When Texas-raised music man Ryan Bingham embarked on his current joint tour with Memphis roots-rockers Lucero, he mercifully left his pregnant wife at home. We say mercifully because he's traveling in a cramped bus with a bunch of guys who played on his latest record, Fear and Saturday Night.
"The baby isn't due until the summer," Bingham told us by phone from the road. "My wife is pretty tough, but being pregnant and on a bus with a bunch of dudes, sharing a bathroom? Oh, god."
Bingham's wife shouldn't worry too much about the guys misbehaving, though. While the singer, best known for the Oscar-winning song "The Weary Kind" from Crazyheart, has seen wilder days in his past as a bull rider and traveling troubadour, he and his band members are now focused on staying healthy and making music. They'll roll into Dallas along with Lucero to play South Side Ballroom on Friday.
"We'll just sit back here and work up songs," Bingham said. "This is a really good group of guys, and we're all a little bit older now and settled into our ways.
"It's just chill, no drama."
We chatted with Bingham about the tour, the new music and his favorite places to travel in Texas. Hint: He's all about an empty calendar and wide, open spaces.
At the beginning of this tour you tweeted a picture of yourself making out a set list. Do you change the order every night, and are you open to playing requests?
We've been having a lot of fun with these new songs and really want to try and fit as many new ones in as possible. It's something you have to try out every night and see what fits after what. I'm flexible. I've tried to go back and rework old songs, too. If somebody calls something out in the crowd, I can try to play it for them.
Are you and Lucero traveling in a caravan, and will you do some stuff together during the shows?
Yeah, we kind of caravan it. We're all getting into the groove, seeing how we need to work out stuff on stage. We've talked about working up some tunes. They don't do very many cover songs, and we don't either, so maybe we'll just work up songs of our own that we've all written.
A lot of reporters including myself have described the new record, Fear and Saturday Night, as upbeat compared with your past releases. What's your perspective on it?
Junky Star and Tomorrowland were pretty dark years for me as far as stuff I was going through personally with family. I took some time after that and dealt with a lot of it. This has definitely been a lighter couple of years for me. These songs feel a lot more hopeful and optimistic.
You wrote the new stuff while staying in a trailer in the mountains. Do you yearn for that kind of experience often?
Yeah, I think being from New Mexico and growing up in parts of West Texas where it's so open and desolate, you have so much room to breathe. ... I definitely have to keep having that kind of stimulation in my life.
That said, where would your go-to getaway road trip in Texas take you?
Once you get west of Austin, you hit that Hill Country and things start to open up. When I was kind of living in Austin, I had a few places. I would head west, stop out at Luckenbach, one of my favorite places, and sit around the campfire and play some songs with guys who were out there. Then I'd keep going down around Del Rio and Sonora, and keep going to Marfa and Alpine. Then maybe head south to Terlingua, Big Bend. I used to always make that loop.
And what were the essentials needed for such a trip, in case anyone wants to re-create it?
I'd just take my bedroll and my guitar, and I had a good dog with me most of the time.
A good dog can go a long way, indeed.
Sleeping in my car, I had a good dog to sound the alarm if something came around. You'd just try not to have any plans. Drive till you run out of gas. Then you try to find a gig to play for some tips and make enough gas money to get to the next spot. Getting lost and stranded was part of the adventure.
Plan your life: Friday at 7:30 p.m. at South Side Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar St., Dallas. $35.83. Ticketmaster.