Q&A: Billy Ray Cyrus on How Miley’s Advice Led to ‘Achy Breaky 2’
“Miley told me recently that she was thinking about my career, and she said, ‘Dad, you ought to do what I do,'” Billy Ray Cyrus tells Rolling Stone from his southern California home. “She said, ‘When the world says go left, go right.’ And I thought about that. And I don’t know if she thinks about it, but when she sees what I’ve done, she’ll go, ‘The old man was listening.'”
Cyrus recently revealed just how right he was willing to go with the video for “Achy Breaky 2,” his collaboration with rapper Buck 22. The track is a funny redux of “Achy Breaky Heart,” the ubiquitous Top 10 hit off his 1992 album Some Gave All parodied by “Weird Al” Yankovic and covered by the Chipmunks.
But somehow he’s one-upped all of those versions. In the clip for the song, introduced War of the Worlds-style by Larry King, Cyrus is abducted on a spaceship with Buck 22 and performs a new version of the chartbuster revamped with twerking aliens and a “wrecking ball” shout out to his daughter.
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The country star says that the Miley mindset is leading him to try different things. He’s working on a new album featuring unique collaborations, including the recently released single “Hope Is Just Ahead” with Buck 22’s mom, Dionne Warwick. He’s also toying with a hook that Kiss’s Paul Stanley gave him, and he cut a song called “Can’t Play” with Billy Idol guitarist Billy Morrison. Outside of music, Cyrus says he is excited about a new acting role he’s accepted in Sharknado 2 (“I haven’t even signed the contract yet, but there’s already Oscar buzz. I didn’t even need to read the script.”)
“That’s just how crazy my life’s been,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve just been saying yes to the possibilities that can happen. It’s really fun to run in this space right now.” Rolling Stone caught up with Cyrus to learn the origins of “Achy Breaky 2” and where his new path will take him.
How did “Achy Breaky 2” come about?
The story starts with a song I wrote the day after Columbine, “Hope Is Just Ahead.” I wrote the song, then and I just sat with it for years. I never dreamed that Dionne Warwick would join me at Jamie Foxx’s studio in his mansion outside by the pool [to record it]. She put her heart and soul into this song like it was her purpose.
Anyway, her son Buck 22, who’s a very talented young man, comes into the studio and says, “Sir, would you be opposed if I took a shot at recording ‘Achy Breaky Heart’?” It just kind of happened. He had this track that I thought was unique and cool that wasn’t copping the exact record. I took it to my southern rock, bluegrass sound that I do and we just made our own sound.
What did you think of Buck’s lyrics? There’s one about Miley.
I was there when he came up with it. Everything happened in 24 hours. His mama sang on “Hope” at Jamie Foxx’s studio and the next day, I was so excited about it, I was in the studio mixing it. While we were there, Damon came in with his computer and said, “I did what you asked me to, sir.” I said, “Please, man, call me BRC.” He’s called me BRC ever since, and everybody’s making such a big deal out of him calling me BRC. It’s so funny that it’s so real.
He had just done everything I asked him to do with his version, like slow it down. I drove to his house and sang the chorus. He got inspired and wrote the verses right there. This was on the night that Miley was on Barbara Walters’s “10 Most Fascinating People for 2013.” Buck 22 said, “We’ve got a TV in the studio.” I was singing the lead vocal on “Achy” and looking through the window at Miley, talking to Barbara Walters. At the specific point in the song where I scream “wrecking ball,” I was actually screaming to everybody in the studio, pointing at the TV because there is Miley swinging by on the ball. What’s the chance that my ass is behind the microphone 22 years later singing the same song, having fun behind the microphone and my daughter swings by on Barbara Walters’s “Most Fascinating People”? What else would I yell?
What does Miley think of the song?
You know what? So many people have spent the last seven years asking me about her. It’s her chance to answer questions about me. This is her time [laughs]. Oh, my gosh. I only hope that she got to read the one critic who wrote that the video made her performance at the VMAs look like Sesame Street.
How do you know Larry King?
On September 11th, the day America was attacked, I was in Canada filming a TV show called Doc. When the borders were opened, before I ever went back to Tennessee, I had been asked by the military to play “Some Gave All” on CNN, because Larry King was ending each night with a song. That’s when I met Larry King and [formed] a very special bond. The world was changing beneath our feet when I shook his hand and sat down with my acoustic guitar and played “Some Gave All.” And that’s the beginning of what actually led to him in our video [laughs]. The way that he reads that piece like The War of the Worlds is brilliant.
What does the original song mean to you now, 22 years later?
You know, something got to me about the song in 1991. I liked it so much I threw one of my songs off the album and added it. There was just something about it. When I played it in the club, it just felt like a hit. People just packed the dance floor. People do need to feel good. It made me feel good to play it.
I sent the first edit of the Buck 22 version to Don Von Tress, the two-time Vietnam veteran who wrote the original, and he sent me back a reply immediately, “Go for it, man. I love the feeling.” That made me feel really good. I can’t wait to play it on tour. We’re going to do the thing we did in ’92 and have people come out and dance and then we rock it.
Are you going to bring Buck 22 on the road with you?
Hell, yeah! We’re like one big circus now. That’s counting me and Buck and Dionne. We’re all under the same tent. We can travel by train — just like Barnum and Bailey coming to town — we’ve got everything you need right there under one tent.
Have you been pleased with the reaction to the song?
All I’m trying to do right now is spread the message of “Hope Is Just Ahead.” At first I was afraid, like so many of my songs, that it would just get lost in the shadows of “Achy Breaky.” So all of a sudden, I’ve come to this strange point where I thought, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’
“Hope Is Just Ahead” is a message. It’s the most important song I’ve written since “Some Gave All” and probably the classiest thing I’ve ever done. But do I think everybody’s going to write about that and talk about that? It’s there. But also I reconciled with [“Achy”] and it feels fun. That’s why I cut it the first time. It felt fun.
“Achy Breaky 2” is charting very high on YouTube right now. That must make you feel good.
Somebody sent me a video saying it’s the Number One video on YouTube with four million hits in the last hour. Is that true? If it is Number One, just go ahead and announce my retirement and tell your readers that I wanted to quit while I was ahead [laughs]. Tell them I’ve gone to Tennessee to cut hay with Justin Bieber. I’d do it, man. I think he’s going to like it [in our video], too. He can get in there and fly with them eight twerkin’ alien chicks, man. Hey, we can throw some eggs on that thing, and it would just zip off into outer space. I better end the interview before I go to jail.