Ryan Bingham: Interview – Huff Post

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Ryan Bingham might look, act and talk like a cowboy, and maybe that’s where his crazy heart ultimately lies. But there’s more to the singer-songwriter’s backstory than the scratchy voice he can raise to eardrum-splitting levels and the hardscrabble past that’s impossible to forget.

To learn about what Ryan had to say about his Summer 2013 Tour, going on tour with Bob Dylan and what future projects he’s working on,  read the entire interview below.

The 32-year-old musician with a sense of adventure has a Los Angeles zip code, along with Hollywood-handsome movie star looks and an Academy Award to go with it. Yet the unassuming artist seems just as comfortable talking about his love of the outdoors and playing “some pretty rough little shithole kind of bars.”

Those type of places were frequent stops on a road paved with gravel and grit as he graduated from steering a Suburban to stretching out on a custom tour bus with its own driver.

Before again heading out on tour, which includes a stop at the 2013 Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama, on May 17, Bingham took a few minutes to discuss upcoming projects, false perceptions and why a certain state gets under his skin.

He will experience his latest “how-did-I-get-here?” moment when he joins Bob Dylan, Wilco and My Morning Jacket on the AmericanaramA tour that rolls throughout the country this summer.

Invigorated yet incredulous about the prospect of sharing the bill with some of the genre’s most valuable players, Bingham didn’t have a go-to answer when asked how this bit of good fortune fell into his lap.

“You know, I’m not really sure,” he said on the phone from his L.A. home. “I know that in the past years, Dylan has been doing a tour in the summertime with (John) Mellencamp and Willie (Nelson) and those guys, and I guess they decided to change it up this year. I don’t know, somehow they invited us to be on the bill and I’m really excited about it. …

“We just kind of got a phone call one morning and said, ‘Like hell, yeah. Let’s do it.’ ”

Until then (his part on that tour begins July 18), Bingham and his band — Nashville guitarist Evan Weatherford and Los Angeles rhythm section Isaac Carpenter (drums) and Shawn Davis (bass) — have already started a steady stream of dates that will cover most of the country.

It’s nothing like right after he put down the rodeo gear to pick up an acoustic guitar and begin a music career that got a boost when “The Weary Kind” won an Oscar for best original song presented in 2010.

“Oh shit, a lot’s changed, definitely,” he said about starting out with only a drummer and “not knowing where we were gonna be from one day to the next. … It’s definitely a different ballgame now.”

On a luxurious tour bus that includes his bandmates and Anna Axster, his wife of almost three years who happens to be his manager, Bingham laughingly likens it to a traveling circus, saying, “Set it up and tear it down each night and move on to the next town.”

At the moment, the ringmaster sounds like he wouldn’t have it any other way. The professional-personal relationship with his writer-director-photographer wife from Germany is “really, really good,” Bingham said. His songwriting projects involve a feature film Axster is working on, along with a Janis Joplin biopic and The Bridge, an FX television series that premieres July 10.

“There’s nobody that I trust more than her and kinda vice versa,” he added. “We work well together and it’s nice getting to be together on the road and not being apart for so long.”

A couple for about six years, Bingham said their shared touring life has been almost as long. At the top of his American horror stories is a drive back from a festival near Yosemite when he smoked the brakes of his van with an overloaded trailer all the way down a steep straightaway, necessitating a side trip into a gravel pit.

He played so many dives, that it’s impossible to recall “which one would take the cake” as the worst, yet there remains an endearing appreciation for many of them.

“It’s funny, sometimes the littlest, rattiest bars can be the most fun,” Bingham said. “I really miss playing some of those little places and still would like to get back into them. Sometimes the big shows that are all fancy, those can be kinda the worst just as far as the vibe goes.”

Prefacing his disdain for a onetime next-door neighbor with “I don’t really like to kinda talk bad about any place,” the former Texan isn’t so OK with Oklahoma.

