When Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Jake Smith, known by the nickname The White Buffalo, started toying with ideas for his eighth studio album, he decided to challenge himself by doing something sonically and lyrically different.
When he googled his band, he saw that they had essentially been categorized into the country genre, which he said he could understand, but it didn’t feel quite right.
“That would blow my mind,” he said during a recent phone interview while traveling to support the new concept album Year of the Dark Horse, which was released on November 11th. The White Buffalo is also coming to The Regent on December 1st in Los Angeles, December 16th at Observatory North Park in San Diego, and returns in 2023 with a show at Observatory OC in Santa Ana on January 14th.
“I never thought country was my thing,” he explained. “I don’t sing about solo cups and trucks and girls in jean shorts… I always just write whatever comes to my mind and it’s always been a genre-less thing.”
Smith – whose eclectic sound encompasses elements of folk, rock, blues and Americana roots music – gained popularity when his songs were used on FX drama Sons of Anarchy. During the show’s final season in 2014, his music served as the soundtrack as he provided a total of 11 songs, with the final song in the series finale “Come Join The Murder” starring The Forest Rangers The White Buffalo earning him his first Emmy nomination for the award. His songs have also been used on television shows such as This Is Us, Californian, The Punisher, and feature films such as Shelter, Safe Haven, and West of Memphis.
In an effort to shake up the very specific label he’s been given, Smith said he decided to put away his acoustic guitar when he started writing songs this time and grabbed a synthesizer to help out during the pandemic lockdowns to play with at home.
“I started writing with different sounds on an instrument that I really didn’t even know what I was doing with,” he said. “Because I’ve pretty much always written on acoustic guitar exclusively, it opened me up to different soundscapes and melodies and opened up this whole new world for me, which is also a huge inspiration for me on this new album.”
The concept for the album took shape as he designed the story arc to follow an anti-hero through the four seasons and also incorporate a love story. He has many musical influences in mind, including Electric Light Orchestra, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen, for whom he will tour Italy in 2023.
While not entirely fiction, he said the songs contain more autobiographical lyrical content than he realized at the time of writing. Smith also worked with a new producer, Jay Joyce, who has produced songs and albums for artists such as Eric Church, Cage the Elephant, Emmylou Harris, Fidlar and Patty Griffin.
“He’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a scholar or genius I’ve worked with,” he said. “He pushed us to the limit and I just wanted to get out of the cages I was trapped in.”
The band — consisting of bassist, keyboardist and guitarist Christopher Hoffee, and drummer Matt Lynott — recorded the 12-track album in just 11 days in a Nashville studio about a year ago. Smith said it’s good to get away and be free from distractions. He wrote one song a day and two songs on the ninth day, including a love song for the summer season leg, for which he had already written a tune.
“I was consumed, walking around mumbling like a complete maniac as I wrote these songs,” he said. “I woke up in the morning before we went into the studio and I wrote the lyrics for that day and for some of the others, just jumping around with sounds and songs and trying to create something and not make it perfect because I like imperfection, but make it as good as it could be.”
The final product includes 12 musical vignettes; he has released “Not Today”, “Winter Act 2” and “Kingdom For a Fool”.
“I wanted to make an album that was meant to be consumed all at once and that would take you on that journey,” he said. “I know people’s attention spans are smaller and shorter than they’ve probably ever been, but I’m pretty old-fashioned in my approach to almost everything.”
The band sprinkled a few of the new songs into the live set, which was a challenge for the trio given the layers of music created in the studio.
“You have to choose how you get the songs to work live because it’s so sonically rich that you can never have that many people on stage for it,” he said. “There’s a power when it’s just a trio and I think when we add other people it reduces the dynamic of that. But they come off well and we learn as we go. We teamed up to bring them out into the world and be able to play them live so things are always exciting.”
Smith also stepped far outside of his comfort zone when he starred in music videos for each of the 12 songs that collectively make up the album’s companion film, The White Buffalo: Year of the Dark Horse. It was offered as a limited stream on Veeps.com on the day of the album’s release and will be officially released later this year.
“I went a long way on this one…I got totally Beyoncé,” he said, laughing, noting his dance moves in the previously released videos and adding that “so much more” is to come. He worked with four directors on the video portion of the project, dividing it into four acts, with each director taking on a different season of three songs each.
“It was really fun, but also a lot of work,” he said. “We did all of this in about a month and a half, but it was fun getting to the emotional core of each song and figuring out how to represent that in a visual form. We made these, put them all together and then you have this visual experience that comes with hearing.”
The white buffalo
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, December 1st
Where: The Regent, 448 S. Main Street, Los Angeles
Tickets: $25 at Ticketmaster.com
Likewise: Friday, December 16 at 7 p.m. at Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave., San Diego. $30 at LiveNation.com; Saturday, January 14, 2023 at 7:00 p.m. at the Observatory OC, 3503 S Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. $20 at LiveNation.com.
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/11/21/the-white-buffalo-describes-year-of-the-dark-horse-ahead-of-southern-california-shows/ The White Buffalo Describes ‘Year of the Dark Horse’ Ahead of Southern California Shows – Orange County Register