The Verge: Ryan Bingham


Ryan Bingham describes his existence touring the country with his backing outfit the Dead Horses as that of "just another band with a van." But the handsome, 28-year-old country rocker from New Mexico is about to see his profile catapulted onto a much broader stage with the release of Crazy Heart, the Jeff Bridges film about a faded bluegrass legend that features his wistful song, "The Weary Kind," as its main theme. Director Scott Cooper also put Ryan, who had never acted before, in a small but pivotal role as a local musician forced to rouse Bridges' character Bad Blake from his alcoholic stupor in a motel room. We caught up with Ryan -- every bit the humble, good-humored and soft-spoken cowboy -- about the craft of songwriting, all the Oscar talk, and the significance of the bold tattoos on his hands and arms. (Trust us -- it's a story you'll not want to miss.)

So how did you come to be a part of Crazy Heart?

My friend is an agent, and sent some songs to Scott Cooper. Scott called me and said he liked my tunes and was working on this movie, and was wondering if maybe I'd like to write some songs for the soundtrack.

And next thing you know you're working with T-Bone Burnett. Had you ever met him before?

Nuh-uh. Scott told me to read the script, and if I was inspired to write anything to give him a call. I went back out on the road, read the script, and wrote this song "The Weary Kind" about Bad Blake and his adventure. I sent it to Scott, and a couple days later he called me and said T-Bone and everybody really liked it. We kind of just went from there. T-Bone helped polish it up, added a few lines of his own.

How do you start with a song like that? Does it start with a lyric, or an image?

It kind of starts with a feeling first, and you kind of go from there. You kind of get the melody going first, that sets the mood for what you're going to say. Bad Blake's character hitting rock bottom and getting a second chance -- there's a lot of hope in that story. The title just came out of this idea that this "ain't no place for the weary kind" -- that if you're going to hit rock bottom, you gotta get back up and keep going, you know? That's kind of what I got out of Crazy Heart, the title. You just kind of have to pick up your crazy heart and keep going.

Did you teach it to Jeff Bridges?

Nah, no. He's a pretty good guitar player. I mean yeah, we sat down with him and I showed him the chords, but he picked it up pretty quick just by listening to it.

So you were impressed with his natural abilities.

Yeah, I was man. He's a serious guy. Not in his personality, but in his talent, you know? When it comes down to acting, he really puts a lot of heart and soul into what he does.

Had you acted before?

Nuh-uh. At first they had just wanted me for music, but then it turned into a few lines. They got my whole band in there to play Jeff Bridges' backup band in a bowling alley.

It was kind of a small but significant part. For your first shot, working opposite Jeff Bridges is pretty good.

Yeah. [Laughs]

Were you nervous?

I kind of was when they first asked me to do it, but after hanging out with Jeff and kind of getting the feel for the whole thing, he kind of made me feel real comfortable. When we were doing the scene, it almost kind of feels like all the cameras go away, and you're just all of a sudden standing in a doorway with this drunk, pissed-off guy who's going to kick your ass, you know? [Laughs] It puts you in that moment. I don't know if I contributed as much to the scene as he did, but I guess that's why he's such a great actor. He brings that out in people.

Would you want to act more?

Yeah, something like that, kind of small, with music involved. I mean, definitely with Jeff and T-Bone. That was awesome.

But not a Kris Kristofferson crossover kind of thing?

Nah, I don't think so. I'll just stick to music.

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  • The Winchester says:

    When I read the headline, I thought you guys had gone off the deep end and were interviewing Clooney's character in Up In the Air.
    What a relief to discover this instead. Nice interview. Can't wait for The Dude to get his due for this flick.

  • Yeah, I thought the same thing - Ryan Bingham? That's George Clooney's character from "Up In The Air." I wonder if there's any connection.

  • snarkordie says:

    I saw this guy about a year ago on Austin City Limits. Immediately downloaded all his albums. Now I've got one more reason to try and see "Crazy Heart." Thanks!