“After things fell apart with Metro Station,” says Trace Cyrus, “I had to decide if I wanted to stay in the music industry.”
You couldn’t blame the guy for dropping out. Cyrus’ stint in Metro Station included a hit single (2008’s “Shake It” sold over four million copies) and a surprisingly sharp album of electronic pop. The band even survived getting its start on the set of Hannah Montana, where Trace–brother of Miley–met Mason Musso, whose brother Mitchel was Miley’s co-star. Things wouldn’t go bad until 2010, when Musso kept the Metro Station name and Cyrus was left with his place in a much-hated showbiz dynasty.
Now he’s back as the man who is Ashland High, where the electronic pop of Metro Station gets enhanced with soulful touches and shameless crooning. It’s a bizarre mix of commercial cunning and weird ambition–with the debut album of Geronimo available for free at AshlandHigh.com. Cyrus is pretty happy with how that’s worked out.
“I didn’t want to leave Metro Station,” Cyrus explains from his Los Angeles home. “Maybe I had the idea of doing my own solo album someday, but I didn’t really think I could. I’ve never considered myself a singer. I just like writing songs and entertaining kids. I decided I didn’t want to slow down, so I kept writing my songs. I finally had 150 of them, so I came out with my mix tape. That’s turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.”
You won’t hear many artists say that about giving away something for free. Cyrus is a man of the people, though–or at least he’s not particularly greedy.
“Realistically,” he explains, “it wasn’t even a risk to give the album away. I could’ve gotten a record deal and made a lot of money, but that was the only gamble. I’ve already had success. I ended up doing more with my first record than other musicians have done in their entire career. I’m really lucky to be able to give away music for free as a thank-you to the fans. A lot of artists never get that option.”
But don’t think that Ashland High is a mere indulgence. There’s no doubting the 23-year-old singer’s commitment. It’s all over his face–literally, as an elaborate Ashland High tattoo covering most of his right cheek. Cyrus chose the only sign of dedication that could make him seem like a total flake. Good luck making him doubt himself, though.
“A lot of people say they don’t care what anyone thinks,” says Cyrus, “but I mean it. I’m not trying to impress girls or fit in with other bands. I’ve had a crazy childhood and a crazy life, and you can tell by looking at me that I love being creative. Everyone should take pride in how they look. Each person is a work of art, and I look at myself as an icon. I want to be like Prince or Michael Jackson. That can’t happen if I start caring what other people say about me. I get hate on the internet, but at a show, nobody’s making fun of how I look. Everyone wants to talk to me.”
Most musicians can say that about their fans. Cyrus really depends on his following, though. In fact, he’s depending on several generations of followers.
“I feel like I’ll be around for all eternity because of my music,” Cyrus declares. “I know that sounds crazy, but if I didn’t feel that confident, I would have quit music a long time ago.The thing is, I’m so confident about the music and the decisions that I’ve made in my life, and people can tell it’s all real. They get into the music of Ashland High because they can tell that I think it’s cool. If you don’t think my music is cool, then you’re not cool to me. I know that I could be trying to be MGMT or something weird, but I want to be a pop artist, like Britney Spears or my sister. That’s timeless.”
The good thing about all that confidence is that Cyrus won’t be selling out anytime soon. He’s a pop artist, but Cyrus isn’t crazy about some parts of pop culture. Specifically, he plans to spare us from ever having to watch him in a reality show.
“Yeah,” he muses, “I’ve turned down several of them. The only one I’ve considered was one with my dad, so I could spend some time getting close to him. I just don’t want people focusing on something like me and Miley getting into a fist fight on camera. I want to be known for writing hits, not because of some stupid sh*t I do. I won’t do one unless a network wants to make the entire thing about my music. That sounds crazy, too, but I know that I’m getting good at my craft. It took me a lot of bad songs to make a good album.”