Photos courtesy of Ryan Bingham
I’m not 100% sure what it is about the music of Ryan Bingham that cuts to me to the bone. Sure, I’m a sucker for a deep, raspy, voice (who isn’t) but add a pinch of world-weary grit, soulful nostalgic melodies, and lyrics so relatable they seem like excerpts from your life and you have yourself a Ryan Bingham song.
This old-soul troubadour has been making music for almost a decade. He’s won an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe for his song, “The Weary Kind” which was featured in the 2009 movie Crazy Heart. He’s also written music for (and appeared in) the film Hostiles and the television show Yellowstone. And yet he’s still, in my humble opinion, one of the most under-appreciated musicians out there.
I’ve been a huge fan of Ryan for years and when I found out that I was going to be able to interview him, I fan-girled out a little bit. I was excited to ask him about his new album, the movies he’s been in and some behind the scenes info on some of his music- he didn’t disappoint.
You’ve got to tell me about your new album, American Love Song
You know it’s a collection of songs I’ve written over the past couple of years about people, places and things that I’ve experienced. It’s kinda like the next chapter of my life I guess in a way. Like all these songs are fairly personal and about things that I’ve gone through- personal experiences. Some of the things I’ve seen people going through, some of the things I’ve gone through myself, I don’t know, I could go on forever about it.
Cool, do you have one that you’re really excited to introduce to fans?
“Jingle and Go” is a song I’ve been really looking forward to playing live.
If I challenged you to a lip-synch battle what song would you choose?
Gosh, that’s a tough one, I don’t know… Probably… Let me think here… Probably something by… “Johnny B. Good” by Chuck Berry.
That’s a good one. If you could have any artist cover one of your songs, who would it be and what song would they cover?
Let see, how about… That’s a tough one too… you put me on the spot here… Let me think about it, I’m trying to think about something off the new record here… Ok, there’s this one song called, “Beautiful and Kind” and maybe Kendrick Lamar.
Oh really? Nice, that would be cool! So if you could collaborate with another artist who would you choose and why?
Kendrick Lamar. I’ve been a big fan of his over the last couple of years and I really think he’s been one of our modern day poet, folk-singers. A lot of his lyrics really resonate with me.
Tell me about the film projects you’ve been a part of, I’ve seen you in Crazy Heart, you had a part in Hostiles, and now you’re doing Yellowstone.
Yeah, a lot of the film stuff I’ve done has been through music. I met the writer/director of Yellowstone about a year ago. We were talking about a developing project, I really just talked to him about playing some songs, writing some songs for the TV show. Later on it just kinda incorporated me into the show as an actor as well. That’s not necessarily something I planned on, it just happened.
That’s really cool, is that kinda what happened with Hostiles and Crazy Heart? You started off as a writer/composer and then they gave you parts in the film?
Yeah it did. The same way.
As a singer songwriter, is it necessary for you to experience the things you write and sing about?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve got to live it before I can write it. Definitely.
What does that process look like for you? When you sit down to write a song?
For me the best songs always come really quick. Like within a couple of minutes. It’s almost like I can visualize what I want to write and then I’m just describing an image. Sometimes I’ll just sit down and write it on a napkin in a restaurant. Other times I’ll have the music first and it just all flows and I can put it together. Usually though, it comes pretty quick.
“Diamond Is Too Rough” is one of my favorite songs. Can you tell me a little about how that song came to be?
Yeah, it was just kinda about growing up poor in this country. As a poor kid trying to survive you know? There’s certain challenges and trying to open up doors that aren’t necessarily always open for you. It’s a bit of an underdog song for ya, I guess.
You’re a big fan of the folk singers, do you think there’s still that magic that they had alive today?
Yeah, I think you just have to look a little harder for it. There’s not a lot of that in the pop world but it’s out there. You just have to look around for it. A lot of younger musicians are kinda coming back to the roots of acoustic music and story telling, things like that. And you can see it across all different genres. You just have to dig a little to find it.
I agree, wholeheartedly. Oh hey, this is a nice transition, I read online that you used to do the rodeo thing?
Yeah I did. I rode bulls.
That’s hardcore man! Did you ever get hurt?
Yeah, yeah. I got hurt sometimes. Knocked some teeth out. Broke a few bones. Luckily I got out of there at a young enough age without getting too hurt.∞
Fittingly, Ryan’s songs seem tailored as anthems for the underdog, gypsy and beleaguered souls of this world. And while there’s a fair amount of heartache and blues lining his lyrics, there is also happiness and promise, leaving hope in sight.
I hope that this article has intrigued you enough to give his music a try. Go listen to “Diamond Is Too Rough,” “Wolves,” “South Side of Heaven,” “Tell My Mama I Miss Her So,” or “Country Roads.” You can’t listen to his music and not be drawn into it. Maybe it’s because his lyrics sting of familiar, real life experiences. Maybe it has to do with the soulful rhythms he creates. Or maybe it’s that husky, rodeo-dust laden voice. Whatever it is, once you get a taste of Ryan Bingham’s music, there’s no going back. Why would you want to?∆