by: Thomas D. Mooney
“But I know that life moves on,
And there will be another brand new song.
And I know, I will take my chances
Out on the streets where I do my dancing,
Where I do my dancing out in the world.”
–“As I Do My Dancing,” Ryan Bingham
When I first heard Ryan Bingham’s “As I Do My Dancing,” a recent free song from Bingham, my immediate reaction was that it surely was a song he recorded around the time of “Roadhouse Sun.” It just had that vibe and sound of “Roadhouse Sun.” As though in the last moments, Bingham decided to pull the song that had been perfectly nestled between “Dylan’s Hard Rain” and “Tell My Mother I Miss Her So.”
Of course though, it’s not. Bingham cut the song during the sessions that made up his fourth major label album “Tomorrowland.” Initially, that was a bit perplexing. The atmosphere around “As I Do My Dancing” felt nothing like “Guess Who’s Knockin'” or “The Road I’m On.” Simply, Bingham’s “As I Do My Dancing” sounded too country to be from “Tomorrowland” time.
You take a step back and realize how clear it actually is though. Bingham’s jangling tune isn’t set in the dusty small ranching town of “Mescalito” or Saturday nights and Sunday mornings on Texas highways of “Roadhouse Sun,” or even the dark “Nebraskaesque” back bed room of Bingham’s mind brought with “Junky Star.” It’s happening in “Tomorrowland” where Bingham is dancing his way across the country eventually sitting on a front porch overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
And that’s the most difficult element of “Tomorrowland” to digest. Bingham isn’t ours anymore; he belongs to the world. He’s not a Texas secret (or a New Mexico one). It’s not as though he’s forgotten his roots or doesn’t appreciate his musical upbringing; it’s just that “Mescalito” Bingham is just an aspect of tomorrow’s Bingham. Same as “Roadhouse Sun,” “Junky Star,” and even “Wishbone Saloon” and “Dead Horses.” And what’s great (and interesting) is that the next Bingham won’t even be this current Bingham.
Now that’s Meta-Bingham.
We recently had the privilege of catching up with the ever-expanding Bingham who recently kicked off a month’s worth of touring which include the following Texas dates: Mar. 7: El Paso- Tricky Falls, Mar. 8: Midland-La Hacienda, Mar. 9: Ft. Worth-Billy Bob’s, Mar. 10: Houston-HOB, Mar. 12: Austin-SXSW Central Presbyterian Church, Mar. 13: New Braunfels-Gruene Hall. For more dates and details, click here.
New Slang: So how pissed off do people get if and when you don’t play “The Weary Kind” during a set?
Ryan Bingham: [Laughs] You know man, it really hasn’t been that bad. I guess I’ve been fortunate that people who are coming to the shows are down to listen to the other songs that I got. I haven’t had too many people really have a problem with it. It’s been kind of one of those things where I’ve even had older songs that people have gotten upset about me not playing [laughs]. When you get four or five records, when you get that many songs out there and you can only play so much each night, sometimes you’ve kind of got to go off with what the crowd is yelling out. If not, you play what you feel. You just try and mix it up and do the best you can and try to change it up every night so you’re not playing the same exact show. It’s always a coin toss with that stuff, you know?
NS: Yeah. When you first started out, you really had a connection with some Lubbock guys. Guys like Joe Ely and Terry Allen.
RB: Oh yeah.
NS: There’s this quote that I read from Joe talking about you. It’s “He reminded me a lot of when I was first leaving Lubbock and going out into the world. We were all fascinated with his songs and his story.” What’s that mean to you–him thinking that you reminded him of himself?
RB: You know when I met Joe, Terry as well, it was such a great thing. Not only for their support and everything, but it was so nice to kind of have an example. My family kind of fell apart when I was young and I was kind of out on my own. And especially with the music stuff, I didn’t really have anybody to relate to me or that many people to talk [with] for advice as far as people who had done that. When I met Joe and started really hanging out with him, I was very much in the same situation that he was when he was young and getting out there. It was really nice to have somebody older and had been through stuff to kind of talk to them about it and get some advice and some guidance and like I said, just to have some sort of example to follow. It really meant the world to me to have somebody like that in my corner giving the encouragement, the support, and someone kind of back there saying to just go out there and play your songs and let the rest worry about itself. It was just nice to have a voice in the back of your head saying that you’re OK, you’re doing good, and to keep on doing what you’re doing. Definitely a great thing.
