The White Buffalo, aka Jake Smith: 'I Didn't Know I Could Sing at All, or That I Had an Interesting Voice'

Folk singer Jake Smith, a.k.a. the White Buffalo, has released his new five-track EP entitled Prepare for Black N Blue. Smith captivates his audiences with his folksy jangles, earthy vocals and poetic lyrics. Even though he doesn't quite understand the comparison to Eddie Vedder, his vocal range is quite similar at times. 


If you get a chance, you can hear him belt out his songs about booze and hard times at Detroit Bar on December 14, with openers Billy Kernkamp and Jameson. For $10, you can check out Smith's music. Below, his confessions of touring, drinking, writing music and his “Love Song #1” music video off his first self-titled EP.

OC Weekly (Danielle Bacher): What inspired you to become a solo artist?

Did you do your own press before the label?

I never had any press–I never did it. People spread the word for me. Or if someone wanted to write about it, it was on his or her own volition, you know? Either they felt powerful enough to write about it, or they heard it through the grapevine. The only press I would ever get was word of mouth.

You've toured with a wide array of artists like Mishka, Gomez and Donavon Frankenreiter. How does touring with different artists with disparate styles and fans affect the vibe in your performances?
I always do what I do. If you ever try to pander to someone's audience, it doesn't work. It's not my motto; it's just what I believe. I think people are going to get that you are genuine–if they like my music they like it, and if they don't, then they don't. If you don't play what you do, it comes across as unauthentic. Not saying all those artists are all terribly inauthentic, but that's the way I approach things. Nothing really affects my performance. I just try to go out and kill them all. 

What was your experience like playing a week with Ziggy Marley? Were the stoners receptive to your darker material?
 I think people responded to it. I play with all different kinds of bands from punk to reggae, and I don't really see much difference in how the audiences respond. I think the reggae audience is a little more frugal–if I can be so bold to say that, or some of them are, you know? But, I think the stoner audience can still get their stoner minds around what I am doing [laughs].

Lyrically, you seem to have a contrast between love songs and revenge tales. Do you relate to the dichotomy of love and hate?
Yes, and I don't think they have to be an exclusive thing within songs. Some of my songs that are love songs are twisted into desperate tales of love, one-sided love or disillusioned ideas of love. Even like my song “Oh Darlin',” which is off the new EP, is both a love song and murder song. It's disillusioned to the point where he should start murdering people for the woman's affection. He think's that's the ultimate gift.

Where did you get the idea for your song “Oh Darlin' What Have I done?” Do you kill people to get attention from your wife?
[Laughs]. I don't know where I get those ideas. Some of them are biographical or bent versions of fiction or reality. Other ones are complete fantasy. The story ideas unfold to me as they come along. They start out as gibberish and an idea will come out from a few lines that I write down. It doesn't necessarily come from a chorus or a linear thing–a couple of ideas will stick with me and I will create an entire song around it. It's not that calculated. I definitely craft them more than I used to.


There is an alcohol motif that recurs in your music. Were you or are you a heavy drinker?
I would drink an insane amount, and it would fuck my performances up–I used to drink a lot more. I never considered myself a musician back then. It took me a really long time to consider myself one. It's what I do to pay my bills and feed my family. It's certainly my profession. I still drink a bit, but I used to be a serious drinker. Most people will probably say that I'm still a serious drinker. I think in songs, and even in life, that it's an additive that makes things more interesting, or more emotional and confusing. If you add liquor into the equation, or other things for that matter–it's mind-altering. Things get confused, which I think is fun as well.
Do you drink to help the writing process along?
No. I just drink, I like drinking casually. A lot of people do, I think? I never went to AA or anything.

I just started watching Sons of Anarchy. Is it surreal to hear your music on television shows and new independent films?
Yeah, I never watched the show, either. It wasn't until they started using some of my songs that I got into it. It's cool and a fun show to be apart of. A lot of the conflict that goes on in the show makes sense with my music, because a lot of it is conflicted between good and evil and right and wrong. My songs were in a couple of independent films, and I scored some minor short films–nothing too crazy.

Will this be your first time playing in Orange County? Do you feel more intimate when you are playing in a small setting like Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa? How do you think the fans will respond?
No. I've played a bunch of times in Orange County. I've played at Detroit Bar a lot. I like playing in an intimate setting. It just depends on the crowd for me. There could be a thousand people in the audience, but if they are really quiet and in tune with me, it just feels as intimate. It doesn't really affect what I do.

What were some of your musical inspirations growing up?
I grew up on country and western music. I grew up in Southern California, but my parents were diehard country fans. We'd always go to country music concerts and stuff. I never really went out of that genre until I was in high school. I was really into punk and hardcore music then. I listened to the Circle Jerks, Bad Religion, the Descendents, Minor Threat and Fugazi. As I got older, I listened to singer/songwriter stuff. The punk music form was saying something lyrically that was about either a political or lifestyle choice that I really enjoyed. Guys like Greg Graffin or Ian Mackaye from Minor Threat and Fugazi are intellectual people. I put those guys up with other songwriters that are my songwriting heroes, like Leonard Cohen, Elliott Smith and Bob Dylan.
Did you get the idea of White Buffalo from the 1977 film?
No. It's not Indian-related, or Charles Bronson–or even Ted Nugent-related. Some friends of mine thought that I should take on a stage name. A bunch of them threw a name into a hat and I pulled that one out, and I thought it fit me. I wish it were Charles Bronson-related.
Do you feel like you have adapted to that persona?
I don't know. I feel like it's easier to do things, like make cooler T-shirts.

Do you get comparisons to Eddie Vedder a lot? Do you consider that a compliment or an insult?
I do on a nighty basis. I think people mean it as a compliment, and I think he's a good singer and created his own way of singing. I can see how people think I do with a baritone vibrato, but I don't really think I sound like him. It doesn't hurt my feelings or anything. When Vedder did that movie soundtrack, I got a lot of congratulatory calls. I would answer the phone and say, “Oh, I have no idea what you are talking about.” A lot of people have to relate things to other things to express themselves. Someone told me I sound like the guy from Creed. I've heard Joe Cocker, Richie Havens and Cat Stevens as well. I wish people didn't have to do that, but I've accepted it.

How do you think the songs on Hogtied Revisited differ from your new EP? Do you think your progression of sound has changed at all?
I don't think the songs are that different, but the production approach is different, for sure. Hogstied Revisited had drums, bass, banjo, pedal steel and lap steel guitars, and orchestral movements. My last EP was just me and acoustic guitar, and some minor sonic bells and whistles. As far as the songs, I think they are similar. I take every song as its own story. Each song is its own situation. I don't think they are entire bodies of work. For me, it's more of a sonic bond with the song rather than a topic. Many of the songs are different, but when I was listening to Black N Blue, I referenced drinking or being drunk. Not that I give a shit, but it wasn't intentional. The Jameson was definitely a curse back in the day– and I thought it was an interesting observation that I put drinking in almost every song.