The White Buffalo Chats Songwriting, Punk Influences & The Grand Ole Opry (Not That One)


The White Buffalo Chats Songwriting, Punk Influences & The Grand Ole Opry (Not That One)

Ahead of his triumphant return to Glasgow’s O2 Academy three years after struggling through a night at the same venue with laryngitis – of which he needed the assistance of steroid injections to perform – The White Buffalo, AKA Jake Smith, sat down with Gary Cassidy for Glasgow Music to chat about his dream venues, musical influences, and details the journey from imagination to live performance on a few select tracks.

So, the first question I want to ask you... I normally dont ever ask a question thats been asked before but Im making one exception here. When I was doing my research, I went on Reddit and saw you did an AMA eight years ago and a question was asked by someone called Captain Kindness that might trump anything I can ask today. They asked, “Why are you so awesome and talented?”

[Jake chuckles] “Captain Kindness.” Its just dumb luck. Yeah, its just dumb luck. No, I dont know. Pretty cute, start off with a little flattery!

That means it can only go downhill from here if I offend you somehow! Probably now when I ask you about your last gig in Glasgow where, let’s just say you were struggling a bit physically. You managed to make it through the gig, incredibly, before having to cancel the rest of your tour due to laryngitis. Are you better now?

I hope so! I think that was the same tour that I lost my voice. I had to cancel the show, which that was the first show Id ever cancelled my whole life. And I had this, like, laryngitis or something. So it was bad. I ended up having to get, like, steroids shots in me to be able to perform.
In Glasgow, it was going. My throat was all f***ed up, and this show was kind of the one, and then the next show it was just gone.
Its tough. I try to do… Three in a row is about my threshold because I really push and perform. And if I go much more over that, its often catastrophic.

So, let’s do a little whirlwind through some of the songs people are likely to hear, and see how much you can tell us about the journey they’ve gone on. I know you’ve said it can take five minutes or three months to write a song, so we’ll try not make this too traumatic if it’s the latter.
One Lone Night is a massive standout for me, is that one you recall fondly or otherwise?

I mean, to be honest with you, I cant recall what it was like writing that one or what the inspiration was. I mean, theres got to be a little fantasy in that, obviously, because theres kind of a suicide element to it. But yeah, I dont remember. Im sorry.

Don’t worry, that may have been the biggest curveball of them all! The next one, I know a little about the meaning, but it’s a tremendous story so let’s get the full version for our readers. One of your latest tracks – Cursive.

I mean, that song… It was the lucky. That was a lucky write as, a lot of the time, I’ll go into the studio with only a very vague idea but what I do have a good gift of doing is being able to kind of map out songs in my head without really much content so I can go, “Okay, I need this, this, this, this,” and kind of have this whole journey that Im going to take the listener on.
That one was basically… The only line I had up until the day before I sang that song was the very first line. Like “When they stop writing in cursive, I dont know what Ill do.” That was the only line I had. And then that night, I went and it was all just kind of gibberish. That night, I went home instead of going out and drinking with the buddies, I was like, “Maybe I should tighten this up. Ive got to sing it in the morning.” But yeah, that ones about kind of just how times change and how some things die, and you lose certain aspects of life.
My whole thing was theres a connection both to the Earth and to other people due to the fact that we have all this technology and these phones, and a different way of communicating with a lot of people that we’re losing some of the things that I think are really important – and we’re gonna do that one tonight too!

And Im going to ask you about one, particularly because of the video - Modern Times.

Modern Times is almost a similar theme as Cursive but different in that, that was something which I think now that Ive done the In The Garage things and all those things that people know that Im not just this kind of brooding, really bummed out character. So many of my characters are these really shadowy, really down on their luck, you know, morbid, almost characters that I create. But me, in fact, is quite lighthearted and I enjoy a good laugh and a drink.
I wanted to kind of juxtapose something that was pretty serious with something which is me f***ing around and dancing really, you know, just to show off my, my athleticism… [He laughs] and my aerobic quality! I was so hungover. I remember when we did that and I was like, “Why?”

That video looks like the worst attempt to cure a hangover. We use a drink called Irn-Bru here, not exercise! Why would you try and jump around with a hangover? Its crazy!

Yeah, it was exhausting – but fun!

The final song I want to ask about is my personal favourite live – The Pilot. Has that evolved at all to fit a live crowd or is it one you always knew would be a standout?

I knew that one... Always, even before we recorded it, we would play that one and closed almost every show with that song. It just has an energy and a build thats got everything really that you need in a live performance song and it never really fails, you know?
Some of the times you can go like, “Oh!” Like one song, itll kill one night, and then the next night youre like, “Oh.” You still feel like you performed it well and with passion, but some nights they just dont hit. It depends on the crowd or the night or whatever. But yeah, that ones pretty consistently a hit.

