By Leah Victoria
LA based Country, Americana musician Ryan Bingham is setting out on an international tour, first stop Auckland NZ. With his harmonious story telling, gravely, rugged voice and a raw acoustic band, he’s returning to the stage at Tuning Fork later this month. Bringing us his latest album Fear And Saturday Night in a more stripped back unplugged style this time. We caught up with Ryan to talk about how he got started in music, the lonely rural landscapes that inspire his writing and how it felt to win an Oscar.
Hey Ryan How you doing?
Hey there! Doing great thanks!
So you’re heading here to New Zealand again very soon right?
Yeah that’s right, making my way from there to Australia!
Your latest Album 'Fear & Saturday Night' definitely still has a country style sound, but its being descried as more “Alternative” isn’t it?
Yeah, I mean its difficult because there are so many sides to country music, and my roots are definitely Country, Blues & Rock n Roll. I grew up listening to stuff like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, but also Rock N Roll stuff like Rolling Stones & Led Zeppelin and a lot of Blues too, Muddy Waters and Lightenin’ Hopkins.
I got my start in playing music in Austin Texas, and it was such a hot bed for music of different genres and styles, with Jazz and Blues and Mariachi and Tejanos music and Western Swingers, just a whole lot of different stuff going on there! It’s really kind of a mix of Americana, Alternative Country , Roots Rock n Roll, So I’m one of those, somewhere!
Is it true that you’re a self taught musician?
Ah ha yes I am. I was seventeen years old when my mother bought me a guitar for my birthday. And well, I guess I’m self taught, there was a guy where I lived down in Loretto, on the border of Texas and Mexico for a few years.This guy who lived close by that taught me how to play some old Mariachi songs so that was the first thing that I ever learned.
And then I moved away, and didn’t really know any musicians around. And so I kinda had to teach myself from there.
I noticed that your most recent tracks are a lot more positive sounding compared to your previous albums. How has that change come about?
Writing songs for me has always been kind of like a form of therapy almost. I’m writing about things I’m going through in life and stuff that’s happened in the past, and what I think of things happening in the future. I definitely have ups and downs like everybody else in the world, and my songs do kinda reflect that. They’re more like a story you know!
You grew up in some pretty isolated, rural areas right? Do you think that plays a part in how you write?
Yeah I think maybe it does in some ways. I mean when you’re out there, there’s not much, so leaves a lot of room for imagination!
There’s really not much to do so you gotta kinda make stuff up so I guess it’s got something to do with the imagery and visual landscapes and sunrises, and how I end up writing about that.
You took yourself back to isolation to write this latest album didn’t you? Do you find you write better whilst alone?
I do. I always feel like I need a bit of space. Some time just to reflect and get inside my head.Then I can really contemplate the places that I’ve been to. And you start thinking of the people you meet along the way and then take all that information and start sorting through, in your head! (Laughs)
That usually needs some time and some space to do that.
You wrote Broken Heart Tattoo with a future child in mind. Do your lyrics still fit now that you have actually become a father?
(Laughing) Hahah yeah they do for sure!
I think I could make the song longer, you know add a few more verses to that!
Tell me how you got involved with the movie Crazy Heart, you wrote the title song for that didn’t you?
I did yeah! I first met the director Scott Cooper, a friend of mine introduced me to him and we had lunch one day where he gave me a copy of the script. And he sort of said they were looking for some songs for the film, for the soundtrack. So I took the script home and read it, and started working on The Weary Kind, that’s the song I wrote for the film. Later on I was introduced to T-Bone Burnette and I met up with him and we finished writing the songs together and that was basically it!
So you wrote that song specifically for the film, and then won an Oscar for it?!
Yeah I did!
You look pretty surprised in your Oscar photos!
Very very surprised! I think surprised is a good word! For sure it was a very surreal moment you know, it’s a world that I have never been apart of and didn’t even have any ambition to be apart of film or acting or any of that. And then all of a sudden that just came from nowhere. I was sitting right in the middle!
And now you get to return to the smaller stage as you play at Auckland’s Tuning Fork in a few weeks!!
Yeah it’s a great place I love it!
Yeah you’ve played there before right?
That’s right! And what a beautiful country too I’m really excited to have the opportunity to come back, I’m really looking forward to it!
Do you like playing the smaller more intimate venues sometimes?
Yeah I do! And this time I’m coming over with a more stripped down band, it’s just gonna be a three-piece band, acoustic guitars and a fiddle, maybe some mandolin.
So I’m really looking forward to stripping the songs down and playing them acoustically and playing some smaller venues, it’s nice. The kind of human connection you get in those places is really nice!
How long are you gonna be this side of the world for?
Um we’re gonna be there for about 3 weeks I believe. But I think shows are pretty much back to back. When we get to come over there we really have to make the most of the time and play every night, I really wish we had 2-3 weeks extra just to explore and go see some things. Maybe on the next trip I’ll have more time.
During this tour are we gonna get to hear some older stuff or will you be mostly promoting your new album?
No I’m really gonna mix it up you know! I haven’t had that many opportunities to come there and play so maybe not so many people are familiar with our songs. We’re just gonna show up with our instruments and see what people wanna hear! If people know some of the old songs and want to hear those to then um, just gotta go with the flow! (laughs)
So you guys will be open to requests then?!
Yeah we are! And if we don’t know them we’ll make it up!! The last time when we came over we’d actually only just gotten together, these guys that I’m playing with now. We’ve toured quiet a bit over the past couple of years, and we’ve been playing a lot of acoustic versions of some of the songs in some shows, and it’s good fun, and always nice to kind of change it up. It’s nice to be loose with the songs and experiment with them.
You know how it gets when you play the same songs every night, its good to mix it up and play them different ways.
Well Ryan, Thanks for chatting to us, and we are really looking forward to seeing you very soon!
Well thanks so much for having us back! We’ll see you in a few weeks!
Wednesday April 20th: The Tuning Fork, Auckland
Tickets via Ticketmaster