Ryan Bingham: After His 'Crazy' Oscar Win, the Singer-Songwriter Finds New Ground

Anna Axster

Co-writing "The Weary Kind" from the 2009 movie "Crazy Heart" opened doors, but three years later, the L.A.-based musician wants to build his own. Step one: the independently released album "Tomorrowland."

Ryan Bingham never has been one to clamor for attention, nor is the singer-songwriter comfortable in the context of being called a “star.” So after releasing three back-to-back studio albums and co-writing and performing the Academy Award- and Grammy-winning theme song “The Weary Kind” for the 2009 film Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges, Bingham stepped out of the spotlight to take a break and evaluate how far he'd come -- and, more important, where he was going.

“I was touring pretty steady for the past 10 years and over those three records,” Bingham tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I wasn’t really under any pressure to release an album anytime soon, so I was a bit ready for a little break.” 

The time off, it turns out, was just the shot in the arm that the Los Angeles-based musician needed. The proof is in the product: his fourth album Tomorrowland, which came out Sept. 18.

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“With this record, I just had so much time to really reflect on my life, the songs I was writing, what I wanted the record to be about, how I wanted it to sound," says Bingham. "I had a chance to sit with it, think about it, experiment."

He also had the freedom to do with it what he pleased, releasing the record on his own label, Axster/Bingham Records. With his contract with Nashville-based Lost Highway Records coming to an end, going indie seemed like the logical next step. “It just made sense to do it on our own,” says Bingham. “The way the music business is these days, with the Internet and different ways of getting music out to your fans, the opportunities you have to do it on your own are just exponential.”

Still, Bingham notes that he was incredibly fortunate to start his career with Lost Highway, a subsidiary of Universal Music. “I was young and just finding myself in the world," he reflects. "They were always really supportive of the direction I was going in and the stuff I was writing, but at the same time they also fell under a very large legal department and were limited to doing certain things. Being with our own label, we’ve been free to kind of do whatever we want, create any kind of music I want. It’s a different deal.”

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Tomorrowland exercises those very liberties. For avid Bingham fans, the new album features less of the folkie, stripped-down, dark songs found on his previous releases, namely Junky Star. Instead, listeners will hear tracks driven by electric rather than acoustic guitar and influenced by good old classic rock 'n' roll.

Bingham says that being upbeat was neither forced or an accident. “[Junky Star] wasn’t that much fun playing live; some of those songs I was just too damn sad! When you get on the road and you’re playing every night, I just wanted the songs to be fun live but also to mean something to me and the people hearing them.”

To that end, the tireless troubadour would like to give a heads-up to his fans: “I want people to have an open mind and be ready for different things, different sounds and different songs … the songs and the shows are going to be very loud and rock 'n' roll. I wouldn’t expect to come out and sit in a seated theater; it’s not going to be very acoustic or soft-spoken.”

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Bingham sees this transition as a natural development of his artistry. “I’m sure I’ve got a few fans that don’t want to hear anything else but the songs like the first record,” he admits. “For me it’s important to keep changing things up and growing and experiencing new things. I guess that’s a chance you have to take when you try to do anything different or creative or artsy. You can’t just keep painting the same picture over and over.”

As for delving into the film world again, Bingham does not rule out working more in that medium and is fielding serveral opportunities. If anything, the whirlwind experience of Crazy Heart has been beyond humbling. “As good as it was, it helped me realize what the most important things are for me: going back to the songwriting and the music,” says Bingham. “At the end of the day, as good as it tastes to be a part of that business and that world, I realized that I’m really happy with that I have. I’d really just rather be at home writing songs.”

Bingham plays the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood on Thursday, Sept. 27.

Twitter: @THRMusic