Oscar Winner Ryan Bingham Discusses Personal Losses & Gains Before Wednesday’s Show At The National

by | Mar 10, 2015 | MUSIC

Most people will recognize Ryan Bingham from “The Weary Kind,” the song he co-wrote with T-Bone Burnett for 2010’s Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. The song went on to win a Grammy, Golden Globe, and Oscar, and brought a great deal of notoriety to the young singer’s burgeoning career.

Most people will recognize Ryan Bingham from “The Weary Kind,” the song he co-wrote with T-Bone Burnett for 2010’s Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. The song went on to win a Grammy, Golden Globe, and Oscar, and brought a great deal of notoriety to the young singer’s burgeoning career. Since that time, Bingham has released three more albums, each more acclaimed than the last. His latest, Fear And Saturday Night, tackles his personal loss with a sense of determined optimism that could only be penned by someone of Bingham’s talent.

This Wednesday alongside Lucero on a co-headlining bill, Ryan Bingham will perform at The National in Richmond. Before the show, we got to talk with the intricate songwriter about his new album and the loss and additions of his family.

Your fifth album, Fear And Saturday Night, just came out, and while it seems to touch on a lot of the same subjects Tomorrowland did, it seems to have a sort of light at the end of the tunnel. Was this intentional?

I guess most of the songs I write kind of reflect where my life is at the moment. Tomorrowland is a record I wrote after the past few years were tougher on me than years before. Just the ups and downs of life and phases really. No matter what I write though, I try and stay as optimistic as I can. It just came through a little bit more this time than other times.

Now, I understand you wrote this album, much like your others, in complete solitude. What is it about being isolated that makes it essential to your songwriting?

I go there to really get away from distractions and be able to tap into the subconscious or wherever that place is you gotta go to dig up that emotion. It always seems like I’ve got to be alone and have some time to be alone with my thoughts. You know, not being in a situation where you’re forced into writing stuff down. I’ll just get out for little chunks of time, maybe three or four days at a time, and write; and then head home and record the stuff I’ve written. Just giving yourself time and getting away from distractions to really kind of get inside of my head. Reflect on the things that have been going on in my life, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and the life experiences of places you go to and people you met along the way and the effect that that has on you.

Do you even try to write anything not in isolation?

You know, I don’t too much, but I’m always playing the guitar and writing melodies. I’m constantly doing that on the road and I’ll record little bits and pieces of melodies and little things I’ll come up with on the guitar. Usually, when I get home, I’ll take those little pieces and start writing to them. I guess that a lot of the music and stuff like that comes first and then the lyrics came after. I’m always planning and thinking about it though.

This was your first time working with producer Jim Scott. Was he someone you sought out?

Yeah, he was. I’ve been a fan of Jim’s for a long time and the records he’s worked on. I didn’t really know how available he was until I ran into a good friend of mine, Chris Masterson, that had done a record with him. I got in touch through him and found out Jim’s a great guy with a great studio. I had an amazing time working with him.

What was it about Jim Scott that drew you to work with him?

Stuff he did with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, and definitely the Wilco records as well. The sounds he would get sonically on a record, really. I think a lot of it was when I met him and went out to his studio, I hung out with him for a couple of days. Then he drove over to where I lived and hung out and I really liked his vibe. He was really down to earth. Not a lot of ego attached to him. It was a very inspiring atmosphere to be in so it was kind of a no brainer for me.

Was there anything he challenged you on during recording?

Not really, but I really appreciated his approach, and T-Bone [Burnett] had the same approach as him too. Jim was really good at letting things become your own idea, and if you weren’t on a certain track, he would give you time or help direct you. Instead of him coming in and telling you what he thinks you should do, a lot of times we would do two or three takes of a song and we would ask him what he thought of the song. He would say, “Just come on in and listen to it and see what you think.” 90% of the time, we would go into the control room, listen back to the song, and within 30 seconds of listening to it, we kind of knew what we either needed to change or fix. He was really good at creating a really positive and inspiring atmosphere to work in, and also kind of giving me my own space to work things out. He was great.

This is now your second album after leaving Lost Highway Records. How would you characterize your career after leaving the Universal umbrella?

I don’t really know, but I’ve been happier than I’ve ever been before. I feel fortunate I was on Lost Highway – they were a great label to get started on. As a young artist, they really gave me the opportunity to grow at a slow pace. It’s unfortunate that the record label went away. In a sense, I’m still working with a lot of the same folks from Lost Highway. They work at a distribution company called Thirty Tigers that we work with through our own label. It’s been a blast though, and a bit of a learning curve, but I’ve always been a musician that makes his living on the road. I’ve always had to go out and sing for our supper. I’m not really dependent on album sales as much. If we can find a good way to put out the record, get out and stay on the road, and play songs for people, then we’re pretty happy.

Shifting to some personal discussion, I understand your going to be a father for the first time this summer.

Yes, I am! This summer. We found out last October or November.

Was it hard to come to grips with the life of a musician, meaning you’re going to be on the road a lot away from your family?

Yeah, it is a bit, but it’s nice because my wife and I work together on the label and she also does the managing, so she comes on the road quite a bit. I imagine we’ll all go on the road together at times. I’m looking forward to it.

You lost your parents tragically, and by listening to your music, it seems that they’re still a huge part of your life. Does it hurt to know you’re going to have this baby without them around or without their guidance?

You can’t help but think about the things they’re missing out and will never see, but it’s something I’ve had to come to terms with and deal with them not being around. Writing songs has always been a very therapeutic thing for me and a way to kind of vent, get things off my chest, and deal with the emotions I had from my experiences. Sometimes, I’m not even wanting to write about it or even think about it, but it just sneaks in there from my subconscious. It’s tough, but at the same time, it’s a brand new day. I’ve got a new family. My wife and I have developed a great relationship and we have a kid on the way, so for a lot of ways, life is just kind of beginning. It’s a brand new start and I’m really excited more than anything about the things ahead. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be happy for, so I’ll try not to dwell on the things I can’t change.

I know you moved a lot and had a turbulent childhood. How important to you is stability moving forward?

It’s been key. I’ve never been happier in my life. It’s something I never had growing up. Now that it found its way into my world, I couldn’t imagine not having it. I think sometimes growing up the way I did, I didn’t realize how bad it was because that’s all I knew. Now that I’ve experienced the other side of life, I couldn’t imagine going back to the way things were.

To wrap up, I’ve heard you talk about becoming a musician out of happenstance, by just playing at some bars after your friends egged you on. If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d be doing?

You know, I always looked up to my grandfather and my dad and uncles – they were all cattle ranchers in New Mexico. That’s all I ever wanted to be as a little kid growing up, so I imagine if I had never gotten into music, I’d be out in New Mexico, probably ranching. I don’t know though for sure. You never know where life is going to take you.


Ryan Bingham comes to The National this Wednesday night on a co- headlining bill with Lucero. For more information on the show and where to find tickets, click here.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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