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

Categories: Q&As
Danielle Bacher/ OC Weekly
Folk singer Jake Smith, a.k.a. the White Buffalo, has released his new five-track EP entitled Prepare for Black & 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?
Jake Smith: I was always solo, and I didn't really play that much to get beyond that point until six or seven years ago. I was 19 years old when I got my first guitar. I wrote a song and played it for my mother and she said, " Aw, honey, what is this?" I didn't know I could sing at all, or that I had an interesting voice. I went to college and I would play in San Francisco once or twice a year. I was always writing songs and but after I left, I had an idea that I wanted to be a musician. I didn't have a press kit or a CD, so I would call people up and play a song on their answering machine, and I would get calls back. There are certain limitations you have as a solo artist, but it has its own merits as far as its intimacy.

I saw on your tour the next few months you play live both solo and with a three-piece band. Do you pick and choose which venues you want to play alone?
Sometimes it's for financial reasons. For local gigs, I bring the band out because it's easier. When I go out of the country, I usually do it on my own. With the last album, I stripped the entire EP back, so I could tour on my own. 

You recorded your new EP, Prepare for Black & Blue in only six days. Was it an easy process? What inspired this burst of creativity?
Well, some of them were songs that I had, and some that I had to finish for the EP. My band was in flux a little bit, because one of the guys in the band had some legal problems. I didn't really know what would happen there, so I really stripped down the songs and created something that I could tour on my own. I just used all the songs that kind of made sense. I have a lot of songs in my head or in my own catalog that I haven't recorded yet. Some of those songs were great in that stripped-down format with no drums and bass. There were even some songs on the fringe that I will still do when we play live, and I will play them with the band. A lot of those songs I would play by myself, but I just wanted some continuity. 

Just a few months ago you signed to a record label. What are the benefits and limitations of working with a label?
I don't really know yet. I signed a deal with the last EP, and I signed another deal with a different label for some future albums. I don't know what that is going to entail entirely, but it seems like there has been a little more juice in it. There's definitely some press and marketing, I'm not sure. Time will tell. I haven't seen the next steps with the new label.

Danielle Bacher/ OC Weekly
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.

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