SINGER/SONGWRITER Ryan Bingham became one of the biggest names in alt-country by co-writing the Oscar/Grammy-winning theme song, “The Weary Kind,” for the 2009 film Crazy Heart. But rather than resting on his hit, the 32-year-old former rodeo cowboy has continued to develop as an artist.
I read you have tried to avoid getting boxed in as a country artist.
Yeah, in a way [I have]. I’m not opposed to country music. Just these days, the scene, it’s like a fuckin’ Budweiser commercial — just how it’s all marketed and all of that shit, and some of the stuff they’re singing about. I like a lot of different kinds of music, and I’m inspired by a lot of different stuff. I like to kinda have the freedom to remain open to trying new stuff out. … You get associated with things and it can kinda squeeze the life out of you a little bit, you know?
Your newest record, Tomorrowland, is unlike any of your other, more traditionally country sounding records. Was that a conscious effort to break out of the country mold or did it happen accidentally?
Maybe a little bit of both. A big part of it is I’ve just been playing a lot more electric guitar lately … that really kinda set the pace for it. We didn’t really want to go into it with much of an agenda or any kind of plan. We kinda wanted to let the songs create themselves, in a way — just kinda start playing and get some musicians in there and let people bring their own vibe to it. And I wanted the songs to be a lot of fun to play live. If I had one plan, it was that. [Previous record] Junky Star was so stripped-down and acoustic … you’d be in the best mood of the day, and you’d have to get up and play those sad-ass fuckin’ songs, and it would bum you out.
With your Crazy Heart success, it could be said you as much as anyone represent the current generation of country music, or at least alt-country. Would you agree?
I don’t know, man, those are some big shoes do fill, you know? I meet so many great songwriters out there … just because I’ve had some success and maybe my name is out there a little bit more, I don’t know if that necessarily makes me the leader of the pack. There’s probably some 15-year-old kid in his basement writing killer songs that we’ll probably hear about in six months that will blow everybody away. It’s a tough question.
Do you feel any sort of responsibility to carry the torch, by creating great records and guiding the genre?
Maybe the responsibility doesn’t fall within the music, but if there’s a way you can set an example for some younger guys. … And maybe musically get outside of the box and kind of be in a vulnerable state all of the time, and write about things you probably know some people are going to backlash out against you [for writing], and maybe just kind of hold your ground on some of that stuff. I know I always appreciated that from older guys who were playing, or guys who had been doing it a little bit longer, and it really kinda gave me some hope, in some way, that I could maybe do something with the music if I kept trying and got out on the road and worked hard at it … that, someday, I could make a living playing music and singing these songs that I was writing.
RYAN BINGHAM Thursday, June 13, 8 p.m.; Boulevard Pool, The Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South, cosmopolitanlasvegas.com, $20