Country artist Ryan Bingham recently released Fear and Saturday Night, written and conceived in an Airstream in the mountains of Socal. The album, produced by Jim Scott (Wilco, Tom Petty, Crowded House), draws on Bingham’s vast experiences and life’s ups and downs—which in his case include losing both of his parents while simultaneously earning industry accolades such as an Academy Award, a Grammy and a Golden Globe Award for his work on the film Crazy Heart. Pro Sound News recently met with Bingham to talk about rodeos, Airstreams and recording his new album.
ON RIDING BULLS:
I was working for a guy that ran a rodeo company in Texas and I was riding bulls. I’d started playing guitar a little bit, and before long, they started giving me a gig to play after the rodeo. They’d have a hospitality tent or something afterwards, and I would get in there and play my four or five songs. Then eventually people started ask me to come back and play at other rodeos, parties and bars. That’s how I really started playing live in front of people. I guess the rodeo circus really prepared me for the road and the travel life from an early age.
ON WRITING IN THE AIRSTREAM:
I wrote these songs on an acoustic guitar. I really wanted the material to be able to stand on its own and get to the root of the singer/songwriter inside me. I was looking for someplace to go write for a while, like a cabin or something, and my wife found this guy who had all these old Airstreams up in the mountains, up off of Mulholland towards Ventura California. It was a really cool place tucked back in the canyon, and I spent a couple weeks up there at a time just writing and hashing out the songs. I got a handful of them written, brought them back home and started producing demos to get an idea of what sound I wanted.
I can never be around a whole lot of distractions while I am writing. I’ve got to be alone in my thoughts so I can reflect on where I’ve been and what I want to write about. Just being up there in the mountains in that Airstream was great. You really start to think about things when you start getting lonely and when you have so much time on your hands. These are the best times that I find things to write about—the real stuff, anyway.
ON BOOTLEGGING AND DEMO-ING:
I recorded the Bootleg and the demo CDs to get a solid interpretation of the songs before I went into the studio. These days, we don’t have the same kinds of budgets we used to have with the record labels, so the more preparation and pre-production you do can save you a lot of time and money in the studio. I like to take the songs and record them just with an acoustic guitar and a vocal live. Then I’ll get a piano or an electric guitar and come up with melodies or riffs over the top it before I give it to the guys in the band, so they have an idea of where I am coming from. By the time we get together and rehearse, we are already on the same page in terms of the direction we are going to go in with the songs.
ON VINYL REFERENCES:
Jim [Scott] and I talked about some of the influences I had and some of the sounds I wanted to hear. He has a thousand vinyl records that we went through, and we listened to different things that we liked. A lot of it was little stuff—some weird instrument on a Beatles track, or the hand claps on Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” or the vocal reverb on an old Waylon Jennings track, for instance. When we were in the studio, the songs were there, the music was there and the players were there. So it wasn’t so much trying to craft the songs; it was more about how we were going to capture the songs in the way that we wanted to.
ON RECORDING WITH JIM SCOTT:
Jim’s studio is the least claustrophobic studio I have ever been in my life. I’d say it is a studio, but it is really a huge warehouse that he has in Santa Clarita, close to Magic Mountain. He’s got everything he’s been collecting for the past 30 years there: motorcycles, amplifiers, drum kits, lights and Dolly Parton pinball machines. It was a really cool place to hang out and you feel like you are on another planet. We used his drum kit and amps—it was the same drum kit that was used on the Tom Petty Wallflowers record, Rage Against the Machine and another Chili Peppers album he did. With his set up, you don’t spend two or three days trying to get sounds; he’s already got it all there, and in multiple options. You just go in, pick your poison and go at it.
ON THE FINISHED RESULT:
I am really excited about Fear and Saturday Night—it is one of my favorite records that I’ve done. I feel like it is the only record I’ve done where I had a specific sound in my head and afterwards, it came out exactly as I had expected. It’s cool when you record these demos and you have that feeling you are trying to get to, and at the end, the whole thing comes together and sounds just like you wanted it to sound.