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Interview with The White Buffalo at Bonnaroo 2011

By Rob Banagale

As part of Weekly Davespeak's coverage of Bonnaroo 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jake Smith, primary performing artist of The White Buffalo.  The White Buffalo is a folk rock act out of California featuring lyrics and music that reflect on darkness and love.

Jake Smith began writing songs in high shool with no clear direction to become a song writer or a musician. With scant connections in the live music scene, he got his first solo gigs by calling up venues and performing short versions of his songs on voicemail messages. This grass roots effort was successful in securing a number of his early gigs.

Irregular gigs proved insufficient in satisfying Smith's musical leanings. Wanting to be heard, he began personally distributing tapes of his songs. When he was living in San Francisco, Smith would record collections of songs on tape for birthday and Christmas gifts to friends. One of the tapes ended up getting circulated in the surf community in Southern California.

"Somebody called me up and asked if they could use one of those tracks for a movie, this movie Shelter.  It made me think to myself, maybe this is something I should pursue more than just playing in my living room. It instantly built some awareness, before I had nothing."

The name, "The White Buffalo," also came from his earliest fans. Smith had been polling his friends for names, asking them to put them in a hat for consideration. The name stuck out to Smith, though at the time he was unaware of the spiritual importance of white buffaloes in some Native American religions. "I just thought it was kind of a cool figure, and I was a larger person." 

The name also offered Smith flexibility in scheduling performances. Since Smith enjoys playing both solo and as a trio, the abstraction allowed him to increase or decrease the size of his performing act. "I wanted it to be something bigger than myself."

The White Buffalo Bonnaroo 2011

Smith recently wrapped recording of sixteen tracks for a new album, however not all will make it onto the final cut. Like Dave Matthews Band, The White Buffalo makes a habit of road testing studio songs. "We always try to road test them and see how people respond." says Smith. "Sometimes it is kind of hard, it makes a dilemma where the recorded version may take a different turn and when you do it live, some people respond to songs that don’t make the album."

The yet-to-be-named new album is almost ready for release. Smith already has a tentative track sequence, leaving only discussions with his new label before moving towards public availability.

The process of selection is something of a struggle for Smith, in part because of the feedback he gets from fans during live performances. "It is tough when you have that many songs and you have to weed down...I know everything will get out. In this digital age, there’s a place for everything. [Some songs] might not get as much attention as the other ones but at least for the fans, I think they’ll be able to get them all."

The White Buffalo has planned will be performing six west coast dates in July as a full band, Matt Lynott will play drums and Tommy Andrews will perform on bass. For the first time, Smith is considering adding a fourth member to the tour, "There's a lot of stuff on the new album that might lend itself to adding another member, which is an exciting possibility."

Here's The White Buffalo’s recently announced touring schedule: 

  • 07/08/11 - Fullerton, CA - Slidebar
  • 07/09/11 - San Diego, CA - The Casbah
  • 07/10/11 - Sebastopol, CA - HopMonk Tavern
  • 07/12/11 - Seattle, WA - Tractor Tavern
  • 07/13/11 - Vancouver, BC - The Media Club
  • 07/14/11 - Portland, OR - The Woods

You can find The White Buffalo on Twitter @blancobuffalo

Read past interviews with The White Buffalo:

Pick up The White Buffalo on iTunes: