OSCAR-WINNING SINGER RYAN BINGHAM STANDS UP FOR KIDS
WITH SANTA MONICA BENEFIT THIS SATURDAY
Best known for penning and singing "The Weary Kind," the hauntingly beautiful theme song from the acclaimed film Crazy Heart, Oscar-winning singer/songwriter Ryan Bingham admits there were quite a few "people tugging at my sleeve" after winning both the Golden Globe and Academy Award last year, forcing him to deal with "months of smoke and mirrors," but his latest effort, Junky Star, recorded in only three days with producer T Bone Burnett, continues to showcase the stellar abilities of an honest artist.
This Saturday, December 5, Bingham and his Dead Horses band, along with nonprofit organization StandUp For Kids are teaming up with local area musicians, artists, and vendors to present LA’s First Annual ‘STAND UP FOR KIDS’ Benefit concert taking place at the James Gray Art Gallery in Santa Monica's Bergamot Station from NOON-4:00PM. This inaugural one-day festival will bring together elements of 'music + art + food' in an effort to raise funds and spread awareness on the currently growing issue of youth homelessness in the U.S.
Anticipated to be the largest event of the year for the Los Angeles chapter of StandUp For Kids - a national nonprofit volunteer outreach organization dedicated to making a difference in the lives of at-risk, homeless, and street kids – the afternoon will feature live performances by bands The Americans, acclaimed surfer Timmy Curran, and headliners Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses. Additional highlights of this year’s benefit to include: PORTRAITS of homeless youth by celebrated documentary photographer Tom Stone; a LIVE STREET ART demonstration courtesy of Viva La Art!; SILENT AUCTIONS; an extraordinary collection of food & beverages from LA’s FINEST VENDORS, and much more. This year’s fundraising event will also serve as a rare opportunity for the local homeless youth themselves to showcase their own unique music/art talents alongside other established musicians and artists.
For recent Oscar-winner Ryan Bingham, being able to contribute to this event was not only an honor, but also one of particular importance to him. Spending the past several years on the road traveling as a musician, Bingham has all too often witnessed firsthand the harsh reality of the homeless condition in the U.S. – an issue that’s even had an impact on some of his songwriting material – making this opportunity to give back all the more meaningful.
“I've always had this soft spot in my heart for the homeless community, particularly any children that are trying to survive living on the streets,” says Bingham. “When you’re continually traveling around the country, you really begin to see the condition that the country is in and the condition that people are in. You’re constantly encountering people from all different walks of life at all hours of the day - so you’re not always looking at the glossy side of everything - but also seeing the less fortunate side of our cities and communities and towns. I feel a lot of people still often overlook that these days, but it’s an important issue that definitely deserves more attention – and I really admire the work StandUp For Kids is doing to make that happen.”
All proceeds from the event will go directly to benefit the Los Angeles chapter of Stand Up For Kids. Admission to the event will be $20 at the door – OR – a donation of a sleeping bag, which will be given to the local homeless youth population. Children under the age of 14 will be admitted free of charge.
The James Gray Art Gallery of Bergamot Station is located at 2525 Michigan Ave in Santa Monica. Doors open at 12pm, with the first musical act taking the stage at 12:30pm.
BELOW IS OUR INTERVIEW WITH RYAN BINGHAM:
Originally from Hobbs, New Mexico and raised all across the Southwest, including Spring and Stephenville, Texas, Ryan Bingham is a former professional bull rider who admits to being involved with junior rodeos like kids playing little league baseball, confessing he keeps his Oscar in his bathroom, noting, "It's the only room with a shelf."
With his gritty, whiskey-soaked voice, Bingham recounts dark tales on his latest release Junky Star, singing about life on the wrong side of the tracks – familiar territory for the former homeless singer. Now 29 and married to his manager, Bingham’s powerful and gripping vocals are reminiscent of John Mellencamp and Tom Waits.
Soft-spoken and apparently void of any self-delusions of grandeur, Bingham refers to himself and his Dead Horses band mates as a “roadhouse bar band.” We caught up with the affable Bingham and talked about Junky Star, life after “The Weary Kind” and the dark underbelly of his music.
