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Jason Boland & The Stragglers Q&A
Jason Boland Q&A
By Richard Skanse
Aug 2008

At the risk of making such a sweeping statement without confirming first with a doctor or even a dutiful visit to WebMD.com, we’re going to go out on a limb here and hypothesize that there’s never a good time to have a “blood-filled polyp” on your vocal chord, whoever you happen to be. But if there’s a particularly bad or — more casually — inconvenient time, especially if you happen to be a professional singer-songwriter, well, it’s damn sure gotta be any time that you’re about to put out a record album.

“I’ve got a what on my vocal chord? The hell I do! What I’ve got is a CD release coming up, and a ton of shows on either side of it, and radio and press and meetings with the label and rehearsals with the band and a million other things I gotta get done. Now, you get on outta here, polyp, you hear?”

That was Jason Boland’s reaction when he first got the news while he was putting the finishing touches on his new album, Comal County Blue. Or rather, that’s an approximation of what we think he might have thought, had he received the diagnosis while momentarily possessed by the spirit of John Wayne. Or maybe Waylon Jennings, who maintained a cozy crash pad deep inside Boland’s soul even before moseying on up to that big honky-tonk in the sky. But fanciful reenactments aside, its clear that Boland soon realized that however unwanted and untimely his little vocal gremlin was, there could be no ignoring it. “Once the phrase ‘could be career ending,’ was uttered,” he told fans in a candid message on his MySpace page, “taking a break ceased to be an option and became the only choice.” That entailed canceling or postponing all concert dates leading up to the Aug. 26 release of Comal County Blue, or at least until his doctor gives him the green light to sing again.

Until then, the Red Dirt and Texas country maverick is keeping a low profile, giving his vocal chords time to heal so that he’ll be back in fighting form when he’s finally allowed to round up his trusty band of Stragglers and hit the road again. “Fear not,” he wrote at the end of his MySpace letter, “we will return, as always, with vigor and vengeance.” But in the meantime, he indulged us with an interview … via email. Considering the admittedly less than ideal circumstances for a Lone Star Music Artist of the Month Q&A — in addition to Boland’s understandable inability to talk in person, our own preview of Comal County Blue was limited to a streaming version online — we kept this one short and sweet. For much more Boland, be sure to revisit our 2006 Q&A, conducted just before the release of his last album, The Bourbon Legend. Or better yet, just wait for Comal County Blue — and Boland’s return to a dancehall stage near you — and let the music do the talking.

First off, can you update us on how you’re feeling? What’s the latest prognosis?
Physically I feel great. There isn’t any pain due to this injury. It is a blood-filled polyp on the front of my right vocal chord. I’ll be returning to Nashville for surgery on Aug. 26. I will be in the very capable hands of Dr. Robert Ossoff, a world-renowned surgeon in the field.

How common is this? A lot of singers seem to get vocal nodes at some point in their career, and of course it always seems career threatening at the time. Have you heard from any other artists who’ve gone through it who are like, “Welcome to the club ... hazard of the trade, etc.,” or is what you’ve got worse than “normal”?
I don’t personally know anyone who has had this happen. I don’t believe that it is too uncommon for people who burn the double-wicked candle, but among the general population, I would assume it to be rare.

You’ve been performing a long time now. Has anything like this ever happened to you before?
No. I’ve lost my voice a couple of times, but nothing this serious.

Did you feel it coming on at all during the recording of Comal County Blue, or was the album already finished?
I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary during the actual recording of the album. We already had all of the tracks done. However, by the time we were recording the bonus tracks for iTunes, I could tell the schedule was taking its toll.

Where’d you record this one?
We recorded at The Zone, in Dripping Spring, and our old faithful, Cedar Creek, in Austin.

I’ve only heard the album streamed online, and I don’t actually have any track details. So forgive me for some of the more obvious questions, like this one: You got to work with Dwight Yoakam’s old mainstay, Pete Anderson, on The Bourbon Legend. Who produced Comal County Blue?
Lloyd Maines. We have worked with Lloyd on Pearl Snaps and Somewhere in the Middle, and always enjoy the opportunity to work and hang out with such a kind and talented person.

Last time we talked, The Bourbon Legend was just about to come out, and you were already writing again. You said you wanted to keep songwriting a constant thing, so you wouldn’t be caught shorthanded and have to rush yourself by the time it was time to do a new record. In retrospect, that sounds like an easy plan when you know the new record’s gonna be a year or two away; so did you stick to it, or end up procrastinating?
If you said I had to go back into the studio tomorrow, I wouldn’t mind. I kept the pen moving quite a bit.

Any co-writers you worked with on this album that you’d like to talk about? Anyone new, or old favorites that you’ve teamed up with again and again?
Roger Ray and I wrote a fun one he came up with called “The Party’s Not Over.” We revisit “Alright,” which is a [Cody] Canada collaboration from back in the day. Jonny Burke and Jackson Taylor also gave me their blessing on a couple.

Can you expound a little on the album’s title track?
It is a personal account of that feeling you get out in the small town that makes you want to head to the big town.

What about “Outlaw Band” — how long has that one been around? Is that autobiographical, or is it about some other Oklahoma band?
We always put a Bob Childers song on every album. “Outlaw Band” was picked for Comal County Blue because of the groove. It was also written by Randy Crouch and Layle Stagner.

Can you introduce each of the Stragglers, and talk about either how you met each of them? Who do you go back the longest with? Who, if anybody, is “the new guy”?
The original four members are Roger [Ray, pedal steel and lead guitar], Brad [Rice, drums], Grant [Tracy, bass] and myself. We all met up in Stillwater around the Red Dirt Mecca called the Farm. There was great scene going on, including friends and mentors such as the Great Divide, the Red Dirt Rangers and Medicine Show. Noah Jeffries [banjo, mandolin, guitar] has been playing with us since 2003, so he really isn’t a new guy in the band.

Do you any of the guys still live in Oklahoma, or is everyone down in Texas now?
Two guys live in Oklahoma: Brad in Tulsa, and Grant in Vian. Roger, Noah and I all reside in Travis County.

Ray Wylie Hubbard talks about spending the ’70s and early ’80s — before he got sober — in a “honky-tonk fog.” He’s in a totally different place now, creatively, physically and spiritually. Since The Bourbon Legend was your first album since rehab, can you reflect on how the last two years have been for you vs. your life on the road before that? Has it felt that different for you, whether when you’re playing a show or writing or just in the way you look at the world?
The last two years have been a clear, fast-paced awakening and not a puke-splattered hell. The difference is, I am playing a show or writing a song.

Speaking of honky-tonk fogs ... what is your all time favorite country album to just get lost in? 
Honky Tonk Heroes — written by the best [Billy Joe Shaver], sang by the best [Waylon Jennings] and recorded raw. Every time I hear it is like the first time.

Do you have any mainstream contemporary country guilty pleasures that would shock the hell out of your fans? Or, more specifically, any such guilty pleasures you’d care to confess and name and defend?
No, I hate it all. When they hit rock bottom, they get out a pickaxe.

The Red Dirt scene that you came up on recently lost one of its guiding lights in Bob Childers. Do you have a Bob story you could share?
At the end of my college days, when I still had respectable roommates, Bob would come over and always pick a tune that would attract and mesmerize anyone in earshot. It was like discovering a new land.




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