Jason Boland and the Stragglers, his band of friends who’ve been at it together for the last fifteen years, released their new CD, Dark and Dirty Mile, on May 14th. (I reviewed this album HERE). Release parties and shows the rest of the week made for a long, hard run. That stretch wrapped up on Sunday the 19th in Plano, TX as a headliner for KHYI 95.3 FM’s long-running Shiner Sundays series. Tough week for Jason and the boys, but a good one. And when they took the stage around 5pm, they did not disappoint. Full energy, incredibly tight ensemble, and Boland’s customary magnetic stage presence and riveting vocals. They did right by their fans with the set list, too. Rather than focusing solely or even primarily on the new material, which would have been clearly justifiable the week the new record dropped, they ran all over their catalog like a bunch of kids with new ball gloves on the first day of baseball practice. Jason and his bandmates are a poster child example of what by-God American music is all about, so seeing them ramble like the fabled boys of summer and revel in the opportunity just served to underscore the relevance that’s helped them become a mainstay. Roadworn, homesick, whatever. They came to play, and a big crowd came to listen. That’s how it works when you’re not only doing it right, you’re doing what you know you were born to do.
Even with all the miles the week had seen, Jason was kind enough to step off the bus for a bit and talk with Outlaw Magazine. Of course we figured the idea would be to find a spot both quiet and secluded where he wouldn’t be bothered. It was a beautiful spring day, crowding up on the warm side but with a breeze one could reasonably imagine was blowing in off the Gulf on Mustang Island. So where’d Jason decide to pull up a seat and talk? Just outside the front door of the venue. Little stone wall, set low. Right in the sun. Folks walking in to get tickets, folks walking out with full bellies, right in the middle of the highest traffic zone around. That tells you something about Jason. He likes the sun, and he likes to be where the people are. Keep reading and Jason will tell you some more things about himself and the Stragglers. One of the most engrossing interviews I’ve had the privilege to do, and absolutely one of the most energizing and enlightening.
DP: Jason Boland. Love and War in Texas in Plano.
JB: On a Sunday!
DP: On a Sunday.
JB: And a beautiful one, too.
DP: Long week for you boys, too. You had the CD release on Tuesday?
JB: Yeah, we did that. And then we had a strange Thursday off in there, too, but we’ve been at it ever since and we’ve got a lot of nice shows coming up too, so, just doing what we do.
DP: There you go. So Friday and Saturday you guys were playing in Oklahoma, right?
JB: Yep. We played Cain’s Ballroom, and then went over and played in Spearman, Texas for the Heritage Days. We’re entering into the rodeo and festival season now, which is always a good time.
DP: So the new record. Let’s talk a bit about where it came from. We reviewed it, and we think it’s fantastic. But if you look across the course of your career, where you’ve been and where you came from, you’ve always had a great sound. Great vocal. Maybe a little bit deeper lyrics than most of your counterparts, even way back then. But the progression all the way through… how do we get from ‘Pearl Snaps’ to where we are today?
JB: Man, you just stay on the road, you know. You work through problems and you live with life. You keep trying to make something better than you did last time, always. There’s a lot of tenacity involved. You have to keep finding ways to make yourself believe in things. And I think most anything we go through as a human will help you do that, you know? So if you’re present for it, haven’t checked out, and you’re the type of person that puts it into some form of creative medium…. I think one piece of advice I got from Scott Hendricks, and everybody says this, but 90% of life is just showing up. Staying after it and doing what you believe in. Other than that, I think one of the main things people are hearing on this one is they don’t know how far it’s gone off the scale with the digital environment. This record was never on ProTools or anything. Think that’s another big sonic thing that people are feeling. It’s an aspect of this record that, well, it goes back to ‘Pearl Snaps,’ really. That was recorded on tape, it was mixed on tape, it never went to computer. From then on everything else has been in a computer no matter how many times it went to tape. So many people tell you, “Oh, yeah, we do tape too. We do tape too.” Yeah, but you don’t mix it on tape, do you? You mix it in a digital environment, and then you dump it back. You dump it back eight times or whatever, it doesn’t matter. It loses something. And since we didn’t do that on this one, I think that’s a lot of what you hear tone-wise.
