For his fourth studio album, Tomorrowland, Ryan Bingham made some changes. He put his band, The Dead Horses, out to pasture, ditched his record label, and decided to try his hand at co-producing the record. American Songwriter caught up with the Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter to talk about Tomorrowland, going indie, country music movies and more.
Where did the name Tomorrowland come from? Is it a Disney reference?
No, it’s not a Disneyland reference [laughs]. I don’t know; it’s just kind of the vibe of the record, moving on and moving ahead. It’s an optimistic outlook on the new record and the new songs. It just sums up the record as a whole.
What made you decide to make this record without your longtime band, The Dead Horses?
We’ve just been touring pretty hard for the past ten years or so. A couple of the guys had some other projects going on. Our drummer, Matt (Smith), he and his brother started a great bar in Fort Worth called the Magnolia Motor Lounge. Elijah Ford, the bass player, has a couple of solo records he’s working on. It was a good time to take a little breather. We’re going to get together next year and do some acoustic, smaller projects. We’re just taking a little break.
You co-produced this album and released it on your own newly created record label, Axster Bingham Records. What inspired you to get so hands on?
It was a lot of things, the way the record industry has changed so much over the past few years with the Internet, and really just because artists are in a position where they can do it now. It made sense. We were in a position to do it. Lost Highway has been really great over the past few years, and has really helped us move into this spot where we could do it on our own.
Can you tell us a little bit about Axster Bingham Records?
Yeah, basically me and my wife, Anna Axster, put it together. We’re just looking for ways to do stuff on our own, where we have the creative control to do what we want, and the freedom. A lot of it is just with the songs, and the writing, and the ideas: the creative side of it. So we’re not tied down as much to the corporate record world. I think the way we operate, and the way I write songs, is more on that level of do-it-yourself.
Sonically, how does Tomorrowland compare to your other albums?
On this record I had a lot more time to work on the songs and to work on the recording as well. I played all of the electric guitar on the record, which is a change. I’ve been playing a lot of electric over the past couple years. I’ve been trying to learn a lot about that. It’s definitely a lot louder, and a lot more electric guitar, and a lot more focused in that direction.
What’s your songwriting process?
Usually, it always has to start with the music for me first. I’ll have to get a tune or a melody on guitar or piano, and the words come after that. The music sets the tone for the song. If I’ve got an electric guitar turned up and I’m playing that, it takes the song in a different direction than if I were playing an acoustic and fingerpicking. The music brings out your emotions and what you have to say from there.
Did approaching the record from a producer’s perspective affect your songwriting at all?
A lot of times you record a demo at home, and months later you go in and record the song with a producer that wasn’t really there when you were writing the song, or doesn’t get the true emotion behind what you’re trying to say. I think that can definitely have an effect on what direction the song goes in, or how it sounds. Having the opportunity to produce it myself and be more of a part of that, I definitely get to keep it in that same vein as how I wrote it.
Have you done any more writing for the screen since Crazy Heart?
I have. Actually, my wife is a film director and she wrote a feature film. I’ve been working on some music for that, and we’re collaborating on putting together a project. The title is A Country Called Home. We hope to try to get it going by next year. There’s a lot of things that have to come together, but as far as the creative side goes, we’re definitely moving ahead. The sooner the better.
Have you seen Country Strong?
I haven’t seen that film. I’m not really much into that world.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
A lot of them are some of those guys from Texas, like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. There’s a guy named Terry Allen that I’ve looked up to for a long time. And of course Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Woody Guthrie.