Old soul is one of those terms that gets used so much it often loses its meaning. But it absolutely applies to Noah Cyrus. Having interviewed thousands of artists, I can say that Cyrus, at just 22, has figured out things that artists often don’t understand until they are double and triple her age. Maybe it is because as she says, “I have lived a lot.”
Whatever the reasoning she has an impressive prescience for any age. It’s not just that she was clearly raised right by her musical family and can wax poetic on artists like The Eagles and Bob Seger. The natural cycle of music and life is for people to be close to their family and home as children, pull away as teenagers and fight to form their own identity, and then, when they have that own identity in their 30s or even later, start to embrace their roots.
However, at only 22, Cyrus, returned to her musical upbringing of Nashville and the songs her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, used to sing with her, to write her debut album, The Hardest Part.
” I found myself and my sound in this album, and really, it was just going back home metaphorically,” she says.
The result is not just one of the best debut albums you will ever hear, but a singer/songwriter masterpiece.
From the opening line of “Noah (Stand Still),” when she sings, “When I turned 20, I was overcome with the thought that I might not turn 21,” Cyrus delivers a brilliant work marked by its vulnerability, tenderness and rawness.
The Hardest Part is an astonishing work by an astonishing talent. I spoke at length with Cyrus about the album, her admiration for artists from her sister Miley to Brandi Carlile, the brilliance of the Eagles song “Wasted Time,” and much more.
Steve Baltin: How is it in New York?
Noah Cyrus: It’s good. There was a really beautiful thunderstorm, and I don’t get enough of that. I love the rain, so I was watching the thunder and lightning last night from my window. It’s good. I was just singing some songs at Vevo off of the album. I’m in album land right now. I’m just so happy and lost in it.
Baltin: Are there things in the album that have changed for you since you finished the record?
Cyrus: Every time I listen through the album, there’s something I find a new appreciation for. But I’m really happy where I left off with the album. And it’s interesting, I went into the studio with Mike [Crossey, producer] pretty recently. We’re working on another song right now, and we went back and listened to some of the songs off the album. It’s funny, every time I sing through a song, I hear a new harmony or I’ll just start singing more harmonies. It’s impossible for me to listen through a song without singing a harmony. And Mike keeps saying, “Man, you keep adding harmonies to these songs, and they sound so good, but we have to leave it there. You cannot keep bringing these harmonies to the studio because we can’t even add them to the album anymore. You just have to stop.” So I have a hard time letting go, but Mike always says, “We’re at the point where we’re not making it any better. We’re just changing it. And we don’t need to change what we have.” So that’s where he’s really taught me to just leave things where they are whenever they’re perfect.
Baltin: That’s the nature of every artist. But I agree with Mike, it’s pretty much a perfect record. Are you hearing different things on it, or also lyrically, does it change for you at all?
Cyrus: Definitely with the song, “Loretta’s Song,” I had written for my mom’s mom who I had lost in 2020. But most recently, I just lost my dad’s mom. We were extremely close. I’ve been going through such a hard time mourning her loss. And so that song holds this extra meaning to me now. And the songs I’ve written about going home. The title track, “The Hardest Part,” it has these videos and soundscapes around the production that are videos I took back home in Nashville. So the birds you hear are from a video and a lot of the ambient sound around everything. So when I listen back to the title track or songs that are written back to where I’m from, I hear a lot of my grandmother Ruthie in that music. Because when I think of her, I think of being back home in Nashville with the rolling green trees and deer in the field and birds singing. She really represented to me everything that was beautiful and everything that had light and love sourcing from it. And so, yeah, I hear a lot of my grandmother, Ruthie, throughout this record now. And songs like “Mr. Percocet,” I’m definitely stronger now emotionally than when I had written “Mr. Percocet,” and I definitely hear “Mr. Percocet” from a different place. But a lot of them actually still kind of cut as deep as they did the first time I wrote them. Like “My Side of the Bed,” I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that song.
Baltin: Are there songs for you off this record that become almost difficult to sing because they become so emotional or you’re so attached to them?
Cyrus: “My Side of the Bed” is pretty difficult, but I love to sing that one. And I think you can really hear it whenever I sing it how emotionally tied I am to the lyrics. Yesterday we were doing a live performance for “Stand Still” and “I Burned L.A. Down” for promo here in New York. And I guess to everybody recording, filming, doing audio, whatever, it was very apparent I had written the song because all the cues that they had told me to do at the end, like, “Look at the camera here. Look at this,” I missed every single time because I was just so focused or staring off into thought or in this space. ‘Cause every time I sing these lyrics, memories come up and visions are brought up, and I just get really into thought. So I am extremely connected to the record in every way. So it’s definitely a part of me, and whenever I hear it, I physically feel it as well.
Baltin: You mentioned feeling your grandmother in there. Do you feel places in there, whether it’s L.A. or Tennessee?
Cyrus: Of course. I feel my dad’s home in Tennessee all throughout this record. I wanted to paint that visual, I wanted to take you there. Nashville is always an escape for me and such a special place for me and my father. We’ve spent loads of time there together over the years, and through the pandemic, there was a lot of separation between a lot of people. So I’ve been so happy to be able to fly there more often recently. And I now have a one-year-old nephew, who is just amazing and so beautiful and incredible. He’s starting to run. He face-plants the floor like every five minutes. But he is so amazing. So, yeah, Nashville is so special to me. It really is my home, and I wanted to be able to bring people there. So you hear a lot of Nashville throughout the record. I felt my entire career, I was maybe running from who I am. I don’t know what it was, but I found myself and my sound in this album, and really, it was just going back home metaphorically.
Baltin: That’s so interesting to me. You’re 22, but with the soul of like a 45-year-old.
