Known by his monicker The White Buffalo, Jake Smith is an american singer/songwriter who was born in Oregon and raised in Los Angeles. Debuting independently in 2002 with “Hogtied Like a Rodeo“, Smith has since released four other albums, including three under Unison Music Group, as well as a slew of soundtracks and EP’s. His music has also been featured extensively throughout Sons of Anarchy, as well as Californication. Be sure to listen to TWB’s latest album “Love & The Death of Damnation“, which just released late August.
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Sean Ritchie: Coming from Los Angeles, describe the city’s atmosphere. Where would you suggest a first-time visitor to go past the touristy areas?
The White Buffalo: I think the sprawl of Los Angeles is so huge. It’s hard to say a place to go. I stay off the beaten path. I mean there are a lot of good venues. If you’re going to music venues, go to the Troubadour. There’s a bunch of great music venues in LA. I’m fond of the El Rey and the Wiltern too. I think that would be a good place to start. That’s more for eaters and drinkers, so I would send people there.
Photo courtesy | Boqiang Liao
SR: Are there any restaurants in particular or bars?
TWB: There’s a place called Maré that’s pretty amazing on Melrose. It’s kind of a discreet spot in the back. You have to enter through this grilled cheese place. It’s in the back, kind of this covert patio kind of thing. It’s really great food. Really cool atmosphere and good owners.
SR: That’s Great! Where did your inspiration for creating music come from?
TWB: It’s all imagination really. A lot of it just comes from nowhere. You know, inspiration wise, life really dictates what happens. They’re not complete fantasy, but a lot of them are really skewed versions of the truth or, you know, elevated versions of life.
SR: How does music and travel fit together?
TWB: Well, it’s really essential for being a musician. You have to travel in order make money these days. With the whole streaming and the way people absorb and buy music these days, or not buy music, it’s all about touring and the live performance. It’s really how you make your living as a singer/songwriter or musician. So, it’s completely linked. The way we travel is kind of different for a band at our level, maybe. I do the majority of driving. We get little vans and really get to see the country.
When you’re on a bus, which I have been on, you see the inside of the bus and don’t really get to see the country. You don’t really have the option. You see a quarter of a mile around the venue and if you get a hotel, maybe a quarter mile around the hotel. If you’re in a small van, you get a lot more mobility and are able to see a lot more of the city. You kind of get a feeling of the area’s pulse.
Photo courtesy | Ken Lund
SR: Yeah, definitely. That’s a great way to see the country.
TWB: It’s amazing. It’s a beautiful country. It’s amazing to see different landscapes and the different cityscapes that you see as a musician, and being behind the wheel, you definitely have to be present.
SR: Definitely, it really shows you how different sections of our country are.
TWB: It’s pretty amazing to think about Europe and how close these entirely different cultures and languages are. But really, in [the United States], we have very similar kinds of divides and differences between landscapes, cultures of people and accents. Then, all the stuff that goes along with it. It’s pretty cool.
Photo courtesy | Jasen Miller
SR: Definitely. Is there a destination or venue that you haven’t played at that you want to?
TWB: Actually, on this next tour, we’re playing at a couple spots that I haven’t played. We’re still working on the south. We are doing kind of the Midwest, East Coat, middle of the country, Colorado and all those places — West Coast too. The south is fairly untapped. I’ve only played I think once in some of the South. On this tour, we’re doing Atlanta, New Orleans and a few shows in Texas I’m excited about. I’ve been to New Orleans and all these other cities, but it’ll be good to kind of build it up and see what happens.
SR: Yeah, I have heard nothing but good things about New Orleans and Atlanta.
TWB: Yeah, I have been to both. We did a benefit last year in New Orleans and I got to bring my wife. It’s super fun, great food and fun people.
Photo courtesy | Lars Plougmann
SR: When arriving in a new destination, what’s the first thing you try to do?
TWB: I’m kind of this American songwriter, big beer-drinking fellow. I love good coffee, good beer, good food. It’s essential. I’m on Yelp even before I’ve gone to the city, trying to research where I’m going to get my coffee in the morning, where I’m going to eat at night. I try to find some of the best spots and I try to talk to people to get their recommendations. But, a lot of the time I’ll kind of research on my own. I look for the best places to eat. The band eats pretty damn good.
SR: Can’t argue with that. How important is it for you to be fully immersed into the culture of the destination, whether it is domestic or international?
TWB: You should soak it in wherever you are going. I think that’s the luxury of a musician and that’s something touring does, to kind of get the sense of the city and see what people are about. I don’t know if that goes as far as to affect performance or anything. We try to do what we do every night and give it all that we’ve got. But yeah, it’s the spirit of the cities and audience’s reactions. It’s amazing. In different parts of the world, or even in different parts of the country, audiences are very different.
Some people are super spirited and crazy — screaming and yelling. Some people are pin drop quiet, listening to every word. Some of that is because of the venues and cities, but a lot of it is culture. If you go to Japan or Poland, which are kind of countries with pretty horrific histories, the people are insanely respectful to the point where it’s pin-drop quiet. But, if you’re in a town like Boston or London, people are just getting after it the whole time. Or, if you go to Alaska, they’ll have this mosh pit. The same jams, but different cultures and communities. It really keeps things fresh.
Photo courtesy | Nic McPhee
SR: Yeah, definitely. The one thing that always appeals to me about music is that no matter where you are playing anywhere in the world, people don’t have to ever hear your music before or even understand your language, and they can enjoy it. It kind of connects people immediately.
TWB: Yeah, I think there is something there. It doesn’t really depend on the type of music. There’s no accounting for taste really. People like all kinds of things. Anywhere you go, it’s amazing that people even get emotional about music when they don’t know the words. I find that always fascinating. Whatever they say, it’s an international language kind of thing, which does sound cheesy, but at the same time it does have some validity.
SR: Definitely. What type of vacationer are you when you have some down time? Do you like to lie on the beach or are you active, looking for an adventure?
TWB: We are beach, more tropical. I love to be by the pool or by the beach. Getting close to the water is always nice. I like being active within it though as well. Not necessarily doing 20-mile hikes everyday, but a little exploration is fun.
SR: Yeah, a good balance of both. I know you’re well traveled, but are there any countries you haven’t been to that you want to go see?
TWB: There are a lot of countries I haven’t seen. There’s such a vast world. I haven’t been anywhere in Africa. I’d love to go to Iceland. I come from Finnish roots and I’ve never been to Finland or Norway. I’ve never been to Italy. There are hundreds of places I’d love to go to — South Africa, New Zealand.
SR: Do you have a travel story that you are fond of? Maybe a memory that you always remember while you were away?
TWB: Travel’s one thing that I always remember, which is weird. I seem to have a horrible memory. But, traveling — the places I have eaten and the places I have been in, cities, I always seem to retain that. I know the name of the place, where we sat, what we ate, what the other band guys ate, what the family ate — things like that. I have a strange, selective memory. I can’t remember to put the dishes away. Nothing in particular sticks out though. Just a bunch of fun, silly traveling stories.
Photo courtesy | John Bauder
SR: Yeah, traveling is extremely vivid. I know you have the tour coming up, is that your next major trip? I know you said Atlanta, New Orleans and around south.
TWB: We start on the East Coast in New York. Then we go to New York and Boston. We’re actually flying to do a one-off in Phoenix and then flying back to the East Coast. Starting in [Philadelphia], I think we’re doing Philly, Baltimore, Atlanta and then a couple of those southern dates.
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For more on The White Buffalo and his latest album visit his website:
Additional photos courtesy: Marc Lemoine