finally get back out on tour.

Music’s been in my blood since, I feel like, I was born. I was around my father touring from him doing “Achy Breaky Heart” in the early 90’s. I was always exposed to that so it’s one of the only lifestyles I’ve ever known and wanted to really do.

HV: You come from a very musical family but it seems like everyone’s taken on a different genre…
Trace: Me and Miley would be the most similar. People look at me and her like we’re super different but at the end of the day we’re both making pop songs. “Shake It” was played on the same stations that “Party in the USA” was for her at the same time. With my image it’s hard for people to realize that what I’m doing is pretty much what Miley’s doing. With her being a Disney star growing up everything had to be really censored. I never had to censor myself at all. I made pop music but I really got to live my life and do exactly what I wanted.

But with my dad; me and his music couldn’t be more different. He does country music. We all love music, even my siblings who aren’t in the public eye as much. I have a brother, Braison, who plays every instrument possible. Even my older sister Brandi is signed to a record label. We just love what we do. I always say that my family is one of the hardest-working families in the music industry. That’s something I pride myself on.

HV: Are there any collaborations in the works?
Trace: Miley and I collaborated on a song a few years ago when I toured with her with Metro Station. We had a song called “Hovering” that we performed together. About a year ago we recorded a song together called “Shot in the Dark.” I wanna release it on one of my in-store albums in the future. I’ve had this song for a year but I feel like I wanna gain success with Ashland High more until I release something with Miley ’cause I don’t wanna feel like I’m using her to build my success at all. That’s why even when I toured with Miley with Metro Station, it was like three years after we’d been touring as a band and doing our own thing. I felt it was like we’d gained our own success, we had hit songs, we kind of earned ourselves to do that. Once I feel like Ashland High is to a huge level, where we’re already getting radio play, then I’ll drop the song with Miley.

I also recorded a song called “Alive” with my dad a couple of records ago. He didn’t get to tour off it much so not a lot of people heard that song but it’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever made. I love that song.

HV: Was that more in your style?
Trace: He was trying to make a southern rock album pretty much so it’s a little heavier than what people expect from my dad. Collaborating with him was really cool on it.

HV: What’s your songwriting process like?
Trace: I like to record at my house. I have a studio in my house and I don’t like to leave there. I like to be around my dogs, I like to be in my own environment, I like to be able to drink, just be relaxed. I usually just go in the vocal booth. I hear the music and whatever comes out of my mouth at the time – I’ll just kind of write like that. Then I’ll go back and listen to it, make more sense of it. I really just like to freestyle lyrics and express myself freely. I try not to overthink things. That’s why when I hear my music – it’s stuff that I really live and I do and I can relate to. That’s why I feel like with a lot of artists that their music’s fake from how they live. That’s one thing I can say about me is it’s definitely who I am.

This last album, this last mixtape, I just wrote about love because that was the one thing that I was kinda going through. I feel like everyone can relate to a love song. Every song is different but I try to keep it always based around a girl and just about a love story pretty much.

HV: Where does the music come in?
Trace: I don’t make the music because I have producers. For the last mixtape, I wrote all the lyrics, all the melodies, I sing everything. My last mixtape, this guy HV, he gave me fifteen songs and I choose my favorite ten songs. I just went into the vocal booth. That’s why I get to really have freedom when it comes to that because if I don’t like one beat, I just switch to the next one. If he makes enough, I’m gonna like at least ten of them. That’s how this last mixtape, Drugstore Cowboy came about. That’s how the one before actually came about too.

Metro Station was the last time I contributed musically. I played guitar in that band. But with Ashland High, I’ve set down the guitar and honestly just focus in on songwriting and singing. For me it’s enough that I have my hands full and I’m happy with it like that.

HV: What do you love about music?
Trace: I like the challenge and the game. This industry is one of the hardest industries to be in. I’ve witnessed that with my dad, Miley, me. It’s like a roller coaster. Either you’re gonna be on the top or you’re gonna be on the bottom. There’s not really an in-between. It gets hard at times but I like the challenge. I’ve been a competitive person since I was a kid with sports. I look at when I get up onstage every night, to me it’s like I’m going to a basketball court or something like an athlete would. I want to put on the best performance I can and I want to beat every other band out there. With Ashland High, that’s where I’m at right now. I love the competition of this industry. That’s what I love about it.

Also, with words come power. A song can touch someone in a way that nothing else can. That’s why fans get so obsessed with music artists because we change their lives in a way. I’m not trying to be anyone but myself so hopefully if a kid can relate to a song I wrote, then they’re on the same page as me. But I’m not trying to write something that I think kids are gonna love. I just write what is happening in my life and if kids can relate to that, it’s great.

