Releasing authentic and raw music that’s more about the words and their connections for 15 years now, The White Buffalo (aka Jake Smith) has made a brand by defiantly swerving through country, roots, rock, and blues like it’s going out of style. Known for his killer voice and various songs picked up by Sons of Anarchy, the musical storyteller keeps things coming.
His newest album Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights, the sixth album under The White Buffalo moniker, was released last October and the tracks range some seriously dark topics to some beautiful ballads of love and black-and-blue hearts.
“It’s very song-based, it’s not conceptual,” Smith says. “And I tried to go kind of all the way with each song, making it whatever genre it is, whatever kind of theme it is, to make it vocally and instrumentally as prominent as possible.”
With the new album, Smith didn’t actually have much written material going into the studio, but the process of writing at night and recording during the day ended up resulting in songs that had an urgency and presence that makes them feel more real and alive.
His recording process was also slightly different for Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights and ended up making a happy impact on the overall sound.
Some of the first off-the-floor recordings were just him singing and his guitar, which gives the sound an even further presence that puts you right in the room with him when you’re listening to the album. You can hear his breath and his slight voice quivers in “If I Lost My Eyes,” but also his signature honey-covered, back-of-the-throat gravel in “Border Town/Bury Me In Baja” as a counter.
As a collection, Darkest Dark, Lightest Lights is a balanced work of beauty that ebbs and flows with each new track and takes you on a journey of ups and downs. Its lights and darks also mirror Smith himself and the different sides to his personality.
“Ultimately, I want to get to the root of each emotion and each feeling and each mood to try to move people, whether it be scare them or make them cry or make them feel good,” he says. “I’m trying to hit all of those emotional elements within an album.”
One of the darker songs “Nightstalker Blues” stands out simply because it isn’t just some fictional story. It’s about a California serial killer, Richard Ramirez who was dubbed the “Night Stalker” after a spree of murders, rapes, and burglaries. Ramirez’s killing spree happened while Smith was a kid, in the same area crime scenes were popping up.
While researching and writing the song, he found himself in a “rabbit hole of evil” that was worse than others he’s written, and you can see it in the chorus: “Lock up the doors; you better call the police; he’s creepin’ at night; get you shakin’ in your sheets; mutilate and murder, rape, rob, repeat; swear to Satan, get you beggin’ at his feet.”
“I think lyrically, it’s one of the gnarliest things I’ve ever written—and I have some pretty gnarly ones in my catalogue—but it’s based on true events, rather than just some fantastic creation that I just create in my mind,” Smith says. “But the odd thing is it kind of feels good; it’s like a murder song you can dance to.”
As an artist, The White Buffalo isn’t afraid to explore his darker side and the darker sides of humanity.
“It’s part of human existence, these evil people. And I like to just go to the darker side, the shadowy-er side,” he says. “I think cinematically and artistically, a lot of the things that I like—there’s a realism—and it’s not super common in today’s writing.”
But he also doesn’t forget to balance something as dark as a California serial killer’s 1980s killing spree with songs like the ballad “I Am The Moon” and the fictionally-set “Robbery,” which holds all the tones of deep blue blues layered on a tumbling drum beat that you can’t help but snap along and groove to, reminding you that life is full of the upbeats and the downbeats.
His roots-based songs are just as much stories as they are melodies and he’s certainly got a bounty to tell. On tour, Smith likes to maintain a balance and bring a little old in with the new, so expect anything.
Fri., Mar. 9 (8 pm)
The White Buffalo
The Starlite Room