The sound

March 3rd, 2011 |


By Michael Swanger



Bingham wins awards, still 'drinks coffee out of the same cup'


Anyone remotely familiar with his artistic depth, blue-collar work ethic and humble personality knows that the last thing Ryan Bingham would be tempted to do is to cash in on the newfound fame of having recently won Golden Globe, Oscar and Grammy awards for "The Weary Kind," a song he co-wrote with T-Bone Burnett for the Oscar-winning movie "Crazy Heart." To the contrary, this former rodeo rider is satisfied playing music for a living and crossing the country with his band The Dead Horses on a never-ending series of one-nighters.

"I'm proud of receiving those awards, but at the end of the day I've never really been about winning awards or being better than anybody else, so it's not the most important thing in my life," said the 29-year-old singer-songwriter. "Having the opportunity to write music and tour and play music with these guys that I've been with since the beginning, that's the real reward there. I still drink my coffee out of the same cup."

Though Bingham is careful not to let accolades compromise his artistic integrity, he is aware that having won a trifecta of major awards within the last year has benefited his career. When I interviewed Bingham in July 2009, he was about to make his Des Moines debut at the House of Bricks where a modest crowd gathered to see him perform songs from his first two Lost Highway albums, "Mescalito" and "Roadhouse Sun," the latter of which reached the charts. This week, the New Mexico native was slated to play the Vaudeville Mews, but ticket demands forced promoters to move the show to the larger People's Court.

"It's been wild, man. We've had some really good shows on this run," he said.

Audiences also seem to be clamoring for Bingham's 2010 album, "Junky Star," which peaked in the top 10 of the country and rock charts. Its 12 original songs range from narratives with vivid imagery ("The Poet"), to introspective confessionals ("Hallelujah"), to blues stomps ("Direction of the Wind"), to Stones-like, ramble-rock ("Depression"). Equally alluring is the sound of Bingham's compelling, raspy voice, one of the best I've heard in years, and the instrumental textures and spacious arrangements that drift along like the high sky of the Texas plains.

"Junky Star" is produced by Burnett, another residual of the award-winning "Crazy Heart" collaboration between the two men. After working on songs for the soundtrack to the movie at Burnett's house (which included sessions with actor Jeff Bridges and the late guitarist Stephen Bruton), Bingham started writing tunes for "Junky Star" when he decided, "Shit, let's do another record." The songs were written, the band had "learned them up," and Burnett's schedule was clear.

"It was a no-brainer to do the album with him," Bingham said. "The day before we went to the studio, we went to T-Bone's house and sat in the living room and played the songs for him and he said, 'Man, let's record them just like you're sitting here.' We cut the record in three days. It was really cool."

So it goes when you're a prolific songwriter like Bingham playing in a band as tight as The Dead Horses. Nonetheless, Bingham is not the kind of artist who remains content with what he has achieved. Currently, he is writing a new batch of songs that he hopes to record by the end of the year, and his wife, who has directed the band's videos and contributed photos to its albums and promotional materials, is co-directing her first full-length film, which will include new music by Bingham.

"After a while, we'll gather the circus back up and record some stuff," he said.

Meanwhile, Bingham is content with his bread and water: playing live.

"When the band's on fire and it's a good crowd and a cool venue, it can be magical sometimes," he said. "It's all about the music." CV