“It’s kind of a desolate place right smack dab in the middle of the country,” he said. “We’ve had some really good shows there, obviously, but I don’t know; maybe growing up and traveling through there, just kinda sometimes the vibe through the middle of the country gets a little bit different.”

To steer clear of any negativity, Bingham heads for the hills, where he hikes, fishes and goes camping. And although the California beaches lead to a few surfing safaris, that cowboy upside to a horseman who enjoys the ride still exists.

Just because he looks the part, though, don’t mistake him for something he isn’t. Bingham has no complaints about Crazy Heart and the award-winning song he cowrote with T Bone Burnett that put him on the map, but sometimes he feels like a weary kind of guy.

“It feels like it was a long time ago,” Bingham said of his date with a gold statue for a song that Jeff Bridges made famous in his role as Bad Blake. “All the stuff happened so fast. And it was such a surreal experience for me. It was just kinda like one big party that lasted a few months and then it was over and then it was back in the van and playing shows and writing songs and just back to everyday life.”

That’s where Bingham found curious looky-loos often confusing him with Bridges’ character.

“Yeah, you’ll have fans come out to shows and the only thing they know about you is that song. They think just because you wear a cowboy hat, you must be a country musician, so they get a little freaked out when they hear some of the other stuff. (laughs) Kind of a bit of a rude awakening for some folks.

“For the most part, it’s been really cool. It definitely got our music out to a lot of people that hadn’t heard us before and if that song kinda turned some people on to some of our other stuff and they like that as well, that’s all for the better. … I feel really lucky that I got to have that experience. Shit, just to be able to play music everyday and make a living from it, it’s not a bad job to have. I can’t complain at all.”

Axster Bingham Records was formed after various managers and labels attempted to market him as a country singer.

“It was a bit of a battle at the start just to kinda try and keep my distance and hold my ground and just stick to what I was doing,” Bingham said. “I’m really influenced by a lot of different kinds of music and I like a lot of different kinds of things. I just want to be kinda free to experiment and keep learning new stuff. I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn. … Playing electric guitar brings a whole other element to things.”

Crediting former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford, who produced Bingham’s first two albums, for getting him to go electric, the 2010 Americana Music Association’s artist of the year took his twang into the future with 2012’s Tomorrowland.

“A lot of it was I just wanted to have a lot of fun playing the songs live,” he said, willing to work on the instrument to keep delivering kick-ass rockers such as “Beg for Broken Legs” and “Guess Who’s Knocking.”

“The last record I did, Junky Star, was really stripped down and acoustic,” Bingham offered. “A lot of the songs, they were just a bit of bummer to play live every night. You walk out, you get in a really good mood and I was having a lot of fun and then all of a sudden, you’ve got to play all these fucking sad songs and you’re like, ‘Damn, we got to cheer up a little bit.’ ”

Bingham punctuated the sentence with a joyful noise somewhere between cackle and wheeze emanating from a throat that sounded in dire need of a lozenge.

So listen up the next time he crosses your path. That scream you hear just might be Bingham thinking out loud.

Ryan Bingham: Q&A

Ryan Bingham

Ryan Bingham is currently on a European Tour that will cap off a great year for the singer-songwriter after the release of his new album Tomorrowland.

We caught up with the singer to chat about how the tour is going and the response to his new record.

– You are currently on your European tour so how are the shows going?

It has been going really well so far. We are four or five shows into the tour and we have had some great crowds and the band is sounding really good. I am having a lot of fun.

– How are you finding the UK crowds and how do they compare to perhaps playing in the States?

It’s funny because it is pretty similar. People have been getting rather rambunctious (laughs). It has been interesting and a lot of fun.

We have had some late nights already and that is always a sign that something great is going on (laughs).

– For anyone who has a ticket for any of the shows of the next few weeks and perhaps hasn’t seen you live before what can they expect from the gig?

