Cowboy at Heart
Oscar-winning singer/songwriter Ryan Bingham on his new album, his baby on the way and his affinity for the coyotes in Topanga Canyon
In 2010 Ryan Bingham’s life changed overnight. The musician, whom friends describe as soft-spoken and sweet, won—along with T Bone Burnett—the Oscar for Best Original Song for “The Weary Kind,” from the film Crazy Heart.
But the accolades and sudden fame gave way to an emotional low with Ryan releasing the album Tomorrowland, which dealt with his parents’ tragic deaths. His mother was an alcoholic, and his father took his own life.
More recent endeavors, though, have taken a lighter note. After holing up in the mountains in an Airstream, he wrote Fear and Saturday Night, an album which Rolling Stone describes as “at times, unabashedly romantic.”
Editor-in-chief Linda Grasso caught up with the 34-year-old musician who is honkered down at home in Topanga Canyon as he and his wife, Anna Axter, await the birth of their first child.
Describe yourself musically.
Still learning and always searching (with three chords and a pawnshop guitar).
So looking back on 2010—a year in which you won an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, Critics’ Choice Award and a Grammy—did you enjoy it?
I did. It was a great experience and something I’ll hopefully be able to tell the grandkids about one day.
You were raised in Texas. How does Topanga compare?
Even though it’s so close to Los Angeles, it still gives me the feeling of being in a wide, open space. You can hear the coyotes at night and you’re surrounded by nature, and I love that about Topanga. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in LA.
What originally attracted you?
It’s a little more spread out over here, and I enjoy the solitude of the mountains with easy access to everything the city has to offer.
Can you share some favorite local haunts?
In the canyon, I’ve always loved Pat’s Topanga Grill for breakfast. I also like going to The Old Place Restaurant on Mulholland Highway in Agoura. When we head toward the ocean, I love Cholada Thai Beach Cuisine on PCH at Topanga. The huevos rancheros at Bread & Porridge on Wilshire are a definite favorite of mine.
As a songwriter, who were some of your musical influences growing up?
Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Guy Clark and Steve Earle.
You worked with your wife on one of your music videos. What was that ex-perience like?
My wife and I work together a lot, and it’s really great. I appreciate her input and her taste in music and her visual instincts. I also recently finished up the music for a new film that my wife directed, A Country Called Home, which premiered in June at the LA Film Festival. We’re always learning from each other.
I understand your first baby is on the way. What kind of music are you exposing him or her to in vitro?
Mostly I’ve just been playing a lot of guitar around the house. Lots of simple, positive melodies.
Some of the songs you’ve written touch on personal experiences like tragedy and loss. Isn’t it hard to share like that?
I guess it’s just how I got started. I’ve always been inspired by the kind of songs that really spoke to me … that feel honest. You can’t really expect people to believe what you are singing about if you don’t believe it yourself.
On the other end of the life experience spectrum—do you think having a baby around will influence your music?
Oh yeah, I’m sure there’s gonna be a lot to write about in the coming months ahead. There will be lots of new experiences and different perspective. That’s what it’s all about!