HV: Do you have a target audience?
Trace: With writing songs about love, and pop songs, I think pop songs are timeless. If older people gave it a chance, I think that a 40-year old woman could love my music. I think a 10-year old kid could love my music. I want it to vary. I don’t want there to be a certain age group. The thing I realize when you’re gonna be touring and stuff, any tour nowadays pretty much, the only people who really buy cds or tickets to shows are kids now. I don’t even go to concerts anymore even if it’s a band I love because I feel like when you’re older, it’s not something you do as much. To me, the kids run the music industry so I just have to realize that’s gonna be my fanbase that comes to shows. I hope you know still that there’s older people who listen to my music. I want it to range from all different cultures and age and everything. I don’t think it should be a certain thing. With Metro Station, we were so young at the time that our fans were so young. Now that I’m older, the young ones are the ones who are gonna come first but once it grows more, the older kids and the college kids will be coming out.

HV: How long has Ashland High been in existence?
Trace: My first show actually was exactly a year ago. I played Chain Reaction on my birthday. Literally, Ashland High has only been in existence for one year. I’m just proud of everything I’ve done with it. With Metro Station, immediately we got signed to a major label, we had a manager managing huge bands. I’m my own manager. I’m my own record label. People don’t realize I do everything now. Everything I have to be in complete control of. Even driving the van here today. Back in the day, I never even had to think about doing something so minor. It’s stuff like that that I’m 24/7 working on this project. It’s only been year of touring and stuff but I’ve been recording since Metro Station split up about three years ago. It really took me a while to get my confidence up to go places because with Metro Station we had two singers. I’ve never prided myself saying like “I’m the best singer” or anything like that. That’s why I realize I’m not the best singer and I’m just gonna stay in the range that I can sing. I’m just gonna keep doing my thing. My voice has improved a lot but it took me confidence to set down the guitar and go out and sing the whole set by myself. Finally I’m very confident with it but it definitely took some time.

HV: When did you begin playing music? What was your first instrument?
Trace: The first time I remember getting a guitar was right before my dad was shooting the “Achy Breaky Heart” video. I remember I was supposed to be in the video playing and singing to the song. My dad had been filming the music video – I was four and I still remember this. I looked up to my dad so much. I remember he had left the set of the filming and I was in a room with all these cameras and lights, screaming and crying. I wouldn’t do the song because my dad had left. I was like, “No! I need my dad here to sing it with me!” That was my first performance shot that I blew at like 4 years old. So I had this little miniature guitar and I never really learned how to play it.

Once I got a little bit older, I was 13 years old, the guy who wrote “Achy Breaky Heart” with my dad, his name is Don Von Tress, he bought me a Fender acoustic guitar, really cheap guitar, and I started taking guitar lessons. After that I was hooked. Maybe a year later, I was probably 14 years old and my dad had a little recording device in his gym to record me on a cassette tape. Along with the acoustic guitar, I played keyboards, I sang and that’s how I started out. I was doing shows around Tennessee solo by myself just like at coffee shops and stuff.

HV: So you learned keyboard as well?
Trace: Yeah, I taught myself. I’m not great at keyboards or anything. I took guitar lessons as a kid. When Metro Station started, I immediately played guitar because that’s what I knew the best. Like I said, my dad helped me record my first few songs and he kinda gave me the confidence to go out and play shows and do all that. When I moved to California, I met Mason, the other singer of Metro Station, and we formed Metro Station. I definitely didn’t expect it to turn out to what it did. It’s like seven years later from pretty much when the Metro Station album came out that I’m doing this.

HV: You’re from Tennessee but it wasn’t until you moved to California that you started making music. Was there something that influenced you there? Was it meeting Mason?
Trace: It kind of worked out perfectly at the time. I moved out because Miley got on the show, Hannah Montana and Mason’s little brother was onHannah Montana. He was the lead male role. I remember my mom and everyone was just like, “You gotta meet Mason. He’s your same age. He makes music.” It really clicked at the time. We met and I went to his house the day after I met him. Immediately within an hour we made a song. We put it on Myspace and six months later we had 5-6 record labels fighting over us. It happened so naturally and organically, that’s why it’s such a shame that band had to come to an end. I look at that as part of my childhood. Now I’m an adult and this is the new phase of my life. Metro Station was so amazing while it lasted but not all great things last forever.

HV: Where’s your favorite place to play on tour?
Trace: I don’t even know. Every city is so great in a different way. People are different everywhere you go.