It is very live and loud – I have got a full band with me out on the tour; I have some stuff that is just acoustic and with a guitar but most of it is full on rock and roll with electric guitars.

So they can definitely expect some volume and some movement so don’t be scared to get out there and dance a bit.

– You have recorded some great albums in recent years but how much do you enjoy being out on the road? Is it the best part of the job?

It is. I have always looked at it as a love/hat relationship sometimes because sometimes it is good and sometimes it is rough (laughs). But it is just part of the experience and part of adventure.

And it is the kind of stuff that when you get home you write about- the good and the bad time because you can’t have it all.

Your outlook when you are going into it is to just keep a positive mindset and be open minded and try to make the best of every situation.

– You released Tomorrowland earlier this year so how have you found the response so far as it does seen to have gone down really well?

Yeah, it is always different. For a band like me I don’t really get crazy exposure with the record so sometimes it does take a while to circulate around and get out to fans.

Not a lot of people know the songs right off the bat when we go out touring so we do try to mix it up a bit and play some stuff off the older records as well.

But for the most part it has been really good and the fans that have showed up have the record and know the songs and seem to be really enjoying it so far.

– And while the record does have plenty of the acoustic guitar sounds that you are well known for this album is perhaps a little heavier than your previous recordings. So how would you describe the sound of this new record? And what did you decide to take your sound down a slightly different path?

I had some time off at home when I was recording this record and I had been playing a lot more electric guitar and that was really the big influence on this record.

I was really just sitting around and experimenting the electric guitar and then I wrote most of the songs with the electric guitar so it really set the pace for it.

My last record was very acoustic and stripped down and a lot of the songs tended to be really personal and so it was a bit sad to play these songs every night because they were slow and acoustic.

So with this record I just wanted to concentrate on having some fun with the songs and really enjoy playing them live.

When you can get out there and turn the electric guitar amps up a bit and rock out for me it helps bring out a sense of humour to it as well.

– This is your fourth studio album so how do you feel that you have developed as both a musician and a songwriter since that debut release back in 2007?

I feel like I have definitely grown up a bunch and I have travelled around quite a bit since the release of that record.

I think with every record it is like a new chapter in my life with new experiences and places that you go around to – especially travelling around Europe, UK and overseas you get the chance to experience different cultures and countries and hearing different people’s points of view on things.

It is a humbling experience when you travel around and you meet people all over the world and I take all that into consideration when I am writing songs at home.

The more that we travel and the older that I get to is guess you get more experienced and you have more to think about and contemplate. So I guess it just broadens your horizons a little bit more and there are always doors always opening up.

I guess learning as musician as well so I am trying to learn and to grow and be inspired by new things. It is always expanding and growing and leaving yourself open to be inspired by new things.

– This album was perhaps a little different because you released it on your own label for the very first time so why did you decide to make it an independent release?

Well the big thing is I think that it is a lot more accessible for musicians and people in my situation with social media. My wife and I had already started a company and we were lot of doing a lot of the stuff in house already.

The main think is it is a lot more accessible these days as you can reach out to your fans directly and let them know when you have new music or when you are coming to town and playing shows. We just prefer the in-house and home team sell.

– How much have you enjoyed the freedom that comes with that independence?

It’s nice, especially when you get out on the road and you are touring a lot because you know at the end of the day it is all coming back home and not to somebody who is just sat at a desk waiting for you to go out and work for it (laughs).

We know that it is all coming home and all of the hard work that we put into it we feel like we are getting something out of it. It is just a good feeling working for ourselves and no one looks out for my best interests more than she does and vice versa.

– So many artists are now working on their own labels but they do find it a challenge so what challenges or difficulties have you faced?

I don’t think that there have been too many problems with it. You have got to wake up in the morning and you can’t be scared of stamping envelopes and send them out – it is just another level of work.

But we have always been a do it yourself kind of group and we have always made out living our on the road singing for our supper and so on. It’s not that big a deal to us to sit in an office and stamp a few envelopes.