NS: Your songwriting, I feel as though it’s broadened out over time and expanded. You’re taking on bigger themes than you previously were. You’re not just singing about Texas bar rooms. You feel that’s just part of becoming a better writer over time?
RB: Yeah, it’s a big part of it. Writing songs for me has always just kind of been writing about my life and experiences, the things that I go through. When I was younger, I just mainly had been around Texas and those regions playing those bars, that’s really all I knew. All I could really do was just write about the things that I know. Later on when you get older and you get out there in the world and you’re traveling across the country, and even over to Europe. You’re in Germany, London, and Paris. You’re in all these places and you meet so many different people and you experience all these different cultures. So when you get home and start writing songs, you just have a lot more to take into consideration. It’s kind of a thing where I go to London and spend some time there and come home and write about those rough guys out on the streets, fighting in the bars in London, maybe somebody in Texas doesn’t relate to that song, but at the same time, when I go to London, people do. Your horizons broaden and all the things you’ve got to take into consideration and kind of what makes up songs. [You’re] writing about your experiences and things that you see out there and what you feel. For me, it’s kind of a natural process I think.
NS: Part of that, with each record it feels like you’ve gotten more socio-political. There’s more songs that are talking about big picture concerns.
RB: Oh yeah. I think that’s a big part of it as well. You know, when you’re waking up in a different city every day, you’re exposed to so much on the road really fast. It’s easy when you’re in one spot. Even if I’m at home out here in California, it’s easy for me to fall into a bubble of what’s around me everyday and I don’t really think about anything else outside of that box until I get out there on the road. You wake up and you’re in these different situations and you’ve kind of have to adapt and move around. The political stuff and the environmental stuff, all of that’s in the big picture of society and living in it. If you pick up a newspaper everyday you’re going to read about it or if you turn on the TV and watch the news, you see it. I don’t know if it’s more or less just subconsciously than anything. It’s just interweaved in our everyday lives in this society, in the world, and with all the current events and how they make you feel. Songwriting has always kind of been a way for me to really process that stuff and try to make sense of it. In a real therapeutic kind of way. Being young and being out there, you’re hearing all these stories about what’s going on in the world and you sometimes don’t know what’s really happening, but it definitely makes you feel something at the end of the day whether you really understand what’s going on or not. And that’s kind of what songs, it’s trying to talk about it and make sense of it in my own head and just expressing those emotions of what those events make you feel.
NS: Yeah. Now I’ve got to admit, the first few times I listened to “Tomorrowland,” I wasn’t really buying into the record. But the more I’ve listened to it, the more I’m understanding it. And really, that’s how “Junky Star” was for me and now it’s probably my favorite album of yours. Do you feel that “Tomorrowland” has kind of been a harder record for people to get into?
RB: Yeah, I think so. Really those first two records were the same as these. When those first two records came out or when I was writing those songs–man, I’d played those songs for six or seven years before they were on a record. I’ve been told a lot of people not really get into them. It’s always taken time for those kind of things to grow on people. It’s kind of like that with every record. It’s got to be out there for five or six months and people have got to listen to it and then “oh maybe there’s a little bit more to this than I originally thought.” Like I said, I feel like I’m moving so fast, travelling around, getting exposed to all this stuff. So my inspiration comes from a lot of different things and it changes. I have a real short attention span. Like I get bored with one thing really [laughs]. So if I’m sitting at home listening to music–and I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and like a lot of different stuff–so I get my head and get on this kind of kick and start writing and recording these songs and I don’t really think about what it’s going to be like or what other people are going to think about it. Know what I mean? I just kind of get caught up in the moment and inspired by the moment and that’s what I’m writing and recording. It’s fun. And then you get the record out. I think change is scary to some people and I think different is scary to some people. It’s natural. It’s totally part of the thing. I think that’s why a lot of musicians are maybe scared to do things differently because they’re scared of the reactions of people and they’re not going to like it. But at the end of the day, if I’m honest about what I’m writing about, I can only tell the story I can tell, and play the music that I’m inspired by, that’s really only what I can do with it. It’s got to inspiring for me and fun as well. I’ve got to accept it that maybe some people aren’t going to like it as much as older stuff or whatever. But it’s kind of part of it.