HV: Where do you feel most at home?
Trace: Honestly, I like to tour down south. When I say “south,” I mean Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee. I don’t know what it is about that area – even like, Texas. When you go down to those places, people seem to appreciate the shows a lot more because they’re such small towns, they don’t have a lot to do. Florida’s been one of my craziest markets for Ashland High and even with Metro Station. When they come to a show, they’re there to have a good time. Even in California, these kids come and they don’t wanna mess up their hair or get too sweaty. They just wanna look cool. I feel like people down in the “dirty South” as they call it, don’t really care that much. I’m from Tennessee, I grew up in Kentucky so that’s where I really feel at home. In the South, when I’m there, I just love it.

HV: What are you plans after the tour? Any new projects in the works?
Trace: Drugstore Cowboy has been released for a while. It’s free on my website. Anyone can download it for free. I also have hard copies that we’ll have on the merch table. I give them all out for free to everybody. I don’t see a lot of pop artists doing that. I have a lot of friends that do rap and they’re always making mixtapes. That’s how they blow up. When people get free music from you, they appreciate it a lot more. I’ve already made a lot of money with Metro Station so luckily, I have the access that I can do things like this.

The next plan for me right now is shooting a music video before we go on this tour, in the next few days actually, for my song “Flashback.” I just wanna keep booking more tours. I don’t know what tours are planned next or what’s gonna happen. With no manager or label, it’s just like this situation with the Millionaire$. My friends are in a band and we get together and we decide to do a tour together. I never stress or worry because it seems like God always puts something out there for me as soon as I need to go out and get back into the world. So I wanna tour the whole rest of this year.

My goal is to next year drop my first album for sale on iTunes and stores and all that. I haven’t sold any music yet as Ashland High. Metro Station sold like, 4 million singles, over half a million albums. Luckily, I’ve had money to finance myself and be able to do this.

HV: Is there something you want to do that you haven’t been able to do yet?
Trace: Tour with, I hope, pop artists – if they can be more open to me touring with them even though my image seems harder. People look at me and they think I’m in a metal band or think I’m even a rapper or something because now rappers have all these tattoos. When they hear songs like “Shake It,” people who don’t know me are shocked. I would love to tour with a Lady Gaga. My dream tour would be like Justin Bieber. That’s the type of stuff I listen to because I make pop songs. I hope that some of those artists can be more open. I hope they can listen to the music and look past my image. I’m not a scary guy. I don’t like metal music. I like pop love songs. I hope people can see that.

HV: What do you like about the tattoos? You have quite a lot.
Trace: It’s funny because my parents started getting tattooed when I was very young. They got wedding ring tattoos when I was probably 10 years old, 11, 12. I remember my mom coming home and showing me. I started bawling, crying because in the South, the only people I’d seen with tattoos were bikers and bike gangs and sketchy people. I immediately was like, “my mom and dad have lost their minds.” I literally was sick.

When I got older, I started realizing it’s just a tattoo, it’s no big deal. The day of my 18th birthday, my mom took me to get my chest done. It says “Songs of Victory” across my chest. It’s bible scripture. I kinda relate it to my career. I wanna write songs that are great. Then I started getting tattooed more and more and I just made it a commitment that I wanted to be fully covered. Now, the only thing not covered on me is both my thighs. My bottom legs, I just finished, my whole upper body’s done, my head is done. I love it.

I think tattoos are for some people and some people they’re not for. I’m one of those people. I don’t feel like I chose this lifestyle. I feel like this lifestyle chose me. Everything I was exposed around and all the other bands like Good Charlotte who are fully tatted up, bands like Blink-182 with Travis Barker that I love listening to- I was just influenced so much by those types of people that it was destined to happen to me. It happened so fast. I’m only 24 and my whole body’s pretty much done.

HV: Are there any that are your favorites or that mean the most to you?
Trace: They’re all so meaningful in different ways. All my tattoos have something to do with either my religion, my family, or my friends. Me and my dad have two matching tattoos so those mean a lot. My whole entire back piece is a portrait of Geronimo. My dad, he adopted me when I was a child. He’s Native American so all of the Native American stuff he taught me just rubbed off on me. That’s why Geronimo is my icon. That’s who I have tattooed on my hand. My dad has the same matching tattoo. I like the whole mindset of respecting the land and Mother Nature. Everything they believed in was almost religious. I’ve really kind of made that my thing.

HV: Any recommendations of bands you’re digging or anything else you’d like to say?
Trace: I would tell everyone to check out the Millionaire$’ new album. The Millionaire$ have been doing this almost as long as Metro Station, since the Myspace days. I respect the Millionaire$ so much just because, like me, they don’t have a label, manager, they do this stuff themselves. They just dropped their new album on iTunes- the first album they’ve sold ever. They’ve just improved so much. They were making songs on Garageband for fun and now they’re writing melodies, really working on singing. They write great pop songs and the new album really showed that. So download the Millionaire$’s Tonight album. It’s awesome.

HV: Thank you so much!