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How Ryan Bingham Found Closure Through Song

There aren’t many artists who can boast of having won both an Oscar and a Grammy. Singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham won both in 2010 for a single song: “The Weary Kind,” which he co-wrote with T Bone Burnett and recorded with his band the Dead Horses for the Jeff Bridges film Crazy Heart.

The awards came at a time when Bingham was one of Lost Highway Records’ stable of artists, which also included Ryan Adams, Hayes Carll and Mary Gauthier. Fast forward five years, and the Dead Horses are no more, Lost Highway was absorbed into the Universal Music Group monolith, and Bingham is riding high on Fear and Saturday Night, his second album for Axster Bingham Records, the imprint he founded with his wife and manager Anna Axster.

“It was a very surreal moment, and it all happened really fast,” Bingham says of the early acclaim. “It was something that came out of left field… it felt like it kind of changed a lot of people around me more than it changed me. It was something that I was proud of and I was happy to be a part of, but at the end of the day… it was time to get back to writing songs, making records and hitting the road.”

It was something that I was proud of, but at the end of the day, it was time to get back to writing songs.

While 2012’s Tomorrowland was Bingham’s first independently released effort following his departure from Lost Highway, he says Fear and Saturday Night is more fully realized. Around the time of Tomorrowland, Bingham’s band was imploding, his father committed suicide, and he was attempting to forge ahead with his own label.

“I was burned out and was ready for a change,” Bingham says. “I’m proud of Tomorrowland and feel like it was a record that I needed to make, but at the same time, I really wasn’t that prepared, and kind of whipped it out because I had to make one contractually. I wish I would have had an opportunity to take some more time with it.”

With more down time, Bingham went off the grid and retired to an old Airstream trailer located north of where he and his wife live in Topanga, CA, near the Santa Monica Mountains. Located up a dirt road on a remote 20-to-30-acre spread accessible only by four-wheel drive, Bingham found a creative ground zero.

Drawing from personal experiences ranging from his father’s suicide and his mother’s death from alcoholism to his new life with his wife, Bingham came away with a dozen richly descriptive songs perfectly served by his well-worn vocal style.

Raw and emotional moments emerge in lines like “It’s the power of a choice/ To never hear a mother’s tears but to hear her voice” on Fear and Saturday Night’s closing dirge, “Gun Fightin’ Man.” Then there’s the equally moving allusion to his late father, “Well it didn’t take long for the pills and the bottom of the bottle/ To dig a deep grave with a shovel,” on the surprisingly bouncy opener “Nobody Knows My Trouble.”

While dark times provided inspiration for much of the album, Bingham keeps the mood light with the infectious Tex-Mex workout “Adventures of You and Me,” with its liberal use of squeezebox and dirty slide guitar. Equally rocking is “Radio”; packed with rollicking piano and hefty twang, the song briefly morphs into a Faces-like stomper.

“I put a lot of that stuff behind me,” Bingham says of his personal struggles. “My mother passed away right after my first record [2007’s Mescalito]. And my father passed away after the Oscars. So, I’ve kind of spent my whole career dealing with all that shit… My father passed away and I took some time off and really dealt with it and got some closure, so I could really move on. With that stuff always lingering in the background, it was not the most fun part of my life.

“But this recent couple of years has been really great,” he continues. “I’ve got a great relationship with my wife, and we’re starting a family, and we’ve got our own place out in California. It kind of feels like things are beginning for me, in ways.”

WHO: Ryan Bingham, Lucero, Twin Forks
WHERE: Georgia Theatre
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m.