Red Dirt icon, Jason Boland and his band the Stragglers are bringing their unique sound to the Buffalo Run Casino on March 30, sound that is as Oklahoman as the wind and the red earth.
Red Dirt was birthed on the outskirts of Stillwater, Oklahoma in an old two-story house owned by the late Bob Childers, the Godfather of Red Dirt, who said he found something in the music created there that he couldn't find from Nashville to Austin. The music is hard to describe but encompasses a mix of rock, country, bluegrass, blues Western swing, honky tonk, and even Mexican influence.
Boland's moving songs tell stories and like traveling on a long winding dirt road, you never know what's around the next bend, songs like 'False Accusers Lament,' 'Comal County Blues,' ' Blowing through the Hills,' 'Pearl Snaps,' 'Alright,''Proud Souls', and 'Falling With Style.' Boland spoke at length about his music and the upcoming show in an interview this week.
MNR: It makes my job so much easier when I really love the music and the artist, I've been a fan of yours for years and your music means so much to me. I try to convert people to Red Dirt and suggest your 'Live at Billy Bob's CD.' You're an artist that has stayed true to who you are and your music is very different and smart, you've never sold out to commercialism, how come?
JB: “I think part of the spirit behind what was going on in Stillwater, and the northern region, it's a big geographic scene, that's what it is, you know it's a touring circuit, a bunch of bars and honky-tonks and people that like to hear some alternative to what's going on, but that was what it was all about. People staying true to themselves and doing what you do. With guys like the Great Divide to look up to and the Red Dirt Rangers, Medicine Show, Bob Childers and Tom Skinner. They were all fiercely independent and original, so I think we had good teachers and the scene that supported originality. It was really important just to do what you do and try to be the best of who you are.”
MNR: Red Dirt was the answer for those of us that want real country, not glorified electronic pop style stuff. Why do you think this regional music movement has meant so much to so many?
JB: “Just that. People are moved by music, whether it's driving along in their car or they want to get go out into a dance hall where people gather together.You know there's nothing better to do then have some music going on in the background. I think first and foremost it's important to people, they enjoy hearing it, most of the time we don't really know what moves us about music, we just know it does or it doesn't. So, whatever reason, rural music, country, Americana, roots music, or whatever label you want to slap on it, it's a broad spectrum, you know it has so many differences. A lot of artists blur the line, but it's supposed to speak something to the people and not just be about,not just nostalgia or like you said trying to be pop. It's supposed to be more stoic and a constant then chasing rock and roll and money. That's good for rock and roll it's supposed to be this thing to annoy your parents for young kids, but I don't think roots music, I don't think necessarily that's its job. When you go back and listen to Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn and Tanya Tucker, it wasn't so incendiary.”
MNR:You have such a wide range of fans, the Red Dirt following is huge here.The new album 'Ranch Alto' is subdued, emotional, more political and has some deep stories in the songs; it's beautiful, but risky. Tell me about this album and what the band's doing now.
JB: “I just think there's enough of the other options right now.We're drowning in songs about good times at the lake and spring break, and seventeen year old girls singing about how their boyfriend is mean to 'em...”
MNR: Something deeper?
JB: “Yeah, there's no substance. There's a place for that too.You know there's a place for Disney, but there's also a place for horror movies, you know.”
MNR:Why music, what happened to get you playing, singing and writing? When did you know it was what you wanted?
JB: “ I don't think there was ever a moment when I thought this is going to be a career. It was such a natural, organic progression. It was,'this is nice that I can do that in my spare time,' or 'I can make a few bucks here and take some time off of school to sort things out.' I became disillusioned in my career path in college as a marketing major. I began to feel like I was being trained at it. I lost the feeling that I was being educated and expanded as a human so, when I met guys like Bob Childers that said, 'Well, don't be afraid, enjoy life. Be who you are,' I think it was just a complete natural progression. For me it was, and it ended up being my job. Now as far as being a child growing up listening to music, I was 4 years old playing a tennis racket with the best of them. It was always appealing... I think everybody on earth should play an instrument and write poetry and if you put the two together you're a song writer. Everybody has a song in them, we should all do it. Now everybody is not cut out for the road living night to night playing live shows but we should all play music, or write songs.”