Congratulations on Junky Star. Someone wrote that after winning the Oscar, you’re now the “Three 6 Mafia of Americana acts.” Did you feel any pressure to follow up the success of “The Weary Kind”?
Ryan Bingham: No, not really because I had most of it all written before any of that. I don’t really ever mix the two together. The whole Oscar thing was such a separate thing that I never took it into consideration. You’re inspired to write music not to win awards. It’s really just all about the music and what that is and let it stand on its own. I wasn’t going to try and do something that I wasn’t capable of. I was more excited than anything because I thought this was some of the better stuff that I have ever written. Some of these songs were not like anything I had written before. I was looking forward to it.
It has been written that “The Weary Kind” rescued you from “folky purgatory” which I don’t agree with. How do you perceive something like that?
I don’t really try to perceive it at all. Everyone has their opinion and there will be people that like the record and there will be people that don’t like the record, you can really take things people say to heart or you don’t. Hopefully you’ll get something out of it and relate to it in your own way.
Your voice really reminds me of John Mellencamp. Did you always get a lot of comparisons to Tom Waits and Mellencamp when you first started?
Quite a bit, because of my voice. When I first started singing, I never had any lessons, and if you listen to the stuff I recorded when I was 19 or 20 there are a lot of flat notes and you can tell I was really struggling. I just had to learn how to sing and how to incorporate that with melodies. I’m really self-taught and I can tell over the years of recording how my voice has developed and changed and become comfortable with being able to sing certain notes. It’s something that I had to feel out.
How relieved are you to have a batch of new songs? Did you ever get tired of “The Weary Kind”?
Yeah, Man, for a while there it was the only song I’d get to play. I’m sure people out there wondered is this the only song this guy knows. (laughs) It has been nice to have these news songs and playing them. It’s what keeps you going.
You traveled around at a young age on the rodeo circuit. Did that prepare you for life on the road as a musician?
Oh definitely, I definitely learned a lot from being on the road traveling around. From when I was 13-years-old on to my early 20s with the rodeo and traveling and sleeping in the back of a truck in parking lots, once I started going on the road with the band it was easy, we had hotels every night or even if we were sleeping in the van it wasn’t anything different. One of the reasons we were successful with the band is that we weren’t really scared to go on the road and sleep in the van. It wasn’t that big a deal to us.
When you were out with the rodeo you weren’t even playing music yet. What was it that you wanted to do?
Back then all I ever wanted to do was be a cowboy. My grandfather was a rancher, and my dad and my uncles, so I looked up to them and that’s all I ever wanted to be, and I was really passionate about riding bulls and working with animals.
You recorded Junky Star in Los Angeles. Does the city have any influence on the record?
I don’t think from just recording here but I think living here over the past few years definitely has had a big influence. I think traveling across the country over the past few years has had a huge influence on my songs. That’s really the core of all the songs, the places you go and people you meet and things you experience. To get outside of your hometown or whatever bubble you live, wherever you are, to constantly be moving around and being exposed to so many different people and so many different things, for me, inspires all my songs.
Did you experience any culture shock moving to Los Angeles?
Not so much, I’ve been coming out here, back and forth, for a while playing and traveling a lot. One of the things I appreciate out here is how diverse it is. There are a lot of walks of life and different types of people, and it’s a lot more tolerable than some other places I’ve been. I really appreciate that about the city.
How you moved around out here or have you stuck to just one part of town?
When we first moved here we didn’t live anywhere. We were on the couch tour staying with friends, everywhere from Hollywood to Long Beach to Topanga to Santa Monica. We were always running around. I live in Topanga now and I really enjoy it out there. You can still hear bugs at night but I enjoy coming into Venice. I really like Venice a lot. And I like coming downtown and just walking around to the ‘mercados’ (Mexican markets). I lived in a border town in Laredo, Texas for about three years and I used to go to Mexico every day and go to the ‘mercados’ and I miss that culture and that vibe so having that around L.A., and California as well, is nice.
Some of the new songs, like “Junky Star” and “Depression” and “Lay My Head On The Rail” reference California, were they written here?
