The White Buffalo a.k.a. Jake Smith has had a very good year. A successful tour with Chuck Ragan and Jonny Two Bags, playing summer festivals and the ever increasing legion of fans due to successful song placements (TV show Sons of Anarchy) he was in a great mood. So, on a recent phone conversation with the upbeat, talented singer/songwriter he was multi- tasking as usual. Pounding away on his handmade leather WB coasters in this humor filled chat we discussed his music, his crazy loyal fan base, playing the big room (Majestic Ventura Theater) and his college baseball career.
Polly: Hey Jake, how’s it going? You’ve been busy.
Jake: Pretty busy, yeah, been a pretty cool summer…
Polly: Your last record came out in 2013 (Shadows, Greys and Evil Ways) and it actually charted on Billboard how did that make you feel to get more people to recognize your music?
Jake: I don’t know if that’s entirely true. I guess it did chart huh? Ha-ha, I don’t really keep track.
Polly: Ha-ha, it was number 164.
Jake: Really? Well that’s pretty cool ha-ha. I don’t think it changed my life very much but, that’s cool. I mean it’s cool… to be 164th Ha-ha.
Polly: I’m a fan of your music and I see when stuff pops up on facebook and I’m so excited for you. Like Jimmy Kimmell! How cool was that?
Jake: Yeah, that’s super cool. It’s great to get these little things that do get some recognition. I think a lot of it kind of legitimizes what I do in some people’s eyes. For me, I feel like I’m kinda doing the same thing.
Polly: But on a broader platform which is so cool.
Jake: Yeah, it’s cool. I think it’s great that we’re reaching a few more people and that’s kind of the goal, to get it quicker rather than slower.
Polly: It took you about ten years to be an overnight success…
Jake: Hahaha, that’s great.
Polly: What do you think the key is? What did you do different last year and the year before? Just more records coming out?
Jake: I think so. I think it’s a matter of just building it and keep building up the fan base. I think the majority of it is touring and getting the occasional licensing… all the Sons of Anarchy stuff and all the other licenses I think help hugely. It’s great that people don’t stop at those songs. They go deeper into the catalog, not everybody does obviously, but some people do and you actually get fans out of that.
Jake: So it’s just a matter of staying at it and not doing anything stupid ha-ha.
Jake: I don’t know it’s just staying true and writing and trying to write good songs and playing hard and performing with passion.
Polly: Right, definitely, because you know when your first EP came out, gosh that was like 8 or 9 years ago and it didn’t seem like there was anything out for 4 or 5 years after and then all of sudden boom we get EP’s and records almost every year. I think a key to your success has been doing something new and fresh every year.
Jake: Yeah, and we’re going to start recording again shortly.
Jake: Yeah, I always had a bunch of songs I just didn’t have the means to record stuff. You know what I mean? And it wasn’t necessarily a lack of material it was a lack of focus, ha-ha…
Polly: And resources.
Jake: Yeah, resources and funds. My first couple of records I made from nothing you know, it was friends who helped, but I don’t think those records are worse or better or anything less than the current albums. It was a different schedule we had to work with and it was a different time but you know?
Polly: And on a shoe string.
Jake: Yeah, but in a way it makes you dig a little deeper.
Polly: It keeps you humble.
Jake: Yeah, as far as being on a different label that’s probably been the biggest luxury and you know, there’s still not any of them telling me what to do. Like I’ll tell say, I’m going to make a concept album of this fucking crazy story, and they’re like alright, let’s do it. Ha-ha.
Polly: That’s nice. So who influences you these days? Is there somebody out there new or old that kind of grabs you these days?
Jake: Umm, musically? I don’t know. Not really.
Polly: OK, that’s fair.
Jake: I don’t know. I don’t think inspire is the right word. A lot of times people ask who inspires you, and rarely… because I try not to be derivative of or inspired by… but as far as people I like… I like the last Jason Isbell record called Southeastern. I thought that was fucking pretty great. Super emotional and I just got part of that new (Jeff) Tweedy album pretty cool so far. You know there are lots of great people that I like. I really like Dr. Dogg… I like Deer Tick.
