Country newcomer Ryan Bingham is 29, but the dude already sounds as if his vocal cords have been dragged through the desert of his native New Mexico. So when Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper needed someone to pen a weeper from the perspective of his movie's broken-down singer, it made scruffy sense that he turned to Bingham, who co-wrote and performed the Oscar-winning song The Weary Kind. • This Friday, Bingham tumbleweeds into Tampa's Ford Amphitheatre as part of the Country Throwdown Tour. On his way to town, the former rodeo star called in to talk about an upcoming album with Crazy Heart collaborator T Bone Burnett, hanging at the Academy Awards with George and Leo and what he did — or didn't — smoke with Oscar-winning costar Jeff Bridges.
Your buddy T Bone Burnett is the hottest producer around. He worked magic for Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on Raising Sand, on Jakob Dylan's new one, now you. How does T Bone get that "gothic kudzu" sound?
He just has so much experience. He knows so much about what's going on. He's like an encyclopedia of music. We didn't know what to expect. We went over to his house and he said, "You guys come in and do your thing. I just want to be the canvas for the painting." He has his own people, his own engineers. But he wants the music to do the talking. I just call it a sixth sense.
Your new album, Junky Star, comes out in July. What's up with that title?
[Laughs] I don't know, man! I've been living out in California for the last couple of years, hanging out at Venice Beach. They have a lot of homeless people there, a lot of characters. They've been there, seen a few things.
What was it like at the Oscars? I don't see you as a schmoozy type of dude.
I felt like a fish out of water a bit, definitely. But nothing really weird went down. I ran into George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio at some of the parties afterward. It was informal, laid back. I sat at the bar and had a beer. You just got to be yourself.
You're a young man, but for Crazy Heart, you wrote a song for a road-tired star played by 60-year-old Jeff Bridges. How did that come about?
Scott Cooper had heard my albums, Mescalito and Roadhouse Sun, and approached me about writing for the movie. He gave me a copy of the script, told me what it's all about. I hadn't even met T Bone yet. I started working on The Weary Kind, and Scott said, "We gotta get this to T Bone!" He helped me finish it.
You and your Dead Horses band even landed a memorable cameo in Crazy Heart.
Yeah, we smoke a joint with [Bridges' character, Bad Blake] behind the bowling alley. We're his band, the Renegades.
Was that a real joint?
No, it wasn't a real joint.
Bridges is known for enjoying his weed. You guys indulged in the real stuff between takes, didn't you?
We might have. [Laughs] Man, I can't talk about that stuff!
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.