Since becoming one of Red Dirt’s and Texas country flagship groups in the late 90s and early 2000s, Jason Boland & the Stragglers have been a stable and reliable source of intelligent songwriting and grainy and hearty country-rock albums. But after more than 20 years, it’s not always easy for Boland to keep generating new ideas at the same rate.
“We’re down to nine studio albums and I’m starting to get to this point of, ‘What are you saying to people? neck and a Jim Ward hat on the head. “I’m not going to continue hunting him for the sake of hunting him.” When the muse arrives she gets stuck and you write it down and it feels good.
When the muse last struck Boland, it gave him one of his most ambitious ideas to date: a concept recording of a 19th century cowboy who is abducted by aliens and thrown back in time. in the 1990s. The light saw me produced by Shooter Jennings and released in late 2021, unfolds the story like a western epic, using a psyche-tinged country backdrop to ask big questions about existence, love, and our connectedness to one another.
“Is the love in our brain prepared?” Boland asks. “Are we eternal? Are we there or are we all here? “
We asked Boland – well versed in all kinds of paranormal theories and stories – to explain the arc of The light saw me the concept albums that influenced him, and why his cosmic LP still works in honky-tonks.
With The light saw me, if you only watch it on paper, it’s easy to get lost in the heady concept and say “Say what? “
It’s a lot scarier on paper.
But when I listen to it, I can hear how it would work if it was performed, say, at Gruene Hall.
And we have! These are all the same questions people ask themselves. Bands always talk about concept albums – it would be fun to do that kind of album. So I work on these riffs, I play a lot of ukulele back then, and that [became] “The terrifying nature” and “The light saw me”. “The light saw me”, it’s just that [snaps fingers], made me want to go fishing. So I asked this guy to fish in this song and look through the trees and see a light. I have always been fascinated by extraterrestrial phenomena and everything that people cannot explain.
Where did it start for you?
It’s just my whole life. Everything that people can’t explain. When you look out and find that it’s not a firmament, it’s not a blanket in the sky. There are more stars in the known universe than there are grains of sand on earth, and you think, what is the distinguishing factor of where we see life in this solar system. There is a green area where liquid water occurs. It burns here, it freezes here. This is where life really seems to do its thing. How many chances are there? If we come from carbon …
We are all made of the same substance that exists …
Yeah. You also encountered the first problem while speaking to country fans in rural America. It’s like, “Whoa now, what do you mean ‘evolve’?” You know, evolution. The fossil record that we have. So the other riff of “Terrifying Nature”, I could hear the story of the cowboy, or the story of the farmer. What if he’s abducted by aliens, transported to the future, snatched from his wife and home? Consciousness, connectivity… What is reality? Which means? You see something, you have an experience, and that’s what ties the whole album together. It is the light.
There are places in the album where you seem to equate “light” with some sort of mystical and religious experience.
The Pauline conversion [of St. Paul on the road to Damascus]. He talks about a lot of them. Joan of Arc, Saint Catherine, Fátima. Strange things happened with the lights in the sky.
Have you personally experienced anything like this?
I do not have. I have never seen a phenomenon that I cannot explain. I have two people that I know and trust, my drummer and my bass player, and it was on the way home from a gig, and they saw the orbs.
Where was it?
In northwest Texas, coming back from Midland. I know these guys like brothers. These four orbs trace, intersect and catch up with the road. I saw some of the videos of the orbs and this is what they were seeing all over the place. Conspiracy Theories Say They’re Skunk Works [the U.S.’s experimental aircraft program].
Concept albums are often two hours or more long, but you’ve managed to condense that story into 41 minutes.
It was part of the goal, like Red-headed alien. Once I rolled over I put [the Willie Nelson albums] Red-headed alien and Stronger than leather. I know they both fit on one disc.
Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime was another. What more were you looking for?
It’s a good concept album. the White mansions stuff with Eric Clapton and Waylon. Confederate tales with Lévon [Helm], Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, Albert Lee. And [West Texas musician] Terry Allen. The concept of the Jennings shooter [album], Black ribbons.
Starting with the track “Transmission Out”, going through “Transmission In” and in the song “Future”, the LP plays as a continuous sequence, like a Pink Floyd album would.
It’s the same riff [in those songs]. It ranges from acoustic guitars and Dobro to electric guitar. And if you watch, the pace picks up. He goes from a swing to a modern rock rhythm. We are changing drum kits. And that’s when you flip the album over and [the protagonist] lands in the future. If I would sit here and give you every Easter egg, every word, there would be plenty. I don’t know if it’s pretentious, but we went.
I think it shows that you really care.
We do. How people perceive what they hear is funny to me. When I was done with this record, I remember thinking, “I don’t care whether people like it or not, because I know it’s good.” I don’t feel that after every album. But with that, it’s like, if you don’t understand, sorry.