– And now that you do have the label is it something that you are going to use to just release your own music or are you looking to bring other bands and artist on to it as well?

For right now it is just the stuff that we are working on as we are not that far into the game yet.

– You have also got a whole new band playing on the record this time around so how did you find working with these new musicians?

It was great. I met a guy called Justin Stanley, he co-produced the record with me, and he brought in a drummer called Matt Sherrod and his wife actually played bass and another friend of theirs played guitar.

It has been great mixing it up a bit and they are all really talented musicians and I feel like I have been learning a lot from them as well. It brings something new into the project and that has been really inspiring.

– You have mentioned your producer Justin already so how did that collaboration come about?

I met Justin when… he was one of the first people that I met when I went out to Los Angeles and we just hit it off and became friends. We recorded some stuff and I just kept in touch with him over the years.

With this last record I just thought that I would produce it myself and just find a really good engineer to help me work on it. He was one of the first guys that I called because he is a fantastic engineer but it is also a great producer.

I went had lunch with him one day and talked about what I wanted to do and we just went into the studio and went at it – and that was it.

– So where did your love of music start?

I guess it started when I was a kid and listening to records. I have always been a fan of music but I didn’t really get into playing until I was about seventeen or eighteen years old – I never really thought that I had much musical talent.

When I picked up the guitar and started learning a few chords I guess I just got bit by the music bug because it has stuck with me.

– Finally what is coming up for you leading into 2013?

I am just looking to tour more – we have got a few more weeks over here in Europe. Then I will be heading back home where I will take some time off for the holidays. Then I will start touring again in the early spring.

Ryan Bingham “Heart Of Rhythm” Official Lyric Video

Female First

Ryan Bingham – Live Review @ Scala London

16 November 2012

Ryan Bingham is the real deal – raised in a roadhouse brothel in New Mexico, he was riding rodeo south of the Mexican frontier by the age of five. I first saw him play in a small town in Texas, with a former dope-smuggling rancher friend of mine who gave Bingham his first real break by writing about him for a local cowboy music magazine.

Bingham went on to be a poster boy for American roots music, winning an Oscar, a Grammy and Golden Globe for his contribution to the Crazy Heart soundtrack, which in turn secured him status as darling of the Nashville music scene, and an album produced by T-Bone Burnett. I was expecting – and dreading – that his second UK tour might involve the O2.

Phew. Bingham seems to have renounced much of what was on offer, to the bewilderment of American reviewers who worry that “political statements” might “jeopardise his career”. Having left Burnett, his record label and studio, Bingham appeared in London with a band paying respect to his cowboy-rock roots. The musicians were happiest when off the leash, delivering polished but tempestuous rock’n’roll to drive Bingham’s songs on an insurgent new album – searing indictments of unjust and divided America, whether Obama won or not.

Of course, Bingham played to the crowd with his Oscar-winning The Weary Kind by way of an encore, and what has become a rollicking all-American favourite, Southside of Heaven. But the core of the set was his unrelenting Hard Times, which we should now see as having been the shape of things to come when it featured on early tours. The evening had hardly begun when we hit Western Shore, dedicated to “all the homeless kids living in streets and alleys, and I guess you have that here too”.

Those of us who already knew Flower Bomb, and its comfortless sketch of mass unemployment, hunger and medication for stress, did not necessarily know it had been inspired by Banksy’s mural of a boy throwing the same – it was sung with that raw voice Bingham has perfected, the sandpaper edge now turned to gravel and dust.

If he owed his early style to Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, he seems recently to have consulted Rage Against the Machine, but with a smile as well as a scowl. Post-Oscar success, Bingham emerges on this tour not as the rising star mainstream America planned him to be, but something far more compelling: a counter-star, a truly great rock protest singer.

DPT: ‘Flower Bomb’ by Ryan Bingham (Live, Acoustic & HD)

Ed Vulliamy