Ryan Bingham: "It's Tough to Be That Vulnerable All the Time"
Talking to Ryan Bingham, you get the impression he's just as soon not carry around the official title "Academy Award Winner Ryan Bingham" the rest of his life. One clue is where he keeps the Best Original Song Oscar he and T-Bone Burnett won in 2010 for "The Weary Kind," but we'll get to that a little later.
Photo by Anna Axter/Courtesy of 42 West PR
Written and sung by Bingham, produced and arranged by Burnett, "Weary" summarizes both Jeff Bridges' Oscar-winning role of not-quite-washed-up honky-tonk singer Bad Blake and the (partially Houston-set) film Crazy Heart itself
Raised mostly in West Texas and still only a tender 31 years old, Bingham is already former bull rider, ranch hand and a veteran of rootsy Austin venues where grit and Red Dirt collide like Momo's, the Saxon Pub and the Continental Club. His weatherbeaten, black-and-white country-rock won a deal with Lost Highway, which released the albums Mescalito (2007) and Roadhouse Son (2009).
Then he and Burnett crossed paths, and in the wake of "The Weary Kind," Bingham moved to L.A. but hasn't gone Hollywood.
Instead, he spent the months after he won the Oscar working on Junky Star, his final album for Lost Highway, and touring it for months. Then he turned around and did it again, writing and recording Tomorrowland, his debut on his own label Axter Bingham Records. Half a world away from the ghostly "The Weary Kind," Tomorrowland is a sweeping, stomping album full of electric guitars and boiling-blood lyrics ("Beg for Broken Legs," "Rising of the Ghetto").
A week from Saturday, he headlines the Ziegenbock Festival at Sam Houston Race Park alongside David Nall, Kevin Fowler, Roger Creager, Cody Canada & the Departed, and about two or three dozen others. Rocks Off spoke with Bingham by phone from his L.A. home before he headed out.
Rocks Off: Now that you live in L.A., do you spend much time in Texas anymore?
Ryan Bingham: I do. I've still got some friends back home, and I try to get back there as much as I can.
RO: You told The New York Times recently that Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and The Clash partially inspired Tomorrowland. From one to ten, how big of a Zeppelin fan would you say you are?
RB: Probably a ten.
RB: Yeah, definitely. I had some time off in the past year, and that was really the first time I had an opportunity at home to sit with an electric guitar and pedals and amps and things like that. I really feel like I've got a lot to learn in that department.
I was kind of just going through songs and listening to old records, and his style of playing has always jumped out at me. It's something very unique and special.
RO: How about the Clash? Some of the lyrics seem very Joe Strummer-like, like "Rising of the Ghetto" and "Beg for Broken Legs." What is it that you picked up on?
RB: I don't know. I was really first introduced to them by Joe Ely there in Austin. I was staying with him out there, and he was good friends with those guys and toured with them in the '80s some. I really got into listening to more of their music then.
I don't know if it's something that hit home with me -- growing up I always grew up on the darker sides of towns, not so much anti-establishment or whatever you call it, just being young and trying to grow up through the system.
It wasn't always easy, trying to get the upper hand on your life all the time when you had so many forces against you, it seemed. I don't know, I guess it's just something that kind of resonated with me.