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Ryan Bingham: Hungry road.

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“I just don’t like to ignore the obvious either”.

It’s possible that the land where a person is born can influence for good in the musician life. This question it’s posed to Ryan Bingham (Hobbs, New Mexico, 1981) in the following interview that runs along the spine of his life, both musically and personally.

TEXT: CARLOS H. VÁZQUEZ.
PHOTO: ANNA AXSTER.

Published in Popular 1 / Nº 469, November 2012

“On earth as it is in sky”, said Mateo 6:10. But, I say to you “On life as it is in stage”. Do you think that we have to take life too seriously?
Well, I think that we should take living seriously, but not so much the material things in life. I’m happy to wake up each morning and be alive and I have respect for life but I’m not too worried about the material things in life or feel like I owe anyone for being here.

Can we say that perseverance has been the key of your career?
You could say that. There were a lot of times when I felt like giving up. There were a lot of people that said I should give up. But perseverance has gotten me through a lot of tough times and helped me put that behind me. I’m no rock star by any means but I’m happy to have gotten to where I’m at these days.

Do you believe in God? Moreover, do you consider yourself a believer?
I would say that I believe in spirituality and love. I don’t believe in organized religion or that there is a man in the sky that created all things.

I ask you this question because after all this time, you will be grateful to somebody… or something.
There are many people who have helped me in my life and to those people I am forever grateful. I can count these people on one hand. God isn’t one of them.

A person can deceive himself?
Of course.

With walking and living in many places you can understand people and his troubles. But one thing is to go on vacation and another to live permanently. The writing has become a therapy for you?
Yes it’s always been a form a therapy for me. Since the beginning, I remember the first song I wrote and how it was such a relief to have discovered a way to channel my emotions into music and songs. When I started writing and singing I never intended on anyone ever hearing what I was saying. It was just a way to just get stuff off my chest.

But if I’m not mistaken, you’re not a person who has read many books, right?
Yes you’re right. It’s not that I don’t like books. It’s just that I was not really raised in an environment that encouraged it. I definitely enjoy reading and am now trying to make up for lost time.

Do you write to being who you are or for who you are not? It’s possible that you have already accepted all the things that you do not like about yourself.
I would think that I write for who I am. I have a hard time writing about anything that I haven’t personally experienced. I feel like the songs always come from places that I’ve been and how the world makes me feel but I always hope that other people can relate to the songs in their own way and with their own experiences in mind. I don’t believe that I am anything but who I am. For better or worse.

In fact, all the songs in “Dead Horses” (except ‘Big sky country’) appear in “Mescalito”. Why do you think that success came with “Mescalito” and not with “Dead Horses”?
Well the Dead Horses record was never released. When I signed to Lost Highway Records I took the Dead Horses record into the studio with Marc Ford and we remixed the tracks and that became “Mescalito”. Then Lost Highway released that as our first record.

Do you think that Marc Ford and Lost Highway Records were the influences to make your succeed?
Yeah that started it all. I don’t think I would have made it very far if Marc or Lost Highway had not come along.

Although ‘Southside of Heaven’ and ‘Longway From Georgia’ and were in” Wishbone Saloon “. I do not know what do you think, but I wonder why ‘Freight Train’ fell into oblivion. It was perfect for “Mescalito”!
Yeah I don’t remember why that didn’t make it on there. It’s always hard to decide which songs will make the record. At the end of the day something always has to go.

“Roadhouse sun” meant to be a confirmation. But contains a more political message. ‘Day is done’ sounds very strong, but same lyrics (like in ‘Bluebird’) talk about the far away lands. The land where a person is born can influence forever in the life of a musician?
Yes, I think where I am from has had a lot of influence on what I write. Even though I moved around a lot growing up, I’m originally from a very desolate place in New Mexico that left a lot of room for imagination.

