Ryan Bingham on ‘Fear and Saturday Night’ and playing Aspen Friday night
If You Go …
Who: Ryan Bingham
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, July 29, 9:30 p.m.
How much: $38-$70
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Ryan Bingham’s songs, often bleak and typically full of road-weary wisdom, do the thing that good memoirs do — they take a particular, first-person story and make it universal. But when Bingham began writing songs as a teenager, they weren’t meant for an audience. He wrote and sang to process his life.
Bingham struck out on his own at 17, first riding bulls on the rodeo circuit and later as a troubadour. He lost both of his parents young — his mother to alcoholism, his father to suicide.
“I didn’t start out writing songs with a passion for wanting to be in a band or wanting to be on the road performing for people,” Bingham said last summer during a tour stop at Belly Up Aspen, where he returns today. “It was just a thing that I found that was a therapeutic to get songs off my chest. I was sort of just singing these songs to myself, needing to say these things out loud. I had no idea it would turn into what it has.”
Given the confessional nature of his early work, it took time for Bingham to get comfortable as a performer.
“Being that vulnerable all the time, it took a while to get used to that,” he said. “That’s what the songwriting has always been about for me — stuff that I’ve lived through, stuff that I grew up with.”
The singer-songwriter retreated into the southern California mountains to write his most recent album, holing up in an Airstream and emerging several weeks later with what would become 2015’s “Fear and Saturday Night.”
“You had to have four-wheel-drive just to get back there, and there was no phone, no internet,” Bingham said. “It was a perfect setup to take an acoustic guitar and a notebook up in there.”
A local favorite in recent years with shows at Belly Up and the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day festival, the 35-year-old is known for his gravelly voice and his timeless Texas country-folk songs in the Townes Van Zandt tradition. He said writing in the seclusion of the mountains is typical of his creative process.
“I’ve always had to get into myself and get somewhere and find whatever place it is you have to go to find those songs,” he said. “It’s always easier when I can get away from distractions and get alone with it.”
“Fear and Saturday Night” showcases Bingham’s dark country in songs such as “Diamond is Too Rough” and “Broken Heart Tattoos,” along with some more rocking boot-stompers such as “Top Shelf Drug” and “Islands in the Sky.”
His show at Belly Up last summer emphasized the more rollicking side of the record and Bingham’s catalog. His backing band includes guitarist Daniel Sproul and drummer Nathan Barnes of the Boulder-based rock outfit Rose Hill Drive.
“Fear and Saturday Night” was the second album Bingham released on the independent Axster/Bingham Records he started in 2012 with his wife, filmmaker Anna Axster, after leaving Universal’s Lost Highway Records.
Most people discovered Bingham through “The Weary Kind,” his Oscar- and Grammy-winning theme song from the 2009 Jeff Bridges film “Crazy Heart,” which he co-wrote with the legendary T Bone Burnett. Early on, Bingham said, he had a hard time collaborating with other musicians, because his songs emerged from such a personal vision. But he’s grown as a musician by working with Burnett, going on the road with his former band Dead Horses, and making his most recent album with producer Jim Scott (of Wilco and Red Hot Chili Peppers fame).
“The more and more I’m out playing, and playing with bands, and having these opportunities to work with great producers like T Bone and Jim Scott, it’s really opened the door to being more experimental with sounds and things like that,” he said. “I learned a lot from these guys.”
He’s recently reunited with “Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper on the western “Hostiles,” for which Bingham is writing a soundtrack.
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