Polly: What’s been your favorite show experience so far?
Jake: My favorite show experience?
Polly: Was it Kimmell? Was it when you went out with Jonny Two Bags and Chuck (Ragan)?
Jake: That was cool. I don’t know if I have one thing. I mean there are places I like to play, cities I like to visit. I think people you know, are pretty spirited and we always seem to have good people come out to our shows.
Polly: Yeah you do.
Jake: I don’t know why. I guess we’re just lucky in that respect that we have pretty nice fans that are respectful of other people. Other than those couple of fights at Zoey’s ha-ha!
Polly: Ha-ha holy cow! I was hoping you weren’t going to bring that up.
Jake: Ha-ha. Right? I mean have you had many fights at solo acoustic shows?
Polly: Geez no! And it was during one of your freaking ballads that they started pounding each other. It was because one guy was really getting into it and he couldn’t hear and the other guy’s – well F you and fists started flying and I thought, well thank God you kept playing.
Jake: People are serious about it! I got it going on…
Polly: Yup they love you.
Jake: Ha-ha. You know I probably had my eyes closed.
Polly: Yeah, there you go. Ha-ha. Has there, ever been, other than the fight at Zoey’s, a bad experience? Like you pulled up to some place and it was totally not what you thought?
Jake: Yeah, but I’ve been doing this for a long time. There have been times we’ll go to some place and nobody would be there. Now it’s a little different. Now we can go to a place where we’ve never played before and people will be there! We went to Des Moines and there wasn’t a whole lot of people but there was maybe 150 which five years ago it wouldn’t have been like that.
Polly: Well, that’s cool.
Jake: I’ve had some funny experiences and heckling and all kinds of stuff.
Polly: How dare they heckle you!
Jake: Right? It happens though people get drunk…
Polly: He must’ve been drunk ha-ha.
Jake: He was drunk Ha-ha. He was drunk as shit Ha-ha!
Polly: Ha-ha! So you’re writing. You’ve got that old-west sensibility in your music and your songs could be like the sound track to a Deadwood film…
Polly: Are you a fan of westerns? Is that a lifestyle that kind of intrigues you or that’s just where the music takes you?
Jake: Yeah, I mean, some of my songs have that kind of western feel and some are entirely different. I always just let the song dictate whatever it does. I don’t ever set out to- now I’m going to write a country song here. Or okay that song feels more folk or that one feels more bluesy you know? So the songs go where they may and I just let them. Just let it happen.
Polly: So tell us something we don’t know about you. This is the boxers or briefs question.
Jake: Boxers or briefs…
Jake: Boxers or briefs…um I don’t know. I’m fairly athletic I had a baseball scholarship…
Polly: Oh Really?
Jake: I got a full ride in college. Played Division 1 baseball. I still enjoy playing golf and tennis.
Polly: Oh that’s cool. Where did you go to school?
Jake: It’s St. Mary’s college in Moraga, in the East bay. Same league as Pepperdine and Santa Clara.
Polly: Sure, wow.
Jake: That’s a little known fact. There you go.
Polly: That’s a cool fact.
Polly: Is there a card or something with your picture on it?
Jake: Oh you want some proof of it? No, there’s no proof anywhere. Ha-ha.
Polly: Ha-ha you burned the pictures right?
Jake: Ha-ha, that’s good. I’m sure my mom has something but I don’t know.
Polly: Oh I would love to see that. You know you should do a throwback Thursday with you in your uniform.
Jake: That’s pretty clever. Alright, I‘ll consider that Polly. And I’ll give you a shout out if that happens.
Polly: Oh that would be awesome. People are amazed that we are friends, like my brother, now thinks I’m cool.
Jake: Ha-ha. Nice, that’s funny.
Polly: What advice, and this is your generic interviewers question, would you give to somebody that’s looking to be in the music business other than find a second job or make sure you graduate from school?
