“We’re all in this together:” An interview with The White Buffalo

Under the moniker The White Buffalo, Jake Smith has been charming and bringing together audiences with his own patented blend of rock, country and folk since 2002. Like many musical artists, he had to cancel his tour in support of his brand-new album On The Window’s Walk because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ever the performer, he and his band put on a stellar live set on Cadenza.tv on April 4th to critical acclaim. Here at Bucketlist, we were fortunate to talk with him about the new album, his songwriting process, drinking sessions with Shooter Jennings and the influence of the late great John Prine.

Firstly, I want to say I loved your live stream on Candenza.tv

Unlike the onslaught of streams we’ve been getting, it was outstanding quality and the closest I’ve felt to experiencing a live performance in weeks. What led you to team up with Cadenza.tv and how was your overall experience? 

Thank you…After cancelling our first shows and anticipating future cancellations we really wanted to deliver something elevated. With Cadenza we saw the opportunity to raise that streaming quality, both sonically and visually.. to try to bring that live experience into people’s hearts and homes. I could not have been happier with how it turned out.  

Your performance received a lot of praise. Are you planning on doing more streams?

We’d love to do more with Cadenza.tv as I think that’s the ultimate model for live music performance streaming. I’ll be doing a few stripped down live streams via YouTube and Instagram from the comfort of my own home. 

 A lot of local musicians are feeling the brunt of this pandemic, especially with the cancellation of numerous summer festivals. Is there any more advice or tips you could give to them to get through this stressful time?

It’s a challenging time for everyone but those of us who base the majority of our livelihood on performing, it’s tough financially and mentally. It’s not the time to hole up and go dark. Just try and stay connected. We are all in this together. Thankfully we do have FaceTime and Zoom and the live streams. Even in isolation we can look people in the eye. 

On your new single “Problem Solution” you sing “Let’s just get through the day.” How do you get through the day?

That second half is about living in the present. Often the antidote is appreciating and focusing on what’s immediate. Zoom and FaceTime happy hours have been the new norm of late. 

Let’s talk about your new album On the Window’s Walk. The first three singles suggest a darker direction. I was especially taken aback by some of the stark almost apocalyptic imagery in the lyrics (“Mother Nature’s a bitch/I don’t think she’s warned you” and “Come to the rapture/filling up my soul”). It all seems very prescient. What inspired these songs?  

The mother nature line comes from “faster than fire” which was a direct reaction to the fires in California during the fall 2018. It’s a fairly unsympathetic look at the power and devastation that Mother Nature can bring. “The rapture” was an imagined, bloodthirsty story about mans most primitive nature..to hunt..to kill..

What is your song writing process like in general? Do you labour and fixate on songs for months or is it more immediate? As a listener, I get the impression that your singing is extremely personal and coming straight from you.

Songs come in different ways. The inception often comes from silence. Basically being quiet and just a conduit to letting melodies and ideas in. The next part is realizing what has worth or possibility from that initial mess and crafting it into something real and emotional. Regardless if the song is personal truth or complete fantasy I try and dive in vocally to keep things honest and heartfelt. Even if it’s not me I try and become and feel that character. 

On The Window’s Walk is produced by Shooter Jennings. What was he like to work with?

Shooter truly inspired and validated me and the songs I was starting at a time when I was dark and not terribly confident in my work. He lit a creative fire in me to where I wrote the majority of the album in a couple weeks. He takes a very organic approach in the studio. Recording the majority of the album live in single takes. Getting at least the bones of the songs..bass, drums, and (Shooter playing)piano at once, all together. It feels the most alive and real record I’ve ever done. 

I read that you first met during a day-drinking session, which I think is probably the most epic way to collaborate. How did this come about?

Our managers got us together just to meet really. Maybe with the possibility of us working together but it didn’t feel like that was the agenda. We were just feeling each other out. He was fresh off a root canal and we ended up just getting drunk and talking about life and bullshit. 

What I dig about your music is how authentic and roots-driven it is. Do you try to avoid current musical trends or does it just come out organically?

I’ve never really looked at trends or let anyone dictate my direction or genre. I just let what comes in come out and hopefully that’s my own thing. I’m not ruling out any experimentation in the future but to keep things real and organic has always been my ethos. 

You’ve said that one of your influences is the late great John Prine. How did his death affect you? Did you have a favourite Prine song?

I went out and bought my first pawnshop guitar after hearing a friend of mines dad play John Prine and Bob Dylan songs as we’d sit around and drink and hang out. I’m not sure if I would have started at all if it wasn’t for hearing those songs at a time in my life. His death made me think about my career and journey from him, to here. He was truly gifted in a way that he mixed comedy, tragedy, and heart, all at once. “Sam Stone” and “Flag Decal” are some of my favorites. 

Here at Bucketlist Music Reviews, we have a very important tradition. We like to end all our interviews with this question: what is left on your Bucketlist?

Play Red Rocks and get to South America. 

Written and compiled by Shawn Thicke
*Edited by Dominic Abate

About Shawn Thicke 137 Articles
Since the age of 12, Shawn Thicke has had an unhealthy addiction to music consumption and the need to offer his opinion to anyone willing to listen. Thankfully, since writing at Bucketlist Music Reviews, his needs have been met much to the relief of those close to him. Not only is he an avid listener, but music has pretty much taken over the rest of his life as well. His love of the stage has ensured that he is constantly busy as the lead singer and lyricist of local rock bands Rustic State and Thicke Sugar. The former you can find playing on any given weekend all over the city of Montreal. During the day though, he becomes a member of society and works as a music teacher at the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf. Shawn hopes to one day find success with his own music, but until that day comes you'll be sure to see him at your show, bopping his head with a goofy grin on his face.

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