Jason Boland and the Stragglers Share 'Hard Times Are Relative' Title Track

Cameron L. Gott
Jason Boland & The Stragglers

Country singer Jason Boland says that "it's so funny to try to explain" "Hard Times Are Relative," previewing exclusively below, which is the title track for his upcoming ninth studio album. To him, it's somewhat self-explanatory.

"Hard times are relative -- I think everybody can look around say that's true these days," Boland tells Billboard. "It matters where you are and what's going on, and always it's relative to your situation and what you know as your reality of how good or bad times are. It's subjective."

It's also, in Boland's hands, as much of a personal narrative as it is a sweeping statement. "Within the song it's about siblings and carrying on family lineage and how that goes broader than just a name," he explains. "The inspiration for that song is kind of 'Where do you start out things?' My wife and brother-in-law, they're seven years apart. My sister is six years older than me. It's just that dynamic of that other parent you had growing up, having a sibling that took care of a lot of things."

Due out May 18, The Hard Times Are Relative album -- Boland's first in three years with his band the Stragglers -- was recorded at yellow DOG Studios in Wimberley, Texas, near Austin, with Dave Percefull and Boland's longtime engineer Adam Odor. And while it does contain a track like "Grandfather's Theme," a complex, twisting arrangement which Boland considers "probably the most ambitious thing we've ever done in a studio," he and the Stragglers maintained an old school aesthetic to the recording process.

"We go take to tape and don't use ProTools or any of the computer environments," he says. "The way music's produced now, nobody gets it. It's just sad. I would rather hear an imperfection than hear something I knew was completely false or flown in or computer-fixed and digitally perfect. Yeah, it takes so much longer, and people still hear our stuff now and are like, 'Oh, that doesn't sound that good.' But as long as we like the mix and it feels real to us, that's what we want."

The album also coincides with Boland and the Stragglers' 20th anniversary of forming in Stillwater, Okla. But he remains more focused on the present and future -- including a live album he says the group is "due" to record -- than interested in having celebrating the past two decades. "Like anything, you get perspective," Boland says. "The first years of anything take so much longer, and that's when all the crazier stuff goes on. But that’s 'cause you're learning all the bumps in the road, and as things get easier you're more able to cope with things. That's when you realize it's great to be where we are and still doing it, 'cause you've got to know you're enjoying it right now."