The Grammy Award winning troubadour Ryan Bingham returned to our shores in April to play Bluesfest and some side shows, and ahead of his tour I spoke to him about coming back down under.
Bingham was last here in 2014 after his Oscar-winning theme song for the movie Crazy Heart took the music world by storm. “A lot of people didn’t realize when that Oscar stuff was going on and ‘Junky Star’ was released, I was dealing with the loss of my parents,” says Bingham. “My mother drank herself to death, and my father shot himself. I was also going through a huge transition with the band – we were breaking up – and I felt so lost playing with different musicians for the first time in years.”
His Aussie tour saw him in an intimate semi-acoustic mode, travelling up the East Coast over an 8-day tour with a guitar and fiddle player, and saw Ryan playing songs from all of his records as well as some old country songs. Ryan’s most recent release “Fear and Saturday Night” came out early 2015 to high acclaim through Lost Highway Australia.
Produced and engineered by Jim Scott (Wilco, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals), “Fear and Saturday Night” was written by Bingham while isolated in the mountains of California. The 12 original songs feature a new backing band of Shawn Davis (Beck, Juanes) on bass, Daniel Sproul (Rose Hill Drive) on lead guitar, and Nate Barnes (Rose Hill Drive) on drums. Bingham was born in New Mexico in a little town, but grew up all over West Texas with a rambling family life.
He said he didn’t spend more than two years in any one place growing up. “When I started playing music, travelling wasn’t unfamiliar territory for me, I was very used to moving around a lot so I guess it instilled that travelling nature in me”.
It was actually through his mother that he discovered his love of music when she bought him a guitar for his 16th birthday. “I didn’t know how to play the guitar, and it sat in my closet for about a year. There was this guy that lived next door who used to sit on his porch and play guitar in the afternoons, and I used to go and hangout with him and listen to him play.
He would play this old classical mariachi music and then one day I got the courage to go and get my guitar and he taught me how to play”. Ryan bases himself in LA instead of the usual choice of Nashville, Tennessee which he says was a conscious decision. “I started out in Austin, Texas and went to Nashville and New York, but I just prefer the more free spirit on the west coast with lots of different influences and different walks of life as far as art, music and culture. It’s just a good place for me”, says Bingham, “I wasn’t sure when I started out what kind of music I was going to make, but I knew it wasn’t going to be the same as what was coming out of Nashville so LA just made more sense”.
Ryan is currently working on new stuff, writing a lot and hoping to record something at the end of the year. “These albums are like chapters in my book and the stories and experiences are out there waiting to be discovered. I have been listening to a lot of classic country music lately so probably steel guitars, fiddles and pianos are in my future”.
Ryan blew people away on his Australian visit with his raspy voice and heartfelt lyrics, and hopes to come back again soon. He says that Texans remind him a lot of Aussies, and has always felt welcome when he comes down under. “The people are just great – friendly vibes, and I always seem to find something in common with Aussies, so I always love coming to Australia”.
“Fear and Saturday Nigh” is out now through Lost Highway Records Australia.