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Jason Boland And The Stragglers Stay True To Vision

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Daran Herrman
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The Oklahoma music scene is as is vibrant today as it has ever been thanks to a group of young bands that blur the lines between country, rock and Americana. KMUW's Jedd Beaudoin spoke to a founding member of one of those bands, a musician who says that the audience for this brand of music continues to grow.

Jason Boland and The Stragglers released Squelch, their eighth studio album, in October and watched as the record rose to the Top 20 on both the U.S. country and indie charts. Boland attributes the record’s success to his group’s staying power. After nearly 20 years as a band, Boland and The Stragglers are attracting new fans.

“You don’t go into making an album with that being the only reason you’re putting it out,” he says, “but it feels great when people relate to it. And I think one of our formulas for it has always been never really deviating too far from who we are. We’re this slow-growing tree that keeps adding more and more fans as we go.”

Squelch’s lyrics touch on a number of themes, including bloated consumerism and social strife. Critics have been quick to remark on this, but Boland says that these days, lyrics about anything more than love and booze will stand out no matter what.

“I think what makes that stand out nowadays is that 99.9 percent of any songs you’re going to hear is just about relationships,” he says. “They just try to make ‘em poppy with a nice beat. Just get people to like it. They gotta like everything. Not that those songs shouldn’t exist. There should be songs about drinking and back roads and high school football and all that, but they’ve drifted to where that’s all it’s about. So, now when we hear something that’s politically charged it really stands out. Way more than it used to in the ‘60s or ‘70s when people were talking about social injustices and just current events for that matter.”

Today, The Stragglers are one of the leading acts from the state of Oklahoma, playing what has been labeled "red dirt music." Although it’s more about an approach to music than an actual sound, the name has become synonymous with Oklahoma roots music. Boland and close friend Evan Felker of the band Turnpike Troubadours have founded the Medicine Stone Music Festival, held in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, at the end of each summer. For them, Boland says, it’s a chance to celebrate the musical community that Boland and others experienced while students at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater in the 1990s.

“Around Stillwater in the early ‘90s there was a community of great musicians that cared about making music and cared about the craft of it rather than the commerce of it,” he says. “There were so many hungry fans that had felt abandoned by popular music. When they had an opportunity to go witness this becoming of all these new people that were finding their riffs in American music, they went out and supported it constantly. The fans were really the backbone of what happened.”

Almost from the start, Boland says he knew he wanted his band to be more than a local sensation.

“It was about trying to get every bar owner in every state that bordered Oklahoma to switch on and find out that this music is what people are hungry for now,” he says.

Today, Boland and The Stragglers draw larger crowds than in the Stillwater days, but he says that year after year they see many of the same faces.

“A lot of them have been around for years and years, and we go back and see ‘em. We’re doing that right because they keep coming out,” he says. “I’m always very thankful for that. Sometimes I wonder how. I missed Clutch the last time they were in town. I love Clutch but for some reason we just didn’t want to get out of the house that night and go downtown and deal with it. But I’m thankful that a lot of our fans are probably tougher than I am.”

Jason Boland and The Stragglers perform at The Cotillion Ballroom Wednesday evening.

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Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.