A conversation with Ryan Bingham | Pittsburgh City Paper

A conversation with Ryan Bingham

“I really don’t think you can make anybody happy unless you’re happy yourself.”

Ryan Bingham has come a long way from his early days of playing mariachi tunes and riding bulls on the West Texas rodeo circuit. The 34-year-old Americana singer/songwriter has recorded five albums; performed the theme for the FX drama The Bridge; and won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Grammy for his song “The Weary Kind,” from the 2009 Jeff Bridges film Crazy Heart. He also wrote the soundtrack for the independent feature A Country Called Home, which was written and directed by his wife, filmmaker Anna Axster. 

Before heading out on a tour in support of last year’s release, Fear and Saturday Night, Bingham talked to City Paper about being a father, whom he would love to sing with and starting his own music label.

click to enlarge A conversation with Ryan Bingham
Photo courtesy of Anna Axster
In a happier place: Ryan Bingham

On a scale from 1 to Frito pie, how great is it being a dad? How will fatherhood affect writing and touring?

Frito pie? [Laughs] Oh yeah, it’s great! It sure does make it harder to walk out the door when you have that little face looking at you, but at the end of the day, I gotta go to work. 

“Broken Heart Tattoos” is a great song. Did you have your little one in mind when you wrote it?

I did, I wrote it for her. 

You released Fear and Saturday Night on your own label. Why did you decide to start your own label?

You know, my wife and I were doing a lot of the work already, and the label I was on [Lost Highway] was actually going away. They had folded that label at Universal and there was the option of either signing to a different label or starting our own. And it just felt like the right time and we had the resources to do it, so we just decided to do our own.

What is your favorite album or artist to listen to on tour?

It changes from time to time. I really like to listen to the Rolling Stones; I never get tired of listening to them. I like a lot of old country music like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Jerry Jeff Walker. A lot of this last tour, though, we’ve really been listening to Kendrick Lamar quite a bit.

Do you think your fans would be surprised to find out you’re a Kendrick fan?

I don’t know, maybe a few of them would be. I hope they are — I like to keep ’em on their toes [laughs].

How do you feel about “The Weary Kind”? Are you sick of playing it?

Nah, I’m not sick of playing it. It’s pretty weary by now, but I’m always happy to play it for people who want to hear it, y’know?

Dream collaboration — dead or alive, who would you want to work with?

I’ve always really wanted to do a duet record with Dolly Parton.

Did you know today [Jan. 19] is her 70th birthday?

I better do something! I better wish her a happy birthday!

Tell me a little bit about A Country Called Home. How was it working on a film project with your wife?

It was great! She helps so much with the music stuff and me being on the road all the time, it was great to be able to work on a project that she created and be a part of the music for that. We had a blast, it was awesome.

Any plans for more film work in the future?

Not at the moment, but there’s always little things popping up.

Compared to the tone of your previous albums, Fear and Saturday Night is straight pleasant. How was writing this album different from previous releases?

I think I was just in a happier place. I had some rough years in my life when I was writing the other records, and my songs have always been a direct reflection of what I’ve been going through. I think getting married and starting a new family were turning things around, and I found a new happiness. Everybody has hard times — you just kinda go through them and get on to the next. 

How have things changed after parting from your band The Dead Horses?

I definitely have a lot more freedom not having to worry about everybody so much. It’s a lot of responsibility taking care of everyone and making sure everybody’s happy. I think it was important for me to make time for myself. I really don’t think you can make anybody happy unless you’re happy yourself.

Do you have any advice for young guitar-pickers out there?

Believe in yourself, and if you really enjoy what you’re doing and you’re passionate and honest about the songs you’re singing, then stick with it and try not to let a lot of outside influence shake you up, you know? You just gotta stick to your guns and stay honest with what you write.