A lot of them were. A lot of the songs all start on the road. I always carry a little guitar around in the van and just come up with music but when I get home, that’s when stuff comes together, when I get by myself and start writing.
Songs like “Junky Star” and “Hallelujah” and “All Chocked Up Again” are great story songs but they all have a very violent nature to them. Where did you find yourself when you were writing them?
I don’t know, I think traveling around the country, you see the condition that the country is in and the condition that people are in, and not always looking at the glossy side of everything and seeing the underbelly of the cities and communities and towns. I think a lot of people leave that out often these days and that’s always where I grew up, in those kinds of neighborhoods and places so I always seemed to relate to them more to other parts of town. For some reason I felt more compelled…I guess it’s writing from where you come from.
You don’t strike me as a gloomy guy.
No, I definitely had a rough road of it growing up but I got to the point in my life where you can live your life in the past or look forward to the future. Shit, it’s all out there for anybody who wants it.
There was a time where you and some of the band were living in your car and you said those were fun times but were they really at the time?
Hell no! We were a bunch of depressed alcoholics. We were boozed up every night sleeping until three in the afternoon. We were fucking wreaked (laughs). Looking back on it you say, ‘That was wild!’ and it was, we had a lot of fun times too, but we were so unbelievably broke. One of the first times we came to L.A. we were here for three months, not because we wanted to stay, but we were too broke to get home because our Suburban broke down and we literally didn’t have a way to go anywhere. It was a love-hate relationship.
When you wrote “The Weary Kind” you read the Crazy Heart script and knew that story could be true to life but did you want to make sure it wasn’t true to your life?
I didn’t want to go down that road. I had just gotten married and was living in the first house that I’ve ever had with my name on the post office and I am not going down that road. Fuck that! I’ve seen it destroy so many people in my family and friends. There has to be more important things in life besides music and drowning yourself in whatever it does to you.
Are there many things in this world that are more important to you than music?
Yeah, mainly family and my wife, after finding that I realized that’s what it’s really all about.
It is interesting to tell a story where you’re robbed and then killed?
Yeah it is. I didn’t realize that there are a lot of people dying on this record. When I looked at it as a whole, I wasn’t consciously aware of it as I am now. Stuff just starts pouring out and if feels good and gives you goose bumps, and this is creepy and spooky, and it gives you the chills when you play it. And later on when you go back and listen to it and really see the stuff that comes from your subconscious.
It’s almost like a throwback classic Johnny Cash. With songs like “Strange Feelin’ In The Air” and “Direction Of The Wind” you seem to get off your chest what you’re really feeling.
Obviously you’re surrounded by that every day when you’re traveling around and you meets lots of different people from all over the place and you realize some of the stuff that people still believe in, and you think, isn’t this 2010? In 10 or 15 years I don’t want to look back and say, man, I never did say anything. I feel it’s almost part of the job. If you’re going to say something you might as well be honest and really say what you feel and have some kind purpose.
What was it like recording with T Bone Burnett again?
When we were recording the stuff for the movie we had such a good time working with him. It was just a really cool process. T Bone really creates this space for you to create and he understands what you need to be as creative and comfortable as possible. I really enjoyed that and I had a bunch of songs together and while we were in the studio we were talking about doing a new record and he said, ‘We’re already in here, lets just stay here a few extra days and knock it out.’ After the movie stuff we took a break and then went in for a week and knocked out the songs.
Do you always work that fast?
I like to. I think we do. One of our main goals is to keep stuff simple on the records and keep it to where we can really duplicate it live. Our live show is really our means of support so we didn’t want to have a record where we couldn’t duplicate that live. That’s who we are anyways. We’re just more or less a roadhouse bar band.
What do you hope people take away from listening to Junky Star?
More than anything, to take away a little hope. I know some of the songs are dark but underlining all of it is more hope than anything. I hope they can relate to it in their own way and interpret the songs in their own way and relate to it somehow and enjoy it.
Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses will headline a December 5 concert at Santa Monica's Bergamot Station benefiting Stand Up For Kids. For more info see www.binghammusic.com.
Top Photo By: Brian Lowe www.brianlowephotography.com
Other Photo By: Anna Axster