The multi-award winning musician Ryan Bingham built his career from the ground up by pounding the pavement across the United States and, despite is accolades, nothing has changed. He keeps his fan base by traveling the United States and playing shows in venues of every size. In mid-June he’ll join Bob Dylan for the Americana tour. I caught up with Bingham on the phone while he was in Boulder, Colorado and I was at the Sasquatch campground.
You’ve had a big couple of years, amongst several other awards winning a Grammy and an Oscar for the movie Crazy Heart. How has this recent success affected your touring style?
Not much has changed; we’ve always been a band that’s made our living on the road, not much on the radio or selling CDs. The film Crazy Heart got us exposed to a lot of people that might not have heard of us before, which was nice. But after the movie died down it was time to get back on the road and playing live shows for people.
Why launch your career in Los Angles? It seems like a guy your style might to fit better somewhere like Memphis or Nashville, I mean I don’t hear about a lot of Americana style musicians hitting L.A.
I don’t know, we started going to California from Texas even when we were traveling in a Suburban. We just ended up in California. It’s a really pretty place, up in Yosemite, the coast, the beaches… plus there’s a lot going on in the city artistically. That’s been a really inspirational standpoint— the sheer variety of musicians it has. There’s a lot going on out there for me in the business. As to Nashville, I’m not into the country scene, it’s not something I feel too comfortable in. There’re some of the best musicians in the world out there, there’s a lot of opportunities out there if you want to make it. It’s became my home.
Did going from the desert southwest to L.A. affect your style?
It’s plays a big part in it. The more you travel the more you experience, the people you meet broadens your horizons, living in LA. And all the caliber of musicians are so diverse you can’t help but take that into consideration for what you’re writing. If I were still in Arizona livin’ on the ranch I might be writing songs about riding on a horse.
Can you give me an example?
Musically different influences from meeting other bands have been big; be they mariachi or reggae or swing. You pick up a lot of different things from all over. Meeting people all over the place you learn about them so you end up singing about them too. But people respond differently to that all over. Some people from a different place in the world may not relate to a song about somewhere else though. Like if I write a song about kids fighting on the street on London, guys in Texas aren’t going to relate to that and vice versa. That’s okay though, you just write about the things you see or experience.
Do you actually get the time to meet people though? I mean your schedule is pretty tight.
It’s pretty tough sometimes after these shows. If it’s the right place and the crowd dwindles down I might go out and grab some beers at a bar, but usually we’re on the road or getting ready for the next place.
Your career’s been built on the road, but the touring lifestyle is notorious for taking its toll on musicians. What have you learned to keep yourself in one piece while you travel?
Oh man, the road. It’s a challenging place—playing shows and touring. Ten percent of the time your playing music the rest you’re trying to get some or doing sound checks or something. I’ve tried to really stay balanced out and take a month off after traveling for a month. It’s important for me to stay healthy and eat right while I’m out there. It’s a big mental game you have to realize what you can’t do and what you can. I dunno…I’ve been doing this or a while and I don’t know if I‘ve gotten used to it or what but it’s a routine. I’m not scared of the work; I got the opportunity to get out here and playing music. It could always be worse. Sometimes I have to remember I could be out digging holes and building fences in the desert for somebody but instead I get to travel the country and meet great people.
You’ve been really consistent in releasing an album every one or two years and it’s been about that long since the last release. Can we expect something new anytime soon?
Yeah man, I’m hoping to start recording at the end of this year, for sure. We just go in phases; we go travel and then come home and write about where we’ve been. Then we’ll record for a while and repeat the cycle.
So if you’re on the road constantly and recording when you get home do you ever get to relax? When do you just get to sit around in your underwear and eat Cheetos?
Haha, When I’m done and home I get outdoors and go camping and fishing and hiking. Since I’m on the west coast now I’ve started to surf a bunch. I really like getting out of the city because California offers so much variety.
What’s it like going from playing a big venue like Sasquatch to playing those more intimate rooms that you built your career in?
It is a big difference; we were playin’ 500 to 1000 cap rooms—the last couple days then we played for 200 people. Those small rooms are really intimate and you’re right with the crowd, which is a lot of fun. Also the band was used to playing close to each other and hearing each other. Then we played a huge stage of like 3,000 and we were so far apart that you couldn’t hear each other at all and you feel really disconnected. It makes it so you just have to trust what you’re playing and know the other guy is too. That’s strange. But you know…. I like both, I like those small rooms really get the crowd involved but I enjoy the festivals were you can just up there and turn your amps up loud and just let loose. It’s a different gig every night and that’s what fun about the road.
You’ve made your presence known as a solo artist but the album Junky Star which you released with The Dead Horses was critically acclaimed. Are you a soloist now or do you plan on playing more with the old band?
Yeah were’ going to, we still want to do more stuff for the future. Me and other guys wanted to explore some solo projects; we toured together for 10 years. We want to get some stuff going, we’re just waiting for the right time.