Oscar-winning songwriter Ryan Bingham set to unleash his old-soul anthems on Chico
Singer/songwriter Ryan Bingham is 29 years old and, when not sporting a beard, could easily pass for younger. Until he speaks. Or, rather, sings.
It’s not just the preternaturally graveled voice (Rolling Stone said he sounds like “Steve Earle’s dad”) that’s in shocking contrast to his baby face, but the world-weary words themselves that make Bingham, who plays Valentine’s Day evening at the El Rey Theatre backed by his band The Dead Horses, seem wise beyond his years.
It’s the old-soul quality that makes “The Weary Kind” work in the film Crazy Heart; it could have been written by Jeff Bridges’ character, though in reality it was penned by Bingham and movie-music maestro T-Bone Barnett. The song has thus far garnered Bingham an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song.
“I don’t think it’s really impacted my work so much,” Bingham said of his Oscar via phone interview from his current home of Los Angeles. Prior to settling there, Bingham grew up in New Mexico and Texas before leaving home to join the rodeo and roam some more. “I still go about writing songs the same way. Just living life and growing up has the most impact or influence on my music.
“You still get up and put your pants on one leg at a time and look forward to each day and writing new songs.”
Bingham said he never expected to be involved with films at all, let alone win an Oscar. In fact, even his career as a musician, which thus far includes three albums on the Lost Highway label, seems a little surprising to him.
“I didn’t even start playing guitar until I was 17 years old,” he said. “When I was younger, I thought I wasn’t musically inclined at all.”
Bingham’s early lack of musical aptitude didn’t hinder his love of music, which was largely borne out of a box of second-hand records passed down from an uncle: “It was all stuff from the ’60 and ’70s, mostly old rock like The Stones and Zeppelin and Bob Dylan, and also a lot of the older country stuff—Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, Willie and Waylon and the boys, Merle Haggard, George Jones. Those older styles of music really influenced me the most when I started playing.”
The best influences—from Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen to Townes Van Zandt —can be heard on Bingham’s latest, Junky Star, a collection of downtrodden anthems, drunken confessionals, and character sketches only achievable by someone who’s been these places and known these people.
“I think maybe growing up the way I did, traveling as much as I have, it just kind of humbles you,” Bingham said. “The past few years and growing up, I’ve always moved around a lot and traveled a lot, and had the experience of meeting all different kinds of people, from all different walks of life, and all different political and economic views, across the board.
“You just have to take all those into consideration when writing songs. Just kind of look at things for what they are and write what you know about.”
Burnett produced Junky Star, which Bingham said was a learning experience: “It’s been great, man, the guy’s a legend. Just hanging out with him and listening to the stories, watching him play music, listening to the music he likes, it was great to experience and take it all in.”
Bingham is currently touring and writing songs for a new album due out next fall.