And it takes you some time to get to where you want to be. I think if I take my shoes off, I can probably count the number of times I’ve ever been in the studio doing vocals for a record. So you never really get comfortable. You’re in there paying really a pretty premium rate for studio time – and that’s why home studios have popped up, you know. You’re able to make it, you’re able to get it out there. And they get it out there fast, and they get it out there, well, computer correct. You know, ones and zeroes correct. But you can’t fake going down the road for fifteen years with the same four original guys and going in and laying it down on tape machines and mixing it down that way. You know we had Shooter Jennings coming in there with us and he knows drums, he knows piano, and he’s coming up with epic licks and helping us to arrange songs and being able to say yeah, that’s it, that’s the one. You know, what a producer does. It was a very organic, very natural experience. So it went well.
DP: Very cool. I knew it sounded different, and stylistically it’s also a little different from previous records, right? Little bit heavier, little bit more meaty crunch to it.
JB: Yeah. I think a lot of that, who knows where that comes from from time to time? You know the tones turn out larger than they are, but that could really be just the digital versus the analog thing.
DP: Great point. I didn’t realize this was done that way. But my wife and I had been listening to Comal County Blue, and then listening to this one. It seemed that materially, lyrically, the intent and the meat that’s there, maybe somewhat similar records. This one goes a little further, but the sound is much more “bam,” much closer to that live experience.
JB: Well, I’d been trying to figure out what to write about, where to go. And what is there to talk about? They’ve made about everything worth talking about taboo now. In this wonderful liberal society you can’t talk about anybody. It turns into “Oh, you’re badmouthing this,” or “Oh you’re talking bad about that.” And I mean, lawyers and the politically correct jargon. So there’s been this backlash against political correctness, but come on. I mean, just saying the ‘F’ word a whole lot of times is not freedom of speech. That’s not what it means. It’s being able to have a completely different opinion and not be wrong. That’s all it is. It’s something that simple, but in mass media and mass marketing and mass production of things, you want to get as many people as once. So, well, ‘pop’ is short for ‘popular.’
DP: Truth right there. I’m going to let you go here, but last thing – we’re always asking you folks who do the work questions we think are important. So what I’d rather do here right quick is ask you what you want folks to know about you and the band. Anything you’d want to say to the longtime fans and the new ones who just haven’t found you yet?
JB: You know, it sounds cliché to say it, but we really are just a bunch of guys out here trying to tickle ourselves and get a laugh out of life. I think people in the fame race and the win baby win attitude, everybody’s getting lost for just a good time. Find something that you enjoy. And it’s okay to be critical about something. I mean, I can’t stand a couple of our records myself. For my reasons, you know? So it’s okay be critical of things. We never got into this to just be famous. And where you get caught is when you’re in a medium where you go out and you play for people. So you go out and you start thinking, well, how many is enough people to show up? And you know, then you’re not even thinking about it right. You’re thinking about it too hard, and then they’ve got you. We’re just a bunch of pretty regular guys and I think when people always say ‘you guys keep at it, keep at it,’ we just say well, yeah, we are. This is what we do. Who knows, we could make records on other labels and with other people and not be independent some day. But it doesn’t matter, because we’ll still have control of everything. Just because there’s nothing to control, really. We write the songs of our lives, and we play ‘em, and then we play ‘em in the studio. Just always tried to keep it really close to that. We’ve had things go this way or that way in the past in terms of how you produce records. But I think if you enjoy this sound, that’s Brad and Nick on harmony. John Michael Whitby on keys. Dave Pettis from Tejas Brothers. Noah Jeffreys, our old fiddle player, on banjo. John Silva on percussion, and Mike Hudson on percussion as well. You know, it’s making music with a lot of the people you know, and that’s a lot of it, too. And I think we’re just now getting to where…. I really enjoy what we’re coming out with. It’s funny, you know, to see people and how they enjoy this music. Because they want what they know and what they’ve had. So we get, ‘I really like you, but I used to enjoy this or that.’ Well, it’s okay to like the old stuff now. Or it’s okay to not dig it. That’s not anything to do with us or what we’re concerned with. It’s just putting out something that we can say that was fun, and get to sleep at night after we play it.
DP: Well that’s what counts. Y’all grew up together. You’re still growing up together, doing what you do best. Having a hell of a good time and paying the bills.
JB: Yep. Yep, that’s it. On a good day we pay the bills.
DP: You’re doing it right, and we appreciate you. Thanks for all of it, and mostly thanks to you and the guys for just continuing to be who you are. And for taking a minute to talk with us today.
JB: Thank you, Dave.
~ Dave Pilot
Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs. When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline. When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.
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