When an actor/actress/director wins a major award such as an Oscar, the jobs and perks begin to flow in — major movie roles, higher pay days, etc. When a musician wins an Oscar, they'll also get a fair share of offers, though it doesn't usually have the same impact.
Ryan Bingham won an Oscar in 2010 for his song "The Weary Kind" from the film Crazy Heart. When I ask if it sparked some interest in his services, he lets out a long laugh. "They were out there — you don't even want to go there," he says by phone from a tour stop in Texas. "It was anybody who could see a chance to make some money comes after you. There was a bit of pressure, but I was able to steer clear of most of it and keep doing what I'm doing."
One certain benefit from his soundtrack contribution was another opportunity to work with producer T Bone Burnett for Bingham's latest album, Junky Star. The duo worked together to write "The Weary Kind," so it made sense to continue the partnership for an entire album.
"We had such a great time working on the soundtrack," Bingham says. "Right after we finished that up, he had a bit of time off, I did as well, and I had a bunch of songs that were ready to go. We were already in the studio, so we just cut a record while we were at it. His vibe and his crew are some of the best in the business — he listens to the tracks and has an ear for what sounds right. You have a trust in him to just go with it."
Bingham recorded his first two albums with Marc Ford, who led him to picking up an electric guitar for the first time. "I didn't have a whole lot of experience before that," Bingham says. "It was Ford that made us more prepared to work with someone like T Bone."
Because of Crazy Heart, being paired up with acts like Willie Nelson and a stint on the 2010 Country Throwdown Tour, Bingham's music has been tagged with a country label that's hard to shed. While his music combines elements of country with rock, folk, bluegrass and more, Bingham has to look at it as a simple label and work in whatever way gets his music out to the masses.
"It's a constant battle with that," he says. "We're not really country music — I don't even know what country music is these days. There's pop music — when I think of country, I think of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and George Jones. It's a battle, but what do you do? As long as we get to keep playing the music we want to make, they can call it whatever the fuck they want."
Bingham's first career was on the rodeo circuit, something that prepared him for life on tour. When not on the road, he worked construction jobs, but music remained in the back of his mind. "I had always been a fan of music, but I could never play — I didn't start playing until my late teens," Bingham says. "I got into rodeo because my family was into it and got me started at a young age. I started playing songs at events after the rodeos, in parking lots and on the bus or a little bar here and there. It kind of happened by accident. I kept playing because my buddies kept asking me to play.
"The guitar has felt a lot better in my hands than a shovel did," Bingham adds.
A lot of his songwriting material comes from the road — what he sees in towns around the country or the people he meets. The economic downturn has had an impact everywhere, so it's no surprise that Junky Star has more of a somber message to deliver.
"I want to remain hopeful, but the record is just about traveling around the country and seeing the state things are in," Bingham says. "Some clubs we play haven't changed a bit in years, and others are gone. There's a dark side of life out there on the road. It's hard to miss. It just depends what side of the tracks you're on."