Ryan Bingham was a bull-rider on the rodeo circuit, not even 20 years old yet, when he wrote a world-weary song about death, being a West Texas desperado and praying for change.
“I was still rodeoing, living in this trailer house with a couple of roommates, sitting in the living room one afternoon and kind of just reflecting on my life a little bit and the song came out,” said Bingham, now 26, calling from his home in Topanga, Calif., adding that he was just as surprised as anyone that “Southside of Heaven,” one of the standout tracks from last year’s underappreciated “Mescalito” (Lost Highway) album, turned out as well as it did.
He had always been a fan of music, but had only recently started learning how to play a few mariachi songs on the guitar when lines like “Losin’ faith in my family is drivin’ me out of my damn mind” came pouring out of him with the acoustic folk inspired by early Bob Dylan to accompany it.
“When I moved up near Fort Worth, there was kind of a local scene with all these bands playing in the local honky tonks and a lot of these guys were young guys, not too much older than I was, and I just kind of related to the lifestyle and the music and started kind of writing songs of my own,” Bingham said.
Before he knew it, Bingham had written enough songs for an album, a lot of which revealed way more about his life than he ever planned. “Some of them are a little too personal,” he said. “I didn’t realize what I was doing, really putting my entire life out there on a platter, but it’s kind of out of my control.
“It’s hard for me to perform songs that I don’t care about or feel,” he added. “It’s cool that I’m doing a few happier songs now because things are coming around in my life. I have kind of a different outlook now.”
Bingham is working on the follow-up to “Mescalito,” which he hopes to release early next year. He’s sticking with Marc Ford, who produced “Mescalito,” for the new album to maintain the rough-hewn unfinished sound and the occasionally imperfect note.
“I didn’t want to make the album something it’s not,” he said. “Why put something on the record that you can’t do live? I didn’t want to put expectations way up there in concert only to have people say, `This doesn’t sound anything like the record.’ A lot of it was getting songs in one take. It really flowed.”
Bingham laughs as he thinks about how similar his concert tours are to traveling on the rodeo circuit. “This is all something I kind of stumbled into,” he said. “But touring is kind of like rodeoing - a little less dangerous, I think, but still a lot of time on the road.”
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