Singer-Songwriter Jake Smith, aka the White Buffalo, Explores Positivity on His New Album

click to enlarge Singer-Songwriter Jake Smith, aka the White Buffalo, Explores Positivity on His New Album
Marc Lemoine/Reybee Productions
Jake Smith, who records and tours under the moniker the White Buffalo, didn’t intend to become a singer-songwriter. Hall, who’s benefited from having numerous songs featured on the TV drama Sons of Anarchy, including the chilling "Come Join The Murder," a track co-written with Sons of Anarchy creator and executive producer Kurt Sutter and music producer/composer Bob Thiele Jr, grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif. and didn’t learn to play guitar until age 19.

“It was a piece of shit Fender I got from a pawn shop for $150, $200 bucks,” he says via phone when asked about his first guitar. “Initially, I didn’t have any agenda. Once I learned two chords, I just started writing songs but not with any aspirations to be a musician or songwriter or have it be a career. I don’t know I did it. I just kind of did it. It was meant to be, I guess.”

Living in Orange County, he absorbed a good amount of punk rock.

“I was raised on country music and we would go to country music concerts, but when I got to high school I got into punk and hardcore,” says Smith, who performs at 7 p.m. on Sunday at House of Blues Cambridge Room. “During my pre-songwriting days, those bands had a big influence on me. Bands like Bad Religion, Circle Jerks, Descendents, all those punk bands were influences. I always wanted to be punk but it didn’t come out that way.”

While living in San Francisco, he started writing songs that he would send out to friends and relatives. Pro surfer Chris Malloy got ahold of one of the tapes and put the song "Wrong" in his popular surf movie, Shelter.

“He called me up out of the blue and asked if he could use it,” says Smith. “That’s when I realized it was what I should be doing. It was a weird time in San Francisco and I was dicking around and getting fucked up. I wasn’t playing. San Francisco was very DJ-oriented and a lot of the small clubs had started doing that. After that movie, I moved out to Southern California and I’ve been there ever since to give this a fair shake.”

Bob Hurley, then-president of the surfing apparel company Hurley, helped him finance the recording of his debut, Hogtied Like a Rodeo. That provided even more exposure.

For his latest album, last year’s Love and the Death of Damnation, Smith expands his musical range. Album opener, “Darker Days,” features his signature gravelly vocals (think Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder) and “Go the Distance” also emphasizes his gruff voice.

“I tried to expand both thematically as well as musically,” Smith says. “I tried to keep things a little more positive. I tend to go to the dark side quite often. On some of them, I felt like I had to do that. I wanted to represent all walks of life and love and positivity is part of that. I wanted to have some different grooves too. We had a gospel, almost soul song to finish the album. I was trying to grow but keep it in my style.”

“Last Call to Heaven,” a song that features a combination of distorted violin and pedal steel, has an effectively eerie feel to it.

“I love those stories that are about the strange outsider who is trying to assimilate,” he says when asked about the song. “I wanted it to be a portrait of heaven and hell and the dive bar is the scene and then all hell breaks loose. It begins very stream of consciousness, and I don’t know what’s going on with it.”

Smith says he’s always writing and has started focusing on the next record.

“For the last couple of months, I started focusing on the next record,” he says. “It’s all over the place. There’s some slow finger picking stuff. I’m trying to get better at guitar. I think I’m a competent rhythm guitar player, but I never really worked at it. I play a primitive style, which has its merits. I’m trying to expand that a little bit. I have a bunch of different ideas of what I might do.” 

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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