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Long ride atop The White Buffalo

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When Jake Smith first spoke out in song with a voice evocative of what Eddie Vedder and Richie Havens’ long lost son would sound like, little could he have foreseen the long ride he’d be taking with his new job. It’s been over a decade since his journey began as an independent artist with his band The White Buffalo, and, like a truly fine wine that’s ripened with time, the singer-songwriter’s recipe is finally gaining the attention of a promising vintage.

The White Buffalo is no stranger to beach culture, nor to the South Bay. Something of a Jack Johnson aura has found Smith adored along the southwest coast, his music even being featured in various surf films over the years.

“I never really understood my whole connection with the surf industry, it was odd to me,” he concedes. “There’s a lot of darkness in my music…”

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When a bootleg cassette tape Smith circulated in his earliest days landed in the hands of pro surfer and filmmaker Chris Malloy, The White Buffalo caught an unexpected break in 2001 and was featured in the landmark surf film Shelter.

“That was my first, don’t know if it was a big break, but it was a break,” says Smith. “It was my first kind of realization that I should play music. That was basically the first thing that ever happened, and kinda prompted my move to southern California. That was kinda the beginning.”

His music was subsequently featured in the surf films Single Fin Yellow and One California Day, as well as a ski film and even a fly fishing film.

Smith grew up surfing in Huntington Beach and still surfs today. His songs, however, veer away from the sunshiny, happy groove one might expect coming out of the undulating, foamy swells of a surfer’s sea. It’s more reflective of the rusty nails upon the crusty sailors’ ships, or the grit caught within the blood embedded beneath the fingernails of a rancher who’s just murdered the lawman who forced himself upon his daughter…

Yet Smith’s fascination with dark fantasy doesn’t overshadow messages of hope and humanity within his music. Smith injects substance and depth into every song, which he finds generally lacking from today’s popular music – which is full of fluffy bullshit compared to much of what climbed the pop charts 20-30 years ago.

Others have taken notice. After playing as much as possible and touring over the past couple years, there’s been some celluloid success for Smith. In particular, several of The White Buffalo’s songs have been used on the hit cable network drama series Sons of Anarchy.

“They used the songs as part of the show, not as background, but as part of the story,” he acknowledges through a tone mixed with surprise and reverence. “They’re used as part of telling the story, which is rare… They actually used lyrical content to tell part of the story, as opposed to just being part of the background… All my songs are pretty story driven or trying to say something.”

The show recently debuted one of his newer songs called “The Whistler” for the closing of an episode, finishing their story in part through The White Buffalo. The song subsequently shot up to #16 on the iTunes Alternative Chart.

“It’s funny to see that. It’s good for my status, but I’d love to be up there all the time,” says Smith, who considers himself to still be at the lower-level of success.

“All these things kinda help… Being an independent artist as long as I’ve been, licensing is such a good way to kinda expand your audience and reach new people. It’s cool to get some exposure, but I don’t know what it means at the end of the day… You just gotta keep on keepin’ on,” he says with a humble air.

At the end of the day for Smith, it’s about channeling full passion into his work, his craft, to churn out the best product he can for his fans, who he wishes to attract more of and retain while he continues doing his thing atop The White Buffalo.

“I don’t know what the plan is,” he says. “I think we might record a couple more singles… Then we’re really kinda going to focus in January and February and have another full-length release in summer, hopefully.” With a laugh, he says, “I don’t want my EPs to outnumber my full-lengths!”

The White Buffalo has released two LPs, three EPs, and one single – now that “The Whistler” has been made available as a digital Single on iTunes and Amazon, et al.

The White Buffalo plays Saint Rocke this Friday, Dec. 7 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $13, doors at 9 p.m. Opening support from local acts The Goodfellas and Zacc West. For more info on the band and to purchase albums visit thewhitebuffalo.com. The White Buffalo and The Goodfellas can also be heard on DirtyHippieRadio.com – a higher listening institution streaming tunes from the greater independent music community. 

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