Q&A: Ryan Bingham Talks Growing Up in Texas, Sharing His Name with George Clooney and Coming to Grips With Winning an Oscar
Alt-country singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham has always received positive reviews, sold moderately well and attracted good-sized crowds to his shows. But, lately, he's riding an even bigger a wave of good fortune.
When Bingham was asked to contribute a couple of songs to the soundtrack to the film Crazy Heart, he had no idea how much his career path was going to change. Not only did "The Weary Kind," one of his cuts from the film, win this past year's Academy Award for Best Song, but the track also made Bingham one of the shining stars of the Americana genre.
Bingham's currently on tour in support of his third full-length effort, the T-Bone Burnett-produced Junky Star, which tonight finds him and his band at the House of Blues. And, in anticipation of tonight's show, he was kind enough to take a break from a recent sound check and speak with DC9 about how far he has come in just a few years. Read the full Q&A after the jump.
Didn't you grow up in West Texas?
Well, I was born in Hobbs, New Mexico, and then moved around a lot and ended up for a time in Bakersfield, California. But for a long while, I lived in the Midland/Odessa area.
How did growing up in rural areas affect your music?
There's not a lot of stuff happening in those places and it leaves a lot of room for your imagination. I had time to think about what I wanted to do. When I started writing songs, I needed that time to work out what I wanted to say.
T- Bone Burnett produced your latest album and your songs on the Crazy Heart soundtrack, but before that you worked with Marc Ford of The Black Crowes. How did you hook up with both of those guys?
I've known Marc a long time. He is a musician's musician. He really understands what it's like to hit the road and be in a band. I've been a fan of Marc's for quite a while. I don't know how T-Bone Burnett heard about me. I know that he flew out and caught a show and we were introduced later. He's played guitar with us for a couple of shows. It is a blast working with both of them because they both understand what I am trying to do.
You call your backing band the Dead Horses. Isn't that kind of pessimistic?
[Laughs.] Yes, I suppose it is. But when I started the band, we couldn't get a break. Every time we turned around, something would go wrong. So we started using that old cliché, "you can't beat a dead horse," because that's how we felt. We couldn't get any lower. The name just stuck because it made sense.
How has your writing changed from your first album in 2007 to now?
I've just grown up. The songs on my first record were written when I was 18 or 19 years old. Now, I've matured a little. I've been down the road a few more miles. I've been playing with the same guys and I think we have grown up with the material. It's all about learning how to translate what to say from how you feel. I think I do a better job of that these days.
On your second album, Roadhouse Sun, you do a song called "Dylan's Hard Rain." Do you ever cover the Dylan song of that name?
The song is about how that song makes me feel. Some people in the audience sometimes think it's a cover. I have done the Dylan song a couple of times, but I try not to do too many covers. A cover song needs the right place and the right feeling. I'm comfortable with my own songs.
When did someone tell you that the name of George Clooney's character in Up in the Air was Ryan Bingham?
I think I was actually on an airplane. I haven't seen the movie, but I have had a lot of people come up to me wondering if the guys who wrote that movie maybe had listened to my music. Later, I found out that in the original book the character has the same name as me. I just kind of laughed at it. It's not a very common name, so I guess it's cool to have it floating out there.
How has your career changed since your songs were used in the film Crazy Heart?
The film definitely exposed our music to a lot of people who may not have heard it. The exposure created a big opportunity for us. However, it hasn't changed me personally or altered the way I approach music, how I write a song.
How surreal was it to win an Academy Award?
I never ever thought I would win any kind of award, much less an Academy Award. Just to be nominated was pretty amazing.
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