:: Ogden Theatre :: September 29 ::
By Timothy Dwenger
After flying under the radar of the general public with his first two albums, country influenced songwriter Ryan Bingham exploded in 2010 with the release of the movie Crazy Heart. The movie stars Jeff Bridges as “Bad Blake,” a country music star in the downslope of his career until he pens the song “The Weary Kind,” which propels him back into the charts and the hearts of fans old and new. While Bridges sings the song in the movie — and does a great job doing it — Bingham is the one who actually wrote the tune and much like Bridges’ character in the movie, the song did wonders for the young singer’s career.
In a bit of a whirlwind year, Bingham won a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and a Grammy for the song that was the thread that tied the whole movie together, and despite becoming friends with Bridges and music legend T-Bone Burnett, he managed to stay humble and realize that this was a lucky break that he should be thankful for. “It was just kinda one song and it was about something totally different. It was just sort of another project along the way for me,” Bingham said during a recent interview with The Marquee from his home in Santa Monica, Calif. “I don’t define myself by that one song but it was a hell of an experience and something really cool to be a part of. The doors that it opened for me, and the people I got to meet, were great. The stuff that I learned from them will last forever and I’ll always have that. It was one of those fortunate experiences that I got lucky to have.”
In the midst of the madness, Bingham released his third album Junky Star, and spent much of the year, and part of the next, on the road promoting his record and the movie. “I took some time off after all of that,” he said. “I took about a year off to relax and focus on songwriting and that kind of thing. It was actually really liberating. I really just had the opportunity to sit home and experiment. I played a lot of electric guitar and tried out a bunch of different pedals and amps and experimented with a lot of different sounds as I wrote some new songs. In a way, it sort of felt like starting over for me,” Bingham said.
In keeping with the theme of starting over, Bingham and his wife, Anna Axster, decided to split from Lost Highway the label that had released his first three albums, and go out on their own. While they are still on good terms with the folks at Lost Highway, and work with many of the people there to this day, they have a good little family business going. “There ain’t anybody that looks out for my best interest more than she does and it’s the same the other way around. At the end of the day, it’s all coming back home to us and it’s just really liberating to have the artistic freedom and be able to call the shots and present ourselves in the way that we want to be presented,” Bingham said before going on to discuss how the company is organized. “She’s running the whole thing. I’m writing the songs, making the music, getting the band together and all that kind of stuff, and she’s running the label, doing the management, getting us out on the road, and getting the record out to stores and distributors and all of that stuff. It’s very much a home team kind of deal, but she’s holding down the fort.”
This kind of arrangement allowed Bingham to really stretch out, relax, and take his time putting together his fourth album, Tomorrowland, which will be released on Axster Bingham Records on September 18. While the album is a bit of a departure from his last collection of songs, it’s not going to alienate his longtime fans who have fallen in love with his heartfelt lyrics, gravelly voice, and soulful presentation. This record has all that, and more.
“That album Junky Star was so dark, it was almost too sad for me as I played some of them live every night. I put together a different band for this record and it was all a brand new experiment and fresh start as I tried to see where I could go with it,” he admitted. “There wasn’t any pressure to go in any certain direction or make any certain record. I guess the biggest thing was that I wanted to make a record that would be a lot of fun to play live because I know I’ll be touring for the next couple of years pretty hard. It’s definitely a lot more fun to break out the electric guitars and turn it up when you are playing bigger venues and to bigger crowds at festivals and things like that, so my main focus was making a record that would be fun and inspiring to play every night.”
The driving beat of the country laced rock and roll that is “Heart of Rhythm,” the album’s lead single, is a perfect example of where Bingham hit his mark. While he admitted that there are a few songs on the album that “are not so much focused on the lyrics and as a result maybe they aren’t as strong lyrically,” he went on to say that “they are a lot of fun to play and just turn the shit up and get after it and have fun!”
That said, Bingham was sure to make it clear that the album isn’t all lyrically loose barroom rockers that will please the beer drinkin’ crowd. He described how he went about writing some of the deeper songs on this album, like the eight minute epic “Rising of the Ghetto.” “I’ve always got to go travel around a bit first. Then, when I get home, or get somewhere where I can relax and reflect on all the places I’ve been and people that I’ve met and all the shit that’s going on in the world, I take myself outside of the box and look at stuff from the outside. Not so much trying to describe certain events, but describe the emotion that these things give me. I just try to look at everything as a whole and reflect on it all and the way it makes me feel,” he said.
When he hits the road this fall in support of Tomorrowland, Bingham will have a new band backing him up and tearing into the new material. “A guy named Matt Sherrod is playing drums and his wife Kelly is playing bass, and another guy named Evan Weatherford is playing guitar with me,” Bingham said. “I think we are just going to jam out. We’ve just been opening up the doors, not putting any rules on anything, and just letting the songs recreate themselves live and choose their own road in a way. I’m pretty fired up about all of it. Of course, I’m going to focus on playing songs from the new record, but I’ll throw in some songs from the older albums and maybe some covers each night so it’s not the same setlist. I’d also like to get out and do three or four songs solo acoustic. I just want to experiment with it, have fun, and just let whatever happens, happen.”
:: Ryan Bingham ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: September 29 ::
Recommended if you Like:
• Jason Isbell
• Justin Townes Earle
• Bruce Springsteen