Interview with Jake Smith aka THE WHITE BUFFALO
Interview by Mark Dean
“I’ve always loved the combination of things that are really beautiful and things that are really dark or heavy. There’s a lot of that on this album.”
So says Jake Smith, singer, songwriter, guitarist and sole charter member of The White Buffalo. He’s assessing his new album Love and the Death of Damnation, the most impressive manifestation to date of the richly evocative songcraft that’s established Smith as a singular creative force.
Over the course of five albums, various EPs, and numerous prominent placements in such high-profile outlets as TV’s Sons of Anarchy and Californication, Smith has built a powerful body of work that marks him as a genuine original.
The California-bred artist writes timeless, vividly detailed character studies, tapping into the emotional lives of various misfits, outsiders and troubled souls with insight and compassion.
His songwriting is matched by his rough-hewn, deeply expressive voice, and by his distinctive instrumental arrangements, which are simultaneously intimate and epic. Smith’s songs, and The White Buffalo‘s recordings, have struck a responsive chord with a large and diverse fan base, and won praise from critics across the media spectrum.
Last weekend at the Ramblin Man Fair I had the opportunity of a brief chat with the man himself just before he went on stage. Getting the regular Sons of Anarchy related question out of the way first.
No, the thing is that I have been lucky enough to have some compositions on that show which kind of forces people to go deeper. It seems that live, especially over here, they seem to react quicker because I think that a lot of people were turned on to me by that. Yeah, it’s been good.
Do you think that it has broadened your musical audience?
Absolutely. Everywhere it’s probably the greatest impact on my career to date for sure.
How do you feel about the increasing popularity of the genre of country rock music? Do you identify what you do as being in that musical vein?
I don’t know we are like American music.
Bands like Blackberry Smoke and the musical styles of country-rock or Americana… How do you feel regarding its increasing appeal? We have festivals like here at Ramblin Man that give over complete stages to it for the weekend.
I don’t know, I do what I do and have always done that. I haven’t really changed my genre or try to fit in to be suddenly popular. I have always been my own kind of entity. It’s not country, it’s not rock and it’s not folk. It’s hopefully my own sound at this point.
Do you keep abreast of current musical trends? What new artists are you currently enjoying?
There are bands like Doctor Dog that I like, some of the new artists like Jason Isbell I think is pretty good. Sergio Simpson is …Yeah I am kind of old school though.
Where do you find the inspiration for your songwriting? Are the characters real people or works of fiction?
Some are, and even the ones that are, are still skewed versions of the truth, versions of reality. They are all characters, me or someone that I know exactly.
What stops you from getting into a “safe” or complacent zone during the songwriting process or performing live?
I mean that there are moments when I have blocks and I don’t write for long periods of time, but it always seems to come when it needs to.
What in your life are you most proud of?
Nothing. Just being able to provide for my family playing and doing what I love.
Of course also being able to earn a living from it.
Yeah, it’s a rare thing these days.
Outside of your music do you have any guilty musical listening pleasures, that may surprise your fans?
(laughing) My wife listens to a lot of pop music, and my nine-year-old son is kind of engulfed in that as well. I don’t mind some of it, I like Drake. It doesn’t bother me.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice what would that be?
Stop drinking whiskey when I was younger, maybe.
Outside of music do you have any spare time interests or hobbies, or is music all-encompassing in your life?
I enjoy eating and drinking, and sports. I play basketball and golf. I surf and do a lot of things with my family. Do some leather work. Yeah, a lot of other outlets to have a balance.
Who would you personally like to interview if the roles are reversed?
I don’t know, maybe Tom Wolfe (American author and journalist) – somebody interesting.
Any acts playing at Ramblin Man this weekend that you can personally recommend?
Maybe Whitey Morgan, I am not sure if he has already played, we don’t actually get the time to check out other acts. We just get down and get off immediately.
What is next for The White Buffalo, career-wise?
We are heading to Germany and Italy after this. Then go home for a bit, a bunch of festivals in California, start writing again and record another album.
How do you view your own musical back catalogue? Anything that you would term a mistake?
No, I am pretty proud of everything that I have done. I actually discontinued my first album and re-recorded it. I kind of took care of that. Though then look back at it and kind of say “Why the fuck did I do that?” It was a moment in time and it should stand…but I did what I did.
If you were on a desert island and could only take two albums one by yourself and one by another artist what would they be?
(laughing) I certainly would not take one of mine, yeah shit I don’t know. Something by Love maybe and then something sad by Ellie Smith.
Thanks very much for chatting to me this afternoon.
My pleasure, thank you.