Meet CYRUS, a long-time behind-the-scenes force stepping out with music of his own
The Sydney musician's new single Love Online is a forward-thinking taste of his debut EP, out later this year.
While you may not instantly acquaint the name CYRUS with Wollongong-based musician-to-watch Cyrus Villaneuva, there's a strong chance you would've come across something he's worked on over the last few years. He's someone often found behind the scenes, working as a go-to songwriter and producer alongside some of Australia's most exciting pop acts, including CXLOE and Glades. Then, back in April, he launched his own solo venture with its debut single Facts, which saw him step out into the spotlight under his own image for the very first time.
It was an exciting opening of the musician's next chapter; an opportunity for him to showcase the depth of his sound but with himself at the forefront - his image, his lyricism and his wide-ranging musical versatility. Likewise, it's something showcased on his second single Love Online - which arrived last week - and will continue to be showcased on his forthcoming debut EP had, lost, scheduled for release at some point later this year.
In the meantime, however, Love Online is something special. It's a single that nestles itself amongst the rollercoastering romanticism he aims to showcase through his work, looking back and reflecting on past relationships while growing and moving forward as a person - something he's able to communicate brilliantly through his hazy, alt-pop sound. Sonically, Love Online is a real mix, encapsulating the versatility and wide-ranging broadness of his own musical tastes as well as how he presents that through music of his own; music that veers between genres and mixes sounds and textures as it goes.
"Love Online is about my desire to prioritise communicating and sharing love, experiencing other people in real life as opposed to through a screen," he says on the single, speaking about its meaning. "It came about in the period of time between my breakup and the relationship that I'm in currently. I was on Instagram and dating apps trying to meet new people, just be single. And it would just be the same stuff over and over again. [I was] hoping for some sort of magical connection [but was] always falling flat."
It's something he navigates through Love Online, and after years of musicianship both through past projects and work behind-the-scenes, it's something he's able to communicate with ease - a testament to his songwriting prowess. We're sure it's something that will be further showcased on his debut EP when it comes out, but for now, you can take a dive into Love Online below, and better introduce yourself with CYRUS underneath, ahead of his work to come:
Tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Wollongong, surrounded by music. I was the kid that sang in choir in primary school, sang in assemblies in high school, entered talent quests, lead worship in church and went on to busk in my final year of school. But most influential of all, my father Jo Vill - a musician and entertainer who was a household name in the Illawarra - planted a passion of music in me.
I’m fairly introverted - which came by surprise as I quite liked attention in school... but moving out of home and meeting hundreds of different people, I quickly learnt my comfort zone is in the corner of a room with my close friends. Some days I wake up in a shy, quiet, introspective mood - and other days I relish in frolicking through social situations with a “nothing really matters” attitude (Gemini baby). I’m completely in love with my girlfriend, and have zero shame about telling anyone, or anything. She’s constantly inspiring, motivating and supporting me, and someone I’m most grateful for in my life right now.
I love dissecting peoples thoughts and actions, tv shows and movies, and appreciating art in all its forms. I skated and surfed, but picked up a love for photography and digital design through my teens as my friends levelled up at a much more consistent rate than I. It’s a low-pressure creative outlet, and something I think is an important part of my life because I can not take it too seriously. Overall, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can, treat others as kindly as I can (an art that I am continually trying to refine) and make time for the things in life that I love, professionally and personally.
What’s your music like? What does it sound like? What kind of themes does it usually cover?
When I first got into writing music, I used to think I had to consciously base it off of whatever the big names in the industry were doing, for it to be considered ‘professional’. However, the perspective on my music has developed massively over the last five years, to a point where I don’t really intentionally make it sound like anything, or anyone in particular. My only guiding star is the message I’m trying to portray, and the sounds that I deem fit to communicate such ideas.
I have learnt that the sounds I like are influenced by artists I grew up admiring - Timbaland, Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake, Disclosure to name a few. I love hip hop grooves, natural-toned percussion and simple soulful melodies.
The themes throughout my music are predominantly love, loss, society, character, desire and lessons I’ve learnt - usually applied to situations I’ve experienced. I like to create a conversational, first-person commentary on things that have happened - or may happen - in my life. I like to think my music is like snapshots of moments in my life, or pages of my journal, but also if you don’t care about all that sentimental stuff, you can just vibe out. If I think the music sounds sick then there’s bound to be someone else out there that thinks so too haha.
What are your production and writing processes usually like?
I will usually start a song one of two ways. I love making beats, voice memo’ing beatbox grooves, or composing chord progressions without a goal in mind - just making whatever feels right in the moment. I’ll find random sounds that feel good on my hard drive of thousands of samples, pull up different virtual instruments and just play random things, or write bass lines. Once that is built up to a certain point, it usually sparks a concept, or reminds me of something that’s recently happened...then I’ll write a song about it. In this instance, the music acts as a catalyst to the concept.
The other way is driven by a concept I want to talk about. I have a note in my phone with hundreds of two-line lyric prompts, sentences about shit that’s happened in my life, or just single words. Then I’ll usually just pick up a guitar and write it.
Can you tell us about your new single, Love Online?
At the start of 2020, I went through a pretty tough breakup. It was a long term relationship, and going from having someone so tightly knit into your life, to not recognising the person they’d become, really fucked me up. SO, after several months of healing, I did what every mid-20s heartbroken loner does - signed up for tinder. I’d never been on a dating app, and it didn’t take long before this two-dimensional highlight reel of a stranger's best moments just annoyed me. Conversations were short, intentions were cryptic, and any real insight of WHO anyone really is was non-existent.
Anytime I have some sort of opinion of the world around me, I resort to writing a song. Just to explore my thoughts through a medium that is a safe space for me. And so Love Online was born. The song explores my annoyance with technology, my opinions of social networks, and the realisation of value in human connection. I started with the electric guitar progression, and wrote all of the melodies quite quickly (it was a good day, where the song kind of just fell out of me, passing through me like water through a funnel from some ‘other’ place), and the environment of a technological oasis is communicated through an 80s soundscape. I could talk about the philosophy behind music for days, but overall I think it’s just a cool song that bookmarks an interesting point in my life.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2021 and beyond?
Love Online is the second single from my upcoming debut EP had, lost. This is the first body of work I have written, and produced myself. I have finally found myself in a place of pure artistic confidence, and creating and sharing music has never been funnier. Once this release cycle is over I’ll be heading back into the studio, focused on whatever the next thing is for me to do. I’m not really a goal setting kind of person - I find setting a bar for something to be achieved leaves me with only two options, I’m either happy for doing it, or unhappy for falling short. And so, I focus on the direction of where I’m going, rather than a destination. I have a strong sense of intuition I guess, and knowing I’m moving in the right way is enough for me. Softly put, I want to work overseas, expand the artists I collaborate with, experience more cultures, shop in Tokyo, and meet Will Smith. Fresh Prince was my shit.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
Honestly I don’t put too much thought into the “effect” of my music. My job is to focus on the creation and presentation, and whatever happens after that is the fun part for the listener. Everyone will experience the music differently - some will like the basslines, some will like the lyrics, some will like my voice, and others will just hate it. But I think that’s dope. I have zero expectation of what people are gonna take away from my work, and that unknown is what makes music so beautiful. It has meaning and purpose to me, and my HOPE is that it can live in others lives too.