Bingham will perform at Tipitina’s Saturday night, and the whole glittery experience of dealing with the world of celebrities and awards was surreal.
“It happened so fast,” he said. “For a two-month period, every day you were going somewhere to talk to somebody. It was hard to be in the moment. Six months later, I was able to think back on it and say, ‘Wow, that was pretty wild,’ the sort of thing you tell your grandkids if you’ve got them.”
He’s better at solitude and lives in Topanga, California, close enough to Los Angeles for when he needs it but rural enough that he refers to visiting it as “going into town.”
He rented an Airstream trailer to be by himself to write songs for “Fear and Saturday Night,” his new album, and he fondly remembers the days when he could throw his guitar in the backseat of his car and drive by himself from gig to gig.
“There’s a different sense of freedom in that,” Bingham said, when the night’s gig is the only fixed point in the day. He could take the route he wanted, hang out when he wanted, or get away from people when he felt like it. “In Europe, I rode a lot of trains.”
Bingham has returned to doing the occasional solo tour in the last year, but when he comes to New Orleans, he’ll have his band. Traveling with people with him staves off the occasional lonely moments, and while the shows are less intimate with less time spent telling stories and talking about the songs, they have their upsides.
“It’s fun to turn up the amplifiers, and I like to rock ’n’ roll,” he said.
Bingham’s affinity for time to himself comes from his childhood in New Mexico.
His great-great-grandfather moved there in a covered wagon and homesteaded the family ranch. “I grew up going to junior rodeos and working on friends’ ranches,” he said. That cowboy world is passing, but it shaped his ideas about the world, and that shaped Bingham’s music.
“New Mexico and West Texas is a really desolate place,” he said.
“You either ranch or farm or work in the oil fields. My uncles rode bulls, and the stories they would tell about all that affected me because I looked up to them so much. I followed them around and mimicked every move they made. I still have those images in my head.”
“The Weary Kind” could have been written about those people and their fragile sides, and Bingham’s songs often present people dealing with their weaknesses. 2012’s “Tomorrowland” was haunted by his parents’ deaths — mom to alcohol, dad to suicide — and while life’s not easier on “Fear and Saturday Night,” there’s more emphasis on Saturday night than fear in the songs.
“Nobody Knows My Trouble” starts the album with verses that document how alone he is in dealing with his trouble.
“Nobody knows about my trouble except for my baby and me,” Bingham sings, and the stark, black and white imagery of the album cover and Bingham’s history of emotionally dark songs on his previous albums make it tempting to hear the song as being a sad one as only one person knows what he’s going through.
For Bingham, one is enough, and that sort of provisionally upbeat song is about as happy as he gets musically. In fact, he and his wife are expecting their first child, and he’s looking forward to being a dad, but happiness doesn’t motivate him to write.
“Writing songs has always been a therapeutic thing for me and a way to get things off my chest,” he said.
His distinctively raspy voice heightens the emotional impact of his lyrics, as if the feeling in each line is wearing him down. The voice isn’t an aesthetic choice, though. “It came from playing all those rowdy, smoky bars when I first started,” he said.
“Most of the places I learned to play in, people didn’t go there to listen to music. They went there to party and drink booze and play pool. A lot of times you’re singing over the crowd with some lousy PA. The combination of that and not really knowing how to sing blew my voice out.”
“It’s never been good, so I don’t have any expectations,” he said, laughing.