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Braison Cyrus on Escaping into Fantasy, 'Creepy' Southern Storytelling and New Album 'Javelina' [Interview]

Braison Cyrus has always loved storytelling. The singer-songwriter, who grew up in a prominent musical family (he's the son of Billy Ray Cyrus and younger brother of Miley Cyrus), says it was writing fiction — not music — that was his earliest creative outlet. As a child, he'd spend hours poring over works of authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and disappearing into the world of fantasy.

"I write a lot of fantasy stuff in my free time and I think that helps me kind of wring out some excess creativity I have," Cyrus tells Wide Open Country. "I guess you would say it's what's left over. It's like emptying the rest of the gas out of the tank. I'll write music, which is my main focus right now, and then at night sit up on my computer... just kind of escaping into fantasy worlds. And that's something I've done as a little kid. I loved writing fantasy stuff. I was a huge Lord of the Rings fan and I just kind of disappeared into that world. My mom isn't a writer and my dad grew up playing baseball and playing guitar. So I think they didn't really understand how a kid could — I don't think my dad even knew what Lord of the Rings was. So disappearing into fantasy worlds like that is something that I've done for a long time."

Cyrus blends his love of music and storytelling on Javelina (out Oct. 22), a collection of tales of lovelorn wanderers and lost souls steeped in Southern Gothic style.

"I grew up playing drums and then I went to art school. I didn't really think I wanted to do anything with music, but once I moved back to Nashville I wrote a song called 'When You Wake Up' that's on the album....and I was just kind of writing it for fun. I think that's when I was like 'I love writing. I love lyrics.' I have notepads on my phone where I write down short stories and all kinds of weird things. I also just spend an hour at night coming up with names for dragons or something. And I just realized that I love writing so much already, I think I want to try to be more lyrically focused."

Cyrus showcases his skill for crafting character studies on songs such as the haunting "Across the Great Plains," which follows a Union soldier after the Civil War.

You can practically feel the heat rising off of the gritty Steve Earle collaboration "Blackwater," which was inspired by one brutal Nashville summer.

"In 2017 it was one of the worst summers ever. It was so hot. It was like actually breaking triple digits here. And me and [drummer, Blair Winters] were reading about people getting in fights down on Broadway, people on the freeway fighting with each other and road rage going up and stuff. I kind of had this idea for just a southern town going through a lot of sh*t and then, on top of it, a heat wave as well," Cyrus says. "I love the show Twin Peaks. I'm a big fan of David Lynch and he focuses a lot on like the northwest and the west coast. I feel like sometimes the south gets left out of the creepy kind of genre. So I wanted to incorporate that into it as well."

Reflecting on Earle's own Tennessee-based saga, "Copperhead Road," Cyrus wanted the legendary artist himself to be featured on the track.

"One of my favorite songs is 'Copperhead Road' and it kind of has that mysterious southern creepiness to it," Cyrus says. "I reached out to my manager Trey. I was just like... do you know how to reach out to Steve and play him the song and see if he'd want to sing on it? He happened to know his manager well and we just sent it over and after about a week or so of him listening to it, he said he was down to do it."

Other album highlights include the dreamy, pedal steel-driven "Autumn Leaves," written after Cyrus purchased a mandolin at Fanny's House of Music, and the Ennio Morricone-inspired sweeping instrumental track "Revolver."

Javelina was produced by Austin Jenkins (Leon Bridges, Need To Breathe, Orville Peck) and Jordan Reed (Johnnyswim, The Western Sons, Roots of a Rebellion) and recorded at Castle Recording Studios in Franklin, Tennessee.

Cyrus will perform at Lightning 100's Nashville Sunday Night at 3rd and Lindsley on Oct. 31.

'Javelina' Track List:

  1. Don't Hold Your Breath
  2. Autumn Leaves
  3. Disappear
  4. Ghost Dance
  5. Revolver
  6. Ordinary Places
  7. Northern Sky
  8. When You Wake Up
  9. Blackwater
  10. Across the Great Plains