I know you love a wander around Glasgow, but I’m not sure you’ve made it along to the Grand Ole Opry! It’s not quite the same as the one in Nashville – but I live next to it so I’m inclined to talk it up. From my research, I don’t think you’ve played either – but do you have a dream venue to perform at that you’ve not quite managed yet?

Theres a place in Colorado called Red Rocks which we havent played yet. And thats kind of… I always thought that was kind of “youve really made it,” you know, thats kind of the mountaintop - and its this big kind of natural Red Rock amphitheatre thats supposed to just sound amazing and just have this whole spirituality to it. Yeah, we talk about that one as one we almost were going to open for somebody one time, and then there was some touring conflict or something. We couldnt do it. So it’s still on the list.

So, I mentioned research there, and one thing that really surprised me – Hogtied Like A Rodeo was released 20 years ago this year! Is that a surprise to you, does it feel like yesterday or does it feel longer than 20 years?

No, it feels it feels a long time ago. Yeah. I mean, summertime, like prepping for tours and stuff like that, especially with the whole COVID thing, we werent really playing consistently so were having to kind of dive back into some songs.
It does seem like a long time ago, but at the same time, I feel almost equally as primitive in my writing. Im happy, Im proud of what Ive been able to do and not ever had to bend to try to fit into any genre. Ive never been chasing anything for the wrong reasons.
I just chase the idea to draw emotions out of people and to hit people in the heart and the head and make people feel things. And thats always been my end goal. I think chasing money or fame or anything else, youll start to lose your art.

Well, that leads us nicely into influences. I know you’ve mentioned John Prine, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan but one thing I loved finding out is that you love a bit of punk music – and bands like Off! If we looked through your Spotify playlists, whats the most surprising thing that people may not know The White Buffalo listens to?

The White Buffalo! No, I’m kidding. I may have been on my Spotify Wrapped from having to re-learn my own songs, but I listen to a variety of stuff. I listen to pretty much everything. I dont personally listen to much jazz or hip hop, really. But beyond that, I listen to a lot of Cumbia, music from Colombia but its also gone into South America and Mexico and stuff like that, its almost like the reggae of Latin America, which I really love.
Thats maybe a little more surprising, but other stuff is pretty straightforward. Actually, the older Ive gotten, the less the lyrical content has to really hit me.
When I was younger, I just felt like it was such a missed opportunity or a waste of time to have an opportunity to say something or to do something or move somebody and not do it, you know? But I realized that some people just dont know how to do it. Again, it’s kind of dumb luck to know how to do that.
Like ELO, I love ELO and I was always not against it, but I always feel like he doesnt really say anything - but it just feels good, you know? It feels good. It sounds good. Its like it sets a tone and a mood, and a feel, without the lyrics. Not that he doesnt have lyrics, but its just not something thats, like, kind of make you cry or making the emotion withstand the song, right?
I grew up on country music and then in high school, it was just completely punk rock. And so thats where the Off! thing comes from, probably because thats about as close to kind of old school kind of punk. Circle Jerks. I mean, Keith Morris - same guy, same singer from Circle Jerks. FIDLAR! I really like FIDLAR.

We’ve spoken about your incredible voice, but weve not spoken about your true talent - making coasters. How did that come about?

[Jake laughs] Yeah, I dont know why I started doing that. I just started doing it. And then it was kind of therapeutic, almost like meditative things. Its just so simple, working with your hands and doing something, and theres a creative element to it. I mean, I just do stamping. I get a little round thing and I just bang some stamps into it. But I mean, theres definitely some artistic integrity and Ive gotten better at it as Ive gone on and done it more.
They always go super-fast, too. Its hard to keep up with the demand.

Final question. Who is the craziest or funniest person that youve ever toured with or shared the stage with?

[Jake points to the band soundchecking on the stage) These guys are funny! The LA Edwards guys. Yeah. I mean, theyll f*** around. One night, we were in this tiny club in Birmingham (Alabama). There was nobody there. I forget what was happening, but it was a Southern tour, and it wasnt good, whatever. But we played in a place in Birmingham and they have like a loft where the bands can stay so you don’t have to drive – and it’s really nice.
It’s a guy that was in a touring band, so he really knows what it is to be a touring band - so theres pool table and video games and all kinds of cool s**t, but they had all these costumes, like amusement park costume kind of things, right? Like with these big heads and the big furry suits so those guys dressed up, put the costumes on, and then were waiting… Which we were unaware of, just came out and started dancing around the stage and stuff. It was just really f***ing funny, really.

But they’re good guys. Really good, really talented, really professional, and a perfect opener and support act.

Interview by Gary Cassidy.

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