Ryan Bingham is about to embark on his third Australian tour.
By Brian Wise.
If you have heard any of Ryan Bingham’s albums or heard his work on the Crazy Heart soundtrack and in the film you might wonder why he is not better known.
It’s not that Bingham has been fighting the forces of the music industry, though he has done that too, it is his own choice to pursue a career without any compromises. After Crazy Heart won him an Oscar and a Grammy, Bingham had plenty of offers that would have made him a star. He was even approached to be on The Voice. He declined.
Bingham’s latest album, Fear & Saturday Night, was one of the finest albums of last year. Like his previous recordings it features Bingham’s gritty voice, some gutsy rockers and a complement of fine ballads.
I caught up with Bingham by phone just before he left for his third Australasian tour which takes place just after supporting dates for Willie Nelson. (Bingham had stepped in when Merle Haggard was ill and the interview took place just a few days before Merle died).
How did that all come about? Do you know Willie very well?
I know him a bit. I’ve toured with him some in the past. This just came up. Originally the tour was with Merle Haggard and Merle hadn’t been feeling well lately and had to cancel a few shows. Willie called us up asking us if we could come fill in. Always get the call from Willie Nelson, I’m definitely going to be hitting the road. We’re happy to get out there and play some music with Willie any chance we get. We’re going with the whole band.
You’ll be coming here doing a sort of semi-acoustic show, won’t you?
Yes. I’m going to be stripping the band down to a guitar player and a fiddle player, so we’ll have a three-piece acoustic thing going on.
Great. Tell us about them. Who are they?
They’re great. Daniel Sprout is playing guitar. He played on the latest album as well as Richard Bowden who plays fiddle from Lubbock, Texas that I actually met through Jody Lee and Ben and Terry Allen out there a few years back. Both those guys have been playing with me over the last couple of years in the band. Sometimes it costs a lot to travel overseas, especially to Australia and we have to strip the band down a bit. It’s nice getting to have those guys coming along and keeping me company. We really enjoy being able to play the songs differently and work them up in an acoustic situation, which is really nice.
That’s great because we’ve seen you now and we will have seen you in three different formats. The original tour I think you did was when you were supporting Kasey Chambers was a solo tour and then you had the band and now you’ve got the trio. It’s going to be another way of people to see you here.
Yeah. Yeah. True.
How do the songs translate in that acoustic environment from Fear and Saturday Night. I assume you’ll be doing a fair number of songs from that album.
They’re doing great. When I was writing the songs for that record, I really wanted the songs to stand up on their own with just an acoustic guitar. When I first started playing music, I was always playing solo. The songs always had to really be that way. I had the intention of it when I was recording this record that I wanted to be able to take these songs and play them in that kind of a situation. I’m excited to go in there and take ideas that I like from this one and integrate some new stuff along with that. Throw out the old and in with the new. Mix it all up and see what you come up with in there. I’m excited about that.
Are we likely to hear any of the new songs on this tour? Are you going to preview some of the songs for us?
Maybe so. I’ve got a couple that are a bit in the works. They don’t really have titles or anything like that, but I’m always a fan of trying out new stuff for folks out on the road. You get a lot of really good feedback that way.
You can work out if you’re going to put them on a record or not.
Yes. They’ll let you know real quick if it’s a keeper or one to throw out.
I guess if they start throwing things at you you probably wouldn’t put it on the album.
Yes. You probably want to move on to something else.
You appeared on a concert tribute to Kris Kristofferson the other week – the songs of Kristofferson – which I think was in Nashville. Can you talk about that a little bit?
It was fantastic. That group of folks that had done many tribute productions and Don Was got a really amazing band. Kris has written so many incredible songs, it was overwhelming to think through and do what songs and how it was all going to go down. It was great. They had it there in Nashville and had a lot of different people come out and play on it. It’s just nice that I got the invite to one of those things and get to be a part of it and just meet all the people and hear the different versions of the songs. It was really nice.
What songs did you perform?
I just did one song called ‘The Taker,’ a song that Waylon Jennings was actually recording to put on a record as well.
Is Kris Kristofferson a bit of an inspiration for you? Would he have been one of the songwriters that you look to?
You’ve got a similar gritty vibe I suppose I could call it to him, haven’t you? You’ve both been in movies.