I noticed that this theme of longing continues in “Junky Star,” exactly in the song called ‘Direction Of The Wind’. I have the feeling that “Roadhouse Sun” was the rebellion of youth and “Junky Star” meant the independence of the family nest.
I always think there’s a bit of rebellion in all of it. Junky Star was definitely an album that was part of leaving my past behind. I lost both of parents in the few years around that album.

Remember, “Junky Star” was released after “Crazy Heart”. People could buy your album en masse after being see the film. Not to mention the Oscar! Were you afraid to become a new hype?
Well there was definitley some pressure coming from the powers that be, but I never had any delusions of building a career out of one song. I’ve never really cared much for the scene or felt like I needed to be caught up with all the hype. I think at the end of the day it just has to be about the music and nothing else.

But I find it fascinating that ‘The Weary Kind’ does not overshadow other songs like ‘The Poet’. The easiest thing would have been publish ‘The Weary Kind’ as a single, right?
Yeah, that would have probably been easy to do. But to me the songs I wrote for Junky Star didn’t have anything to do with the film or The Weary Kind. For me is was something totally separate.

But it’s a very dark, almost redemptive. ‘Hallelujah’ it’s for me the best song, because concentrates the essence. Were you looking a way to exorcise demons in “Junky Star”?
I think so, I mean it’s a big part of writing songs for me. I think a lot people saw what was happening with the film and the Oscars but they really could’nt see what I was going through personally. There were a lot of great things happening in my career at the time but I was in a very dark place. My mother drank herself to do death a couple of years before I recorded Junky Star and my father commited suicide not too long after it came out. I think a lot of the songs on Junky Star were about dealing with that. I hope I never have to write a record like that again.

“And we’ve gone out to California […] In this depression, what are we to do”. ‘Depression’ is autobiographical? You moved to California in this time.
Yes in part it is. It was also just an observation of how the world seems to be in a similar situation as to what was happening during the migration west in the great depression.

By the way, T-Bone offered to produce the record or was you who requested it? Compared with “Roadhouse Sun”, the sound of “Junky Star” is almost down and acoustic.
I asked T-bone if he would produce the record. I had all of the songs written and we were alredy in the studio so it made sense to ask. One afternoon the band and I sat in his living room and played all the songs for him. He suggested that we should record the songs in the same manner just stripped down to bare bones, so that it was we did.

It seems that “Tomorrowland” is a very positive album to create a type of transition. Do you think it was necessary to break with everything to start almost from cero?
I do, I just wanted to see where I could go with it. I think with every record it’s great to take it back to the begging and start fresh. It’s a new day and a new song.

Do you think that this is an evolution or revolution?
Maybe more of an evolution. I don’t think I’m really saying anything that hasn’t been said before. But I do feel like I’m growing and learning new things everyday, and saying them in different ways.

‘Heart Of Rhythm’ sounds different and hasty. It’s your ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’!
I had been listening to a lot of The Clash and Dylan as well.

I emphasize the power of his lyrics. Ryan Bingham stirred the masses to lift their ass and fight for what is yours?
Dylan’s music has definitley inspired me to do just that!

Reminds me of the intention of Neil Young in ‘Ohio’, you know. ‘Keep it together’, ‘Flower Bomb’, ‘Rising of the ghetto’… are titles that talk about fight and nonconformist. Am I right?
Yes, you are.

But ‘No help from God’ has a reservoir of hopelessness. Decadent, but with hope?
There is always hope. I just don’t like to ignore the obvious either.

Well, Ryan… 31 years, four albums (without “Dead horses” and “Wishbone Saloon”), one Oscar, one Grammy, one Golden-Globe… It’s certainly something fast, but do not know if you think it’s by luck or rather because it is constantly work.
I think it’s a bit of both. It definitely helps to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve always tried to put myself in as many places as possible, hoping that one day, I would be in that right place at that right time.

Although the tour with Willie Nelson had to be the closest thing to a goal.
For me that was about as good as it gets. I never imagined that I would ever have that opportunity.

“Resignation is a daily suicide” said Balzac. Compose (still) the best song is a goal that would end a career?
I’m willing to take that chance.

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