Ryan Bingham returns to Aspen with ‘Fear and Saturday Night’
If You Go …
Who: Ryan Bingham
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Thursday, July 30, 9 p.m.
How much: $30 advance; $35 day-of
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
Ryan Bingham retreated into the southern California mountains last year to write, holing up in an Airstream and emerging several weeks later with what would become “Fear and Saturday Night,” the singer-songwriter’s fifth album.
“You had to have four-wheel-drive just to get back there, and there was no phone, no Internet,” Bingham said recently from home in Topanga, California, during a tour break. “It was a perfect setup to take an acoustic guitar and a notebook up in there.”
Bingham, a local favorite in recent years with shows at Belly Up and the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day festival, comes to our mountains Thursday to play Belly Up.
The 34-year-old, known for his gravelly voice and his timeless Texas country-folk songs in the Townes Van Zandt tradition, 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.”
His 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,” he said. “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 awhile 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 new album, released in January, 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.” There are even notes of optimism.
“It’s something I’m working on as a songwriter, not ignoring some of the harsh realities of life but also not being too pessimistic,” he said. “Being open-minded. And hopefully people can relate to it in their own way, with their own experiences. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
His backing band on the record — and on his summer tour — includes guitarist Daniel Sproul and drummer Nathan Barnes of the Boulder-based rock outfit Rose Hill Drive. Recent shows have included a lot of the “Fear and Saturday Night” tracks with a smattering of songs from Bingham’s catalog. He’s also known to take requests from the audience (and from Twitter).
“Fear and Saturday Night” is the second album Bingham has released on the independent Axster/Bingham Records, which 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.”
Thursday’s show is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. The duo HoneyHoney opens for Bingham.
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