I don’t know. I think guys like him and Willie and Waylon and Merle and Johnny Cash, they just had a bit of courage to them when they wrote their songs. You hear the stuff that they were saying in those days. Also this, I think through the test of time how the songs still stand up through all the modern pop, country things that are going on.
A lot of the music I think that’s made today that’s coming out of Nashville doesn’t really last more than a year. You look at songs and music recorded by those guys and it’s stood the test of time over decades. I really admire their courage and the stuff that they write and they’ve always stuck to their guns no matter what anybody told them to do.
After a while when you listen to that stuff, some of the things, coming out of Nashville, it’s like one song. There’s a template and they’re all writing songs to the template.
Yes. It’s just the same subject matter and the same words. I’m not trying to knock anything. A lot of people have different taste in music. It’s something that means a little bit more to me.
One of the things that you also have in common with those artists that you mention is the fact that you have just trodden your own path and they have always. They haven’t made any compromises either, have they?
No, they didn’t. I think that that was the thing that probably gave me that kind of option. Definitely seeing that and following how their careers have laid out and watching the choices they made in certain situations. It gives you the confidence to do the same. I definitely know that when I came to those crossroads or had to make those certain decisions in my career or what I was going, I definitely would lean back and look at maybe to see what those guys had done. I didn’t really have too many people in my corner in those days giving me advice or good support. Sometimes that was all I had to really look on.
You’ve done it well to get this far, that’s for sure.
Thanks man. It’s been a hell of a ride.
I noticed the other night, there was the television special the Dr. John tribute concert. I don’t know whether it’s been on before, but when I looked at that lineup and you were in it, I suddenly realised I was at that concert at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans back in 2014.
That was an amazing night.
Yeah, that was a good one. They’ve done a couple of them. It’s the same group of folks that have produced the shows and they did one for Mavis Staples in Chicago. They’ve done numerous of them. They’ve always turned out to be fantastic and amazing things to be a part of
Don Was is an incredible person, isn’t he?
He is. The band they put together, there’s been some different players for each one. The bands are just incredible. To have an opportunity to play with a band like that it just pretty unbelievable.
The way he translates music and songs and his ideas are incredible.
Can you tell us about your wife, Anna’s, film A Country Called Home? It’s now available on iTunes and you’re in it and you did the music for it.
Yes. She wrote that script four or five years ago and has been developing it over the years and filmed it in Texas over the last summer. I came in and played a little music for it and played a small role in it. It just came out and it’s basically a story of mixed lives about a young person growing up and becoming an adult and all that stuff that you go through along the way getting there. It’s a small film, but we had a blast making it. That was her first feature film and we’ve been really happy how it turned out. It’s been great to see it get out there.
Has it been in any of the film festivals like South By Southwest and things like that?
No. It’s been to a couple. It was premiered at the Los Angeles film festival and it was premiered at one in Austin but it wasn’t the South By film festival. Other than that, it hasn’t been in any other ones.
She must be pretty excited about that and probably thinking about the next project.
Yes, she is. We just got some DVDs. We just got one out on DVD as well. We got some at the house and it’s pretty cool to see it with artwork and everything. It’s always really tough getting that first one made and now I think people have seen the kind of work that she can do as a director. She’s had some people hitting her up for some different projects. I don’t know what her next one’s going to be but I think she’s probably got something on her mind.
It must be nice for you, for the both of you, to work in that creative atmosphere where you can support each other. I know she’s been really supportive to you for many years.
It’s been great. I really trust her judgment and appreciate her taste in music and art and film all across the board there. She’s been really supportive of me with the music and helping me out on the road and different things like that. She’s originally always been a filmmaker. She went to film school in London and came out to Los Angeles to make films. That’s how we met. It’s really nice seeing a lot of her ideas come through and get out there. It’s been a long time coming. I’m really excited about it.
Thanks for your time again, Ryan. Great to talk to you. People here are certainly looking forward to seeing you back here.
Thank you as well. Thanks for the support and looking forward to getting over there.
Ryan Bingham Tour Dates
April 22- Sydney, The Basement
April 23- Cronulla, The Brass Monkey
April 24- Newcastle, Lizottes
April 27- Melbourne, Northcote Social Club (Sold Out)
April 28- Bendigo, Capital Theatre
April 29- Byron Bay, Byron Theatre
April 30- Brisbane, Woolly Mammoth