Emerging Headliner

The White Buffalo: Hearts and Minds

Having released a new album, On The Widow’s Walk, just as the planet went into an international lockdown, I ask Jake Smith, aka The White Buffalo, if he felt the situation had a negative impact on his album release. “I have no idea,” he replies, with a laugh.

While this answer may surprise you, it comes from a man who has to be one of the most decidedly old-school artists in the music industry right now. And yet, it hasn’t hindered his rise one bit, in a seven-album strong career that has seen his music featured on the hugely popular Sons Of Anarchy and performed on the Jimmy Kimmel show.

“Not that I don’t care,” Smith continues. “Usually I like to find out how a song is doing by performing it and seeing the reaction. Of course, we haven’t been playing shows or doing any in-store performances. But like with my other records, I just wanted to create a full album with no filler, and was so glad to release it when we did — people need music right now.”

In other words, Smith is, as his artist name and music probably strongly suggests, a guy who likes to turn up with his guitar and create great music, rather than obsessing over Spotify analytics and marketing campaigns.

Smith, who is Oregon-born and California-raised, grew up to become a die-hard fan of singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, which goes a long way to explain his raw and authentic approach to his craft of roots and alternative country music.

I ask him how he came up with his striking artist name, hoping he’ll regale me with a tale of driving through the immense countryside of the USA, and then catching a glimpse of a glorious white buffalo against a mountainous backdrop. “No, nothing like that I’m afraid,” he says. “A friend suggested it as a name, and it was the best idea I’d heard at that point!”

With On The Widow’s Walk adding to Smith’s fine tradition of organic songwriting, we get talking about how his raw and authentic approach to making music became so key for him. “It’s just that purity,” he says. “The idea that everyone can play their instruments with competence — it’s my own angle towards people’s hearts and minds. Maybe I’m just old school and feel that all that stuff is dying or going by the wayside, in terms of narratives and real songs. It’s always been my ethos.”

I’m just trying to write human stories that are relatable, hopefully with larger themes and ideas behind them.

Indeed, The White Buffalo band are becoming something of a dying breed, a truly plug-in-and-play act.

“We are a no-frills band,” Smith says. “It’s always been like that. We’re taking a keyboard on the next tour but that’s only because there’s a lot of piano on the album. I play an acoustic guitar through nothing really — just an amp, no pedals, and not really any reverb on the vocals. Just the most stripped-down approach that we can take.”

No shocks then, that some of the themes on the new album include the power of nature in Faster Than Fire:

“That song was inspired by the fires in California, and the merciless power and speed of mother nature. And with the reduction in pollution recently, it seems like she’s making a bit of a comeback.”

He also touches on the drawbacks of our increasing reliance on technology in Cursive: “That song is about technology almost superseding human connection. Things that we’ve done for thousands of years are being replaced by screens and texts.”

As Smith mentioned, creating characters and stories in his lyrics has always been a big part of The White Buffalo, but “I’m not sure how that started, because I was doing it in my very first songs! Probably just from listening to a lot of Bob Dylan. Again, it’s a nostalgic style of writing because there’s not so much of that anymore. But I’m just trying to write human stories that are relatable, hopefully with larger themes and ideas behind them.”

The White Buffalo is scheduled to come to the UK in April 2021, so fingers firmly crossed that we have things back up and running for him by then.

It’s abundantly clear that this music comes across with undeniable raw power in a live setting. In the meantime, there are no restrictions on you sticking on his new album, On The Widow’s Walk, which will transport you to a stunningly nostalgic place.