Cyrus: I’m tired. I’ve lived [laughter].
Baltin: It’s usually not till your 30s or 40s that you start to embrace who you were and it starts to tap into those roots, so it’s very interesting that you’re finding that at 22.
Cyrus: That is a really interesting point. I’m extremely proud of where I come from and that I come from such an inspiring place and from inspiring people as well. Of course, my dad was a huge inspiration lyrically across this album and obviously, musically. You and I have spoken a ton about my musical upbringing and background with my dad. So you know how a lot of that influence has come from him.
Baltin: Was there one song early on in this record where you realized that you were starting to tap into your roots?
Cyrus: I think I started discovering that probably when we spoke around the time of The End of Everything and that body of work. The songs, of course, have matured lyrically as I’ve grown up. I started putting songs out at 16. On The End of Everything, once I had started writing like “July,” “The End of Everything” and “I Got So High,” I realized that what I love to do is make music with just an acoustic guitar and beautiful melodies and beautiful lyrics. And I think what inspired a lot of this album was after creating that End of Everything EP and feeling like that was really who I was. I wanted to build off of that. I felt like that music for me was extremely fulfilling to create and put out. So, of course I wanted to experiment and I wanted it to be a real live instrument recorded album. And so, I wanted to work with Mike Crossey, who I was a huge fan of. We got into a room together in a meeting, I played him “Stand Still,” and I think we both were just on the same page of adding these elements that bring you back to where I’m from and also sprinkle this country influence onto my album. So I knew that from the beginning, but a lot of it was experimenting and just finding what worked. I didn’t say like, “Hey, I’m gonna sit down and write a country record.” It all started with The End of Everything EP and I really felt like I had found myself. Then I wanted to dive further into that sound, further into that world and really elevate that sound ’cause I felt like it was me. I felt that that was my identity.
Baltin: Are there a couple of albums for you that are the blueprint of what a country sound is for you?
Cyrus: Absolutely. I feel like a lot of the greats in more classic country were extremely influential on this record. But also The Eagles were a huge inspiration for me. My grandma, Loretta, for some context, her favorite song was “Take It To The Limit.” And my dad and I, we just love “Wasted Time” so much. I think it might be one of my favorite songs ever written. So “Wasted Time” specifically was a huge inspiration. And I was listening to lots of Dolly. Honestly, I had so many influences. My dad was also a huge influence on the record, and his music. I feel like “I Just Want a Lover” is one of the more classic sounding songs on the record actually. I call that one my Dolly song because I would just love to hear Dolly sing “I Just Want a Lover.” So, yeah, I think I have specific songs that remind me of specific artists.
Baltin: Will we ever hear the “Wasted Time” cover?
Cyrus: I actually have a list of notes of songs that I want to cover. I just recently covered “Against the Wind,” by Bob Seger. It’s so good. Actually, Steve, my dream is to work with Bob Seger. My grandma who recently just passed, August 12th, we had a really special moment in the hospital together with me playing her my “Against the Wind” cover, and it’s a really sentimental song to me. I love Bob Seger, and my dad actually used to cover “Mainstreet” in the Ragtime Lounge in Kentucky. He was just playing in bars, he had no music out and he would play Bob Seger in the bar. And so, yeah, he’s just been a long-time influence. I would love to work with him. I’m such a fan.
Baltin: Are there were one or two artists that you would love to tour with to watch from the side of the stage every night or you would learn a lot from?
Cyrus: It would be Brandi Carlile. I would love to go on tour with Brandi. I’m a huge fan and I really admire her as an artist and a songwriter. Her songwriting has inspired me a ton over the years, and I would love to go out on a tour with her, without a doubt.
Baltin: Are there artists that you really admire for their career evolution?
Cyrus: I would say, really genuinely, my sister is really inspiring in that way. Miley really went through this evolution of making her own lane in music, and making her own music and being her own person, and she was tied to one identity and really created one in herself. And I think that’s something that really inspired me as a young little girl, was seeing someone be so strong and confident in themselves and really paving their own path, and Miley is a really outspoken human being and is really passionate about everything she says and she does and can back up everything she says 100 percent . And I really admire her for that.
Baltin: What happens is you take all your influences and then you sort of put them together in you, and that is how you become your own artist.
Cyrus: Hopefully, I just become a mix of all of my favorites and then I would just become immortal. I would just be like a musical alien.
Baltin: I love that term. Who’s your favorite musical alien?
Cyrus: Okay, yeah, David Bowie is honestly a musical alien, I was gonna say Prince. I was gonna say Freddie Mercury, I think he’s a musical alien. I’m obsessed with him. I’ve actually just seen Bohemian Rhapsody the movie for the first time just like a month ago? I was just talking about Freddie with my vocal coach yesterday, and I believe he really is a musical alien, he’s f**king unbelievable.
Baltin: What do you take from this album and what do you hope others take from your debut album?
Cyrus: I take from it that this whole album has been an extremely healing process for me, and it really was there for me in a time of need, and was a friend for me in a time of need, and Mike was a friend for me in a time of need. So what I hope is that when people listen to this album, they can connect to it in their own personal way.I know it’s such a specific album, and it really is an album written for me, but I want to give it to people and I want them to be able to connect to it, and I want them to be able to personalize it to themselves. So I really hope that it can really connect to listeners and maybe be part of somebody else’s healing process or comfort them or people going through the things that I speak about on the record, there’s so many different subjects. I just recently had a show in L.A., playing the album, and invited a few fans and them coming up to me and telling me their stories on addiction or recovery or asking me advice. I definitely do not know every single answer, but I want to be there to have the conversation and lend my voice and opinions. So I really hope that whoever can listen to this album can get some healing out of it as well because it was so much of that for me.