Last year, Ryan Bingham's song "The Weary Kind" won an Oscar for the movie Crazy Heart. Like the lead character, Bad Blake, Bingham used to be the singer fighting to be heard over the din of a bowling alley. But now, at 29, he's out with his third album, Junky Star. It's a collection of songs about people who are down on their luck or out on the road.
Before Bingham found music, however, he found the rodeo. More specifically, bull riding.
"You can almost kind of compare it to driving down the highway about 50 miles an hour and throwing the steering wheel out of the window," Bingham says of riding a bull. "You're dealing with Mother Nature, and it's not really something you can control; it's just something that you're trying to stay a part of and stay with. I know it probably seems like something that's really physical, but it's really more of a mental thing than anything else. Having your mind in that right place, and having the confidence to get out there and make it happen."
Nevertheless, Bingham says the physical aspect of bull riding is also important.
"It definitely helps if you're in shape, because you do get beat around quite a bit," Bingham says in an interview with All Things Considered host Melissa Block. "A few of 'em knocked all my teeth out, broke some ribs, broke a leg and a wrist -- bit my lip off in the process. ... I try not to think about it too much."
Bingham says music entered his life when he was 17. His mother bought him a guitar, and a family friend showed him how to play a mariachi song called "La Malaguena."
"Ever since then, I couldn't really put the guitar down," Bingham says.
The album's title track, "Junky Star," was written with West Texas in mind; Bingham grew up there. The main character in the song moves from his homeland out to the coast. Bingham says the character represents a lot of people he's met on the road.
"Traveling around a lot, you see people from all different walks of life," Bingham says. "Especially in the early morning hours, you see and meet a lot of characters that you wouldn't usually meet. I've kind of always had this soft spot in my heart for the homeless community, mainly homeless kids who live on the streets. I guess in some way or another, that could have easily been myself or some of the guys in the band. Over the past couple of years, traveling around and seeing the condition that the country is in and seeing the condition that the people are in, I had to take that into consideration when writing these songs."