Photography by Mr Boo George. Styling by Mr Dan May
Words by Mr Benjamin Seidler

On stage, Mr Bingham chants in a gravelly, rusty voice he cultivated by touring smoky dive bars and bowling alleys across the American South, straining to be heard above the breaking glasses and knocked-out pins. Up close, he talks with a soft-spoken drawl. "I blew my voice out every night trying to sing, and now I work with what I got," he says.

Talent and persistence earned him a record contract at 24 with country label Lost Highway Records, but Mr Bingham crossed over from niche country rock singer to headline status last year, when he won the Academy Award for best song for 'The Weary Kind' from Crazy Heart. The film stars Mr Jeff Bridges as an alcoholic, down-and-out sort of country rock musician who is like many of those Mr Bingham, now 30, had come across in the seedy venues he entertained in his youth. "People don't go to those dives to listen to music, they are just rough places for people to drink," he says. "For Crazy Heart, I wrote about those hard-up people that I knew there."

Mr Bingham has had a vigorous and rocky ride to success on the back of his band, the Dead Horses. He learnt to play the guitar at 17 in New Mexico, but music didn't immediately prove lucrative and so he rode bulls in a rodeo as a day job in which he lost his teeth and shattered his ribs. He even ended up in Paris at one point, where he tattooed his hand with a blue paw print to remember nights spent with a gang of Navaho Indians with whom he appeared in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Disneyland Paris.

Rodeo taught him to toughen up, Mr Bingham says. "It is pretty violent, but nine times out of ten you land on your feet. You don't pursue that kind of

career if you don't really know what you're doing. I'd say that about music too. It's no place for the weary kind," he says, quoting his greatest hit with a knowing laugh.

The "experience of getting to travel" has been Mr Bingham's main accomplishment in his eyes, more so than the Oscar, for which he attended wearing a sharp Alexander McQueen tuxedo. All he remembers from the awards ceremony is "the hangover from the morning after".

Still, the Oscar garnered Mr Bingham international recognition. At his recent concert in London, the venue was swarming with British men wearing plaid and gingham that seemed to mirror Mr Bingham's country-rock look.

"I always wore a cowboy hat when I started out, but then all our reviews called us a country music band, and I got a feeling the writers didn't even listen to the record. Now I try to wear clothes like jeans that aren't really connected to a certain type of music.

"We're a rock'n'roll band more than anything else," Mr Bingham says of his genre-defying sound, "but we have roots in country music. Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson are influences, but so are Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Muddy Waters and the Stones. Bob Dylan's 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' is a song I heard when I was 18 and it opened up the horizon for me as far as what barriers could be broken down. I felt there were no limits to what you could say or do with music."

Now that he's been touring for more than a year, Mr Bingham says he is ready to take a break and help his wife (and manager) score her new film in California, where they live and he often goes surfing.

When asked if now that he's reached a certain level of wealth and privilege, it feels a bit awkward singing about being homeless and poor, Mr Bingham explains, "with all the stuff I've grown up with and been through in the past, my memory comes into play when I'm singing and writing. When I was younger, I wrote about things I was personally going through. Now I write about the things I was surrounded by then and also the places I am going to in the future."

the work


The Music Video
Watch the music video for Mr Bingham's 'Bread & Water' from his first album Mescalito, released in 2007
the performer
Mr Bingham on stage at the annual music festival Hard Rock Calling, London, June 2011
the oscar winner
Mr Bingham with the Academy Award he won for his song 'The Weary Kind', composed for the film Crazy Heart, Los Angeles, March 2010
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