NS: To me, the more I listen to “Tomorrowland” and the more I look at it overall, it feels more artistic than anything else you’ve done. It feels like you’re in a place where you’re thinking more than just about music. It feels more like an art piece than just a song or an album usually does.
RB: Yeah. You know a lot of that stuff was influenced by Terry Allen for example. You get hanging out with him, he’ll open up your doors and get you thinking outside the box a little bit [laughs]. You start going out to art museums, art exhibitions, and things like that. The things you learn from him. He was always someone in my corner saying not to be scared to try new things and to think outside the box and expand. You’re never going to find if you don’t try. I might not get it right the first time. But maybe on the next record I’ll take some stuff from “Tomorrowland” and take some stuff from the older records and then find something new as well and combine all those together. That’s what keeps it growing for me and keeps it fresh and new. Bringing new ideas. This record, to me was kind of a big experiment. It was me playing all electric guitar and having fun with that and just messing around with different amps, guitars, and pedals and kind of creating these weird sounds. Shit like that. Just kind of experimenting with it. And there’s stuff that I learned from this record that I like and some of the stuff that I don’t really like. On the next one, I’ll take the stuff that I like and use that and just keep trying new stuff out.
NS: On the record, I think like a song like “Heart of Rhythm,” that’s something I can picture coming at any moment in your career so far. But like the song “Western Shore,” I just can’t picture writing that song six or seven years ago. I think that’s a really great example of how much you’ve grown as a songwriter. It’s a hell of a song.
RB: Thank you. I appreciate it. It is. It’s all about where you go. I think writing songs is almost like writing a journal or a diary everyday. You can’t write those songs until you get out there and lived and had those experiences. I’ve got to travel around for six or seven months and get out there and have those experiences, meet those people, see those different cultures. Then when you get home and write about where you just went. The songs always come in a progression like that. Your own personal growth and the shit you go through.
NS: Another song that you released, but wasn’t on the record was “As I Do My Dancing.” That’s really one of the best songs you’ve ever written. Do you guys play that live any?
RB: Yeah, I do man. I really wish I’d have put that on the record because I really like that song a lot too. It just came down to one of those things where we could only put so many on it. That’s definitely one of the regrets I have, not putting that on the record. I really enjoy playing that song.
NS: Yeah. I really think it has this bridging factor where it feels a bit like the new stuff and a bit like the old stuff.
RB: Yeah, me too. That’s where maybe with the next record, I’ll be able to kind of take a little bit of both. I’m still learning a lot as I go along.
NS: There’s this Dylan quote I’ve been asking different songwriters about and I want to hear your opinion is on it. He says that for him, the hardest part about songwriting is getting that first initial thought, idea, or feeling into the final version of the song. How true is that for you?
RB: Yeah, man. It is. I always tell people who for me, songs have to come really fast. Like when I pick up a guitar and come up with a melody, an idea pops in my head, I have to write that song like within 10 or 15 minutes or else it’s not really going to happen. That initial kind of emotion, that initial feeling, you have to get it down and get it out right away. It’s like anything, if you think about something that makes you really sad, you’re going to cry about it, [but] you’re only going to cry about it for two or three minutes and then that feelings gone. Know what I mean? You might be sad about it for a while, but you’re not going to break down and cry a fucking week or whatever. It’s kind of like that. Once that emotion hits you, you’ve got it get it out or else you think about it too long and it turns into something else. I definitely believe in that.
NS: Are there any songs from your back catalog that you look at now and you get a different feeling? A different view or you reinterpret them differently over the year?
RB: Oh totally, man. There’s a lot of songs. That’s part of the thing too, when you write a song so fast about an initial feeling, you write it down, and you know it’s making you feel a certain way, but sometimes you don’t really see the bigger picture of it until a couple of years down the road and you’re listening to it again and you think about all the stuff you were going through before you wrote the song. Then you realize maybe why you wrote it and you start looking at some of the stuff that’s happened. There’s a lot of songs I write where I don’t even get them until later down the road and I go, “Oh, that’s why I wrote that song.”
NS: I’ll get you out on this question. I guess it was a couple of years ago, you had this interview in Texas Music magazine. They asked you about what would be your dream collaboration would be. You said Buddy Holly. What would that song sound like had it been possible?
Ryan Bingham: Yeah. I don’t know. It’d probably been cool to have done a song with him and then had Jimi Hendrix playing guitar on it [laughs]. You know what I mean?
NS: [Laughs] Definitely.