Tomorrowland, the title of Ryan Bingham’s new album, sounds futuristic, but the Oscar- winning singer/songwriter hints, “Maybe it’s not so much about looking ahead as it is about leaving things behind.” “There are no more rules,” he continues. Recording Tomorrowland for his own Axster Bingham Records felt “totally liberating,” he says, and allowed him the freedom to “do whatever we want and not have someone else’s agenda on it.” Tomorrowland contains plenty of the pliant acoustic guitar work that has marked Bingham’s previous studio sets, but Tomorrowland expands his musical landscape exponentially: Guitars howl into keyboards and drums stomp against strings, all bolstered by Bingham’s jagged, weather-beaten vocals.
Bingham recorded Tomorrowland at a makeshift studio in a friend’s empty house in Malibu, Calif. that turned out to have an interesting heritage: it once belonged to Kris Kristofferson, one of his musical heroes. “I thought, who knows what you’re going to find in these walls’,” Bingham laughs. Bingham and co-producer Justin Stanley (Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow) brought in a soundboard and microphones and set up the drums right in the middle of the high- ceiling room. They recruited in a small core of musicians to play on the album as needed. “That’s what was so nice about the record: we weren’t on a time line or in crunch time,” Bingham says. “ I really tried to distance myself from any of that. I was like ‘I’m in a house, I’m not spending a lot of money. I can take all the time I need and really get it right.’” And Bingham is the first to admit that after the rush of the last few years, he needed to slow the pace.
The Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy wins for his song “The Weary Kind” from 2009’s movie Crazy Heart caused a wonderful commotion that was at times humbling and overwhelming to Bingham, who was named the Americana Music Association’s 2010 artist of the year. Without taking a breather, Bingham recorded 2010’s critically acclaimed Junky Star, and returned to the road, caught up in an endless swirl of touring. What the public didn’t see was a man thrown into a whirlwind, caught up in the chaos not only from the awards hoopla, but, much more cataclysmically, by his parents dying within a couple of years of each other. “It was too much, I felt like a zombie,” he says. Determined to keep his commitments, Bingham continued gigging, but when he came back to Los Angeles in 2011, he stopped moving for a bit, settled into his new life with his wife, and learned how to live in one spot. For the first time, Bingham had a true place to call his own.
Bingham began writing songs when he was 17 to get away from his troubled Texan home life. The escape transformed from emotional to literal as soon as he figured out a way to sustain himself. “I had gigs where I could make $50 a night. I could just get in the car and get away and I could support myself,” he says. “I didn’t have to work for somebody. I could get all that shit off my chest through my songs. They were my therapy, my means of survival, my livelihood in every way.” And now, with more experience and a mantel full of awards, the 31-year old Bingham finds himself, in many ways, back at the beginning. “Doing this label and the new music on our own had led me back to writing songs that sustain me. It’s a whole new adventure for me. Whatever that means.”