When Ryan Bingham first toured, he and then-band Dead Horses weren’t sure they’d make it to the next gas station in their wheezing Suburban. Those hard-up times are long gone. In the past five years, the soulful singer-songwriter won an Oscar for his haunting country song “The Weary Kind,” released several well-received albums—his latest is Tomorrowland—and permanently relocated from the Texas deserts to the peaceful canyons of Los Angeles. Few people can write a song as well-constructed as Bingham, who specializes in thought-provoking lyrics, haunting harmonies and the occasional heavy, masculine guitar riff. Bingham’s future looks just as bright as his present: he tours with Bob Dylan, Wilco and My Morning Jacket on the highly-anticipated Americana Tour this summer.
Time travel: when, where and why?
Ryan Bingham: Early 1800s in the Wild West. Just the old thing of settling the West, back in the day on horseback, the big cattle drives. There’s something romantic about that.
And what would your job be?
Just a drifter.
Any hidden talents?
I’m a pretty decent trick-roper. I worked in a Wild West show in Paris, France when I was in my early 20s. Those guys taught me a few rope tricks.
How excited are you for your summer tour with Bob Dylan?
I’m very excited. It stills feel like a bit of a dream. It’s a bit surreal. It’s still sinking in a bit.
What’s your favorite song from Tomorrowland?
There’s a song called “Strange Feeling in the Air” on that record and it’s one I really enjoy playing live. It’s about growing up in a little small town. When I was growing up, if you were different, that was a stereotype, you know, how small town stuff can be…That’s kind of about it. Just about people who are hypocritical and pessimistic and not really open when it comes to anything new or anybody being themselves. It’s about growing up in that kind of culture and not feeling like you’re free to be a kid.
Does success affect your songwriting? You’re not in the same, angst-ridden place you were five, ten years ago.
That’s not really what I write about, success and things like that. Songwriting has always been a kind of therapy. It’s more like I’m writing in a journal every day. Every record is a different chapter in your life. Even though things get better and you have some success and some luck along the way, you don’t forget all those miles you’ve been on the road and all of the stuff you’ve gone through in the past. You still always have that to look back on. I don’t know if it’s as much about being successful as it is about moving on with your life and being happy and a little lucky.
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