Jake: Um, I think that’s important but at the same time I think the biggest thing is to play as much as you can. Play live as much as you can. At least that gives you a fighting chance. To really hone your craft, to really write good songs that mean something to you and feel it. I think that’s the only way to approach it and to just stay at it, you know? I think a lot of it is trying to write songs that touch people, at least for me, and try to write something that moves somebody in any way. Whether it be something nostalgic or happiness, love, fear, heartbreak or you know there’s so many things. And don’t limit yourself. And if you do something that’s pure I think in the end other people will relate to that.
Polly: That’s so true.
Jake: And I think you have to kind of be talented to start with ha-ha.
Jake: Not that I’m saying I am particularly, but that probably helps ha-ha. Yeah, for me it’s fucking keep it honest, keep it real. You know there’s so much bullshit out there these days that people do. And don’t do something totally stupid. Ha-ha.
Polly: Like every other YouTube pop song that comes out.
Polly: Is there anyone that you’d like to collaborate with or go on tour with. Like if you had your wish right now, would it be like go on tour with Jason Isbell or… ?
Jake: Well for me I am a songwriter but I do have a family and I’m a businessman as well, so I have to… when I look at tours there’s got to be some way that I can capitalize. I’ve never had that career changing tour where I get to open for fucking Neil Young or somebody like that.
Polly: But would you want to?
Jake: Tom Petty or Neil Young and play in front of fucking 10,000 people a night that are going to get it, would be the ultimate kind of thing. For me that’s the kind of tour that I would love. There are bands that I love but I think there’s a balance to those things. To check your finances, seeing if you can do it and seeing if at the end if it makes sense. In order to break into other markets and stuff like that, summertime especially, you just have to bite the bullet and you have to say okay I’ve never been to this place so I better support somebody and get there to these places. So I’m not starting out and I’m not playing in you know, Nashville, for 3 people. That you’re getting in front of somebody else’s crowd and hopefully converting some of those people to your Church and hope they come out the next time. The headlining tour with Chuck (Ragan) was cool. And I thought musically and our approach to songwriting and performing were similar. We just kept on getting after it, on and off stage every night giving our all. You know. I think I might have gone off topic…
Polly: No, I like it when you riff. How is the family?
Jake: Rilo and Tanner, the wife. Everyone’s good. Rilo is in 2nd grade. Crazy…
Jake: I know, yeah, he’s so big. Doesn’t want to hold my hand in the street anymore. Ha-ha, but he’s still a sweetheart. Yeah, it’s good. Everything’s good.
Polly: Is Tanner still into his music? Is he going to carry on the family business you think?
Jake: Ha, I don’t know I hope so. I heard him playing guitar today. Not sure if he’s going to be in Ventura but he’s sat in with me every once in awhile. I think I’ve got this other guy out which it should be fun.
Polly: Nice. So speaking of Ventura you’re doing the big show. They’ve called you up from the minors and you’re playing in the big leagues now, the Ventura theater.
Jake: Yeah, right? Well they shut down the best place in town (Zoey’s).
Polly: Ha-ha that’s nice of you to say.
Jake: Yeah, I think this is going to be a good jump. You know, but what else do you do? It’s like we play in Santa Barbara all the time. There’s really not that many great mid size venues. Soho is what it is, there’s the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara. It’s all seated but it kind of doesn’t totally vibe with our drunken crowds. Ha-ha. But, Yeah, I’m excited. I’m little nervous. Hoping we make it feel good and fill the room up.
Polly: Well we want to get your fans out. It’s been awhile since you’ve played Ventura so that’s what we’re aiming for.
Jake: I hope so.
Polly: Have you thought about where you want to be in 5 years or is that too far into the future. You have goals?
Jake: In 5 years?
Polly: Or in 2015 you’ve got this album coming out…
Jake: Yeah, I’m always looking closer into the future than that. But I keep my expectations small so that hopefully next year is better than the year before. Partially it’s the nature of how I’ve built my business and how I’ve built the fan base. It’s just slowly and surely I just keep churning out songs and keep playing and performing. And you know it just keeps getting a little bigger and a little bigger and it seems like more people come every time. That’s just how it’s been which has been good.
Polly: As it should be.
Jake: Yup. I’ve been lucky.