Ryan Bingham’s backstory is, like his music, unassuming and rugged — a modern rags-to-riches tale, or Rocky with a little more tumbleweed.
Having endured a childhood devoid of parental guidance, financial stability or even, at times, a place to call home, his rise to prominence was nothing if not improbable.
“It definitely seems like the days and months are going by a lot faster than they used to,” Bingham said. “One day, I was sitting on the couch wondering what I was going to be. The next thing I know, I’m writing songs with T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton.”
Out in West Texas, where Bingham was raised, roots-rock champions like Burnett and Bruton are about as revered as biscuits and gravy. While Bingham was certainly aware of — and a fan of — the music that defined the region, his talents weren’t unearthed until later than most in his profession.
This was understandable, given the precarious nature of his upbringing. Bingham’s family could never settle anywhere; his father took oil-field work wherever he could find it; and their home, no matter its location, became stricken with infighting and drug addiction.
But it was a birthday gift that drastically altered the course of his life, although he had no idea at the time.
“My mother bought me a guitar when I was about 16 and I didn’t know how to play or anything. It just kind of sat around in the closet for about a year,” he said. “Once I picked up the guitar and started playing and making music, it became something I didn’t even really think about — just something I did every day.”
Tired of being the new kid in every small town he landed, he dropped out of school and left home in search of his true self, working odd jobs and even trying his hand at bull riding. Music became a refuge of sorts, culminating in a series of self-produced albums with his band, The Dead Horses, and performances at small clubs across the region.
A few breaks and one decade later, the 31-year-old Bingham is a chart-topping singer/songwriter with a Grammy, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award to his name, all for “The Weary Kind,” which he performed and co-wrote with Burnett for the 2009 Jeff Bridges drama, Crazy Heart.
Ultimately, Bingham’s music — specifically his latest album, Tomorrowland — is a reflection of the uncertainty and turmoil he’s endured: weathered, modest and a little outside his comfort zone.
“That’s part of rock ’n’ roll. It’s not always going to be perfect and polished,” he said. “I’m a little rough around the edges personally, so my music should be that way as well. But I always wonder what it’s gonna be like years from now, if I’m gonna be writing songs in a different way. There’s always so much new material and new things out there to experience and learn that things always keep evolving.”