When the singer-songwriter Jake Smith, otherwise known by his stage moniker The White Buffalo, was growing up in Los Angeles he can recall a distinct recollection of his earliest brush with music. “Maybe my earliest memory is sitting on my grandfather’s knee,” Smith remembers. “We were eating candied orange slices and listening to Roger Miller’s ‘Dang Me’ on an old vinyl console.”
Since those days with his grandfather, Smith has forged a renowned career in the industry, building on a reputation as a thoughtful, tender troubadour since he independently released his first album, Hogtied Like a Rodeo, in 2002. “That’s crazy to think about (that it’s been about 20 years),” says Smith of approaching two decades as an artist. “I think to be able to make a living as a creative person allows you to remain in a longer state of adolescence. It keeps that little spark of a child in you, at least for me. I look around and see all these old people and then someone will ground me telling me I’m older than them.”
Throughout the intervening years, Smith has notched a variety of accomplishments. He’s performed at Bonnaroo, toured with the likes of Jack Johnson and Ziggy Marley, and was the subject of a 10-part docuseries about his creative process in 2015. His career was also boosted when The White Buffalo tracks were featured in a variety of television shows and films, specifically the cult hit Sons of Anarchy which utilized a collection of Smith’s tracks across numerous episodes of the show. Regardless of these impressive highlights, Smith notes he has had a hard time pinpointing a milestone that stands out above the rest. “There hasn’t been a singular moment, really,” he says. “I got all these little stepping stones My proudest moment was when I could finally provide for and support my family. That was a nice realization.”
Along the way, it’s been a dedication to the craft of songwriting that has propelled Smith and his artistry. “I just write what comes out of me,” says the songwriter, who notes he typically doesn’t even try to hit a specific genre. “It’s more of an emotional agenda I have going into writing. It’s not a conscious thing for me to bounce around between rock, country, folk, punk, or blues. Hopefully I’ve created my own little sound. It’s all just American music to me. I like the fact that there’s no box. It’s an open, endless pallet to explore.”
When it comes to exploring that pallet through his six albums, including 2017’s Darkest Days, Lightest Lights (his most recent), Smith says some of his ideas come from stark silence. “Sometimes I’ll be sitting with my guitar and just be the conduit for what comes out, or I won’t have a guitar and be in the car or on the street. I’ll record ideas into my phone and then go back and decipher what they’re all about, finding out what the important part of the gibberish was.” Smith also notes he’ll then put his ideas down on paper. “With Palomino Blackwing pencils, specifically.”
Lately, Smith has both been in the studio (he recently recorded 11 songs in seven days with Shooter Jennings for an album that’s still in its infancy) and is on a nationwide tour which stops at the Belly Up for a two-night run that kicks off Monday, Aug. 26. “The show will be no smoke and mirrors,” says Smith who will take the stage with fellow San Diego musicians, Matt “The Machine” Lynott and Christopher Hoffee.
“It’ll be just the three of us going for it,” says Smith. “No effects. Just songs and passion.”
The Aug. 26 and Aug. 27 shows at the Belly Up begin at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. For tickets, visit bellyup.com.