Ryan Bingham’s “How Shall A Sparrow Fly” has been shortlisted for Best Original Song. Bingham and I had a brief catch up to talk about the song that features in Scott Cooper’s Hostiles. Bingham previously worked with Cooper on Crazy Heart and won an Oscar for Best Original Song for “The Weary Kind.”
For Hostiles, Bingham appears as Sergeant Malloy, a young soldier travelling with Christian Bale’s Captain Blocker as they make their way to New Mexico with a dying Cheyenne chief. Even though his role is small in the film, Bingham says he created a whole background story for the character in order to help with the songwriting process and used that to compose the song which he performs around a fireplace with a mandolin.
Read our chat below:
This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with Scott Cooper
That’s right, we worked together on Crazy Heart.
What did he say to you about Hostiles?
He gave me a call and he knew I was into some cowboy stuff and said he wanted to try to get me into the film. He had written a small part and I wrote a song and we went off to the races.
You did double duty and got to be in the film as well as perform the song. How was the songwriting process for Hostiles?
It was different because it’s taking place in 1890 and it’s a Western. After reading the script, I didn’t know how a song would fit into the film. Scott explained that perhaps I could play it around the campfire. I needed to go back to this character and who he was and where he was from. He’s Sgt. Paul Malloy and I assumed he had an Irish background and I wondered what someone from 1890 would sing when they’re sitting around a campfire traveling from New Mexico to Montana. I thought about what instrument he’d carry too. I thought it would be feasible for him to pack a mandolin. I kept imagining it as a song maybe his mother sang when he was a child because that’s typically where music was played, in the household and everyone sings along. I thought it would be an Irish folk type song and after reading the script, I started molding the song around him after that.
What was it like for you being in the film?
I was only there a short time. I was on set for a week, but the interaction with the cast and knowing the storyline, I knew it was going to be impactful and it was something I really enjoyed.
What did you have to do for Malloy?
I just used his name and worked out his ancestry and knew he joined the Union Army, either he was forced or joined voluntarily. The main focus was what he was going to play and that song.
Did anything help you develop the lyrics for the song, especially as you’re writing a song for a film set in the 1800’s?
I wanted the song to be a character in the film. I didn’t want it to be a song that was written to be played over the end credits. I knew it wasn’t going to be a modern-day pop song with a big chorus or bridge. I knew it had to feel that it was written in that time. I would think of those deep soulful ballads where the lyrics had a lot of weight to them. You could imagine a family singing the song around a pub.
Did you find music that you could listen to as inspiration?
Before I even got the script, I’d already been listening to that type of music. I’ve always been a fan so I naturally gravitated to what I’d heard. I thought Malloy was searching for his identity in this brutal hostile place of the Southwest, I figured it was something he brought with him when he’d come there as a young child.
Talk about performing the song and those conditions?
We got lucky because the weather in New Mexico can be all over the place. I performed it live and the weather was great. It was really folk-driven without the need for an orchestra. You could whistle it while you were riding down the trail.
You weren’t onscreen the whole time, so what was it like to see the finished film?
It took me a while to pick my jaw up off the floor after that first scene. I know there’s a big conversation going on around the film. A lot of the dialogue is soft-spoken and I know you can watch the film a few times and learn something new each time. There’s a lot going on there than it seems, and by the time you get to the end, it’s amazing to me how we look back at history and compare it to what’s going on today.
I think it’s a beautiful film.
What are you up to now with your own music and recording?
I’ve been writing songs for a new record and I’m probably looking to go into the studio in the new year. I’ve been working on music for Yellowstone.
That’s the Taylor Sheridan show.
He’s such a great writer. The scenes we’ve done so far are just wonderful. We always look forward to what’s next with that. It’s just a great experience.
Listen to the song, How Shall A Sparrow Fly below: