Ryan Bingham on His New Album ‘Junky Star’
It’s not every day you go from the rodeo circuit to the Academy Awards. It happened to Ryan Bingham, who struck gold with his song “The Weary Kind,” the dusty anthem from Crazy Heart and winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Original Song. Along with his band, the Dead Horses, Bingham is back with a new album about life on the road, Junky Star. We caught up with Bingham to discuss his own unusual path to success.
You didn’t start recording albums until later in life. Has music always been a big part of your life? Not exactly, I didn’t start playing guitar until I was about seventeen. I used to rodeo and ride bulls, and did that deal for a while. But then I started playing guitar at these rodeos and little bars along the way.
How did you build up your career from there? I think it was more or less of an accident. I was traveling around, going to rodeos with these friends of mine, and we just had the guitar in the back seat and would write songs going down the road, and making up these tunes. Most times we’d just play for our friends at these rodeos and little bars on the side, on the weekends. And then by accident we started getting gigs at these little bars in the towns we would go to, because we would kind of follow the same circuit. Before I knew it I was getting as many gigs playing music as I did going to these rodeos, so I stuck with it.
How did you get involved with Crazy Heart? It started when I met the director, Scott Cooper, for lunch one day, and he gave me a copy of the script and told me about the project, and that people like T-Bone Burnett were going to be involved with producing the music. He told me to read the script and let him know, and a couple of weeks after that I started writing “The Weary Kind,” and sending it into him. And then he introduced me to T-Bone and all the guys, and it started from there.
When you were working on the song, did you ever have any idea that it was going to take off so much? No, at all. Even after I sent the song into Scott, I didn’t hear from him for a couple of months. I never really knew what was going on with the film itself, so I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen with it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your latest album, Junky Star? It’s basically about traveling around, just kind of over the past couple years traveling around the country and overseas, and making the rounds. It’s mostly about the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, and the condition that the country is in, and the condition the people are in, and just seeing that first hand and describing that in the songs.
Is it different than what you’ve done before? It’s kind of the same, I guess. I wrote most of those songs when I was 18 or 19, and then the next in my mid-twenties, so it just feels like I’ve been growing up with these albums. The more I’ve traveled and the more I experienced, the more you’re humbled.
And is performance a cathartic experience for you? Yeah, sometimes. I think I have a love/hate relationship with the road and traveling around. There are always the ups and downs and good places and bad places, and good nights and bad nights, but I definitely love the performing part and the adventure part of it all.