MNR: When did the writing come?
JB: “End of high school, when I started to know enough about guitars and putting it with melodies and beginning to put lyrics down. You watch the progression of that, you talk about this album being darker, I think it's just a more mature record. I think 'Comal' started it.”
MNR:It's very poetic.
JB: “You're just trying to please yourself, I think writers write for the sake of the song. their pride they take in it and enjoyment from it rather then how can a pick the low hanging fruit you know how can I get this to be a hit, or I'll say a cuss word to get them.”
MNR: You almost lost your ability to sing in 2006, how'd you cope with that, did you ever think 'what if'?
JB: “I thought the 'what if ' and you just move on and take it in stride. I'd figure something out, I always have. I went to EMT Scott Cordray in Tulsa, and he saw a polyp and said I should go to Vanderbilt and get a doctor to take care of it.”
MNR; Well I should send him a thank you note because I sure am enjoying your music and glad you're still making it. What song or lyrics of yours mean the most to you- moves you?
JB: “I try to keep all of them that way really. I try to out do myself most of the time. I think honesty is what always moves everybody about songwriting, that gets to the heart of it. It's easy to back off anything that gets too real for people and sugar coat it. The bare essentials like Childers, or McClure's great at it. You sing 'em and then you move on from them. You don't break your arm from patting yourself on the back. There's definitely songs on this album that I'm proud of, 'False Accuser's Lament' and 'Between 11 and 2' and 'Fences' that I went for deep meanings, whether they're about poetry and storytelling and love and finding love and experiencing it, or a social issue.”
MNR: There are some brave lyrics in this album. You've had some highs and lows in life; so, what's inspiring your music these days, it's so different?
JB: “I'm inspired by what I see and feel, it's all personal experience written all to the style of the region like Woody Guthrie, just being pretty honest with it. To keep from writing the same song over again I found myself getting very folky in a few of the more recent songs. On the next record I've injected a more punk Americana on a couple songs just to get out there and break the mold and it worked out for me.”
MNR:That shows versatility and range, some artists are stuck in ruts. If you could spend a day with any singer who would it be?
JB: “It would be Merle Haggard.”
MNR; Have you got to do that?
JB: “No, no. We've played a show with him before. I'm never going to be the one that hounds anybody. He's everything I look for in an artist, to songwriter, longevity, and just the voice too. He's it.”
MNR: Anybody surprising you listen to?
JB (laughs): “Yeah, there' probably a lot of it. Immortal Technique, Clutch, Tool. That's the thing I look for, if it moves me. I just bought a vinyl of Arcadia 'So Red the Rose.'”
MNR: Describe a special moment on stage that blew you away?
JB: “I think the first time we sold out Cain's. That made it feel real, that's an accomplishment, something I wanted to do. It was a benchmark.”
MNR: It's such a special place. I 've seen some of my favorite shows there.What's a perfect day like for you on your off time?
JB: “Oh basically, just like today hanging with my lady and going to look through vinyl. Going to get some good coffee, find something good to eat. We go for a walk around the lake, that's a perfect day off for me, taking it easy with good company.”
MNR: You have fans that really believe and trust in you, you seem to draw a very loyal crowd. What can we expect at Buffalo Run?
JB: “ We've got a pretty rockin' set. There'll be a Waylon tune in it, one brand new tune that's not on anything, and then we throw in a good mix of crowd favorites along with some hits to keep ourselves interested. We try to walk a line don't ever want to throw out the baby with the bath water.There'll hear 'Pearl Snaps' and a brand new one like I said called 'Electric Bill,' you only hear on You Tube or in a show. We're now constantly working on the next album and staying in the perpetual creative process and we've been working up new songs in sound check. We rehearse on the road.”
MNR: Your music meant a lot to me in a difficult time and I just want to thank you and can't wait to see the show.
JB; “That's what it's all about, sympathizing and celebration.”
Boland's next album will be released possibly next winter or early spring. Tickets to Friday's show can be purchased at Buffalo Run.