With a sound that spans Southern rock, alternative country, and folk Americana; Jake Smith, aka The White Buffalo, releases his long awaited sixth studio album, ‘On The Widow’s Walk’ (officially set to release on April 17, 2020). Working alongside, two-time Grammy-Award-winning producer, Shooter Jennings, Smith utilizes the loosely linked theme of water and the ocean to tackle topics such as deep longing, living in the moment, the surreptitious push of technology, and the force of Mother Nature. The sonic linear storytelling that Smith has released consists of 11 tracks of his most collective, organic, and well-rounded offering to date. We had the opportunity to speak to Smith and hear first hand about his songwriting process, his inspirations, and more.
EB: This is your sixth studio album, how did the creation of this album differ from previous records?
JS: This one was the most band-effort we’ve ever had. It was very organic. We got to work with Shooter Jennings on this record and the process was just completely different. We recorded live takes of the songs for the album which was super dynamic. It’s like what you would hear and feel emotionally at a show.
EB: Speaking of Shooter Jennings, can you tell us more about how that experience was?
JS: Yeah, I mean, initially there wasn’t really any idea of how we would work together. Without any expectations, we met through our managers and just hung out and drank at a bar on Sunset in Hollywood. He was like a fresh cup of roots. We talked about where this could go and what it could be and then decided to have a songwriting session. I thought, “man he’s cool, I enjoy his company, he enjoys my company, let’s see what we can do.” I was inspired, but I didn’t think I was even close to ready for a new album. The night before I went to Shooter’s house I woke up in the middle of the night with a melody and lyric idea. I went in thinking, “okay, well at least we can work on that for a day.” Then when I met with him we banged it out – the entire arrangement of the song, and that inspired me and put me in a really creative mode. Shooter would ask me, “What else you got, what else you got?”, and he’d tell me it was amazing. So it validated me to the point where it sent me off into this fervid writing period, as I do sometimes.
EB: It sounds like working together came naturally for you both. How was the rest of the writing/producing process for the album?
JS: When we got into the studio, we recorded 11 songs in seven days and the majority of the time it was me, my bass player, Christopher Hoffee, Matt Lynott my drummer, and Shooter playing the piano. We would get it pretty much within a couple of takes, we would get the piano, drum track, and bass track all at once. So it felt really good. It felt real, honest, and right. No bullshit, no facts, just really trying to hit you in the heart. We approached it in a way so that we were actually playing live. In the past we’d go and get the drum track and a guy would come in and play piano and bass, then I’d lay down the guitar separately and the vocals separate which is more piecemeal, as opposed to this album which is much more sonic and you can really feel that. Shooter came in just like one of the boys of the band, sat in and we were off and running with a good vibe. He’s kind of a vibe, he creates the soup. It was super casual. We got to work with Mark Rains who was the engineer in his studio, and he was super casual too. It’s what I’m used to. It all felt sonically great and sounds amazing.
EB: So, during the creative process, were you writing and recording a lot of the material concurrently? Or were you jumping into the studio with more finished material?
JS: Some of it was finished and in the first little batch I had, I had most of the words coming to me, but sometimes I would also put off an entire song. There’s a song on the album called “Cursive” which I think is maybe one of the most powerful songs on there. But, I hardly had anything ready for it the night before we were supposed to record. So instead of going out drinking with the band, I stayed in and essentially wrote the first two lines, and then ended up writing the rest of it in the morning. I work pretty good under pressure when songs have to be done by the next day. And when you come up with something that’s good, you just know.
EB: So, what would you say were the inspiration(s) behind this album?
JS: Initially I was thinking of doing a concept album with a narrative, but that ends up being very limited. But I still wanted to try and create a linear story. So, I came up with the concept of water. This whole idea of the widow’s walk was the initial concept, which was supposed to be this romantic love story between a man and a women where a man has to go off to sea and the woman walks on the widow’s walk, kind of longing and pining for her husband and then drama ensues. But then I deviated from that but there’s still a lot of songs that have the concept of water in them. Themes of the water and the ocean. There’s heartbreak in there and the longing for love, confusion, and asking life’s bigger questions but then also realizing that you have to live for today. The first song on the album is called “Problem Solution” and with that one I took two songs and mashed them together. The beginning of the song is kind of like, “what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with my heart?” and then the solution is “let’s just get through today”. There’s another song called “Faster than Fire” which is probably the most rock-song on the album. It’s about the fires in California but it’s not from the most compassionate angle. It’s more about the power of Mother Nature and I take an outside stance on it, based on the fear of the fire and how it’s inevitable and unrelenting. And then “Cursive” is about our technology running away with us and the fear of losing human connection.
EB: Can’t wait to hear it. So, at the beginning of your career, you were primarily rooted in folk and over the years your sound has become much more dynamic. What kind of genres or sounds inspired you for this record?
JS: I have a long history of listening and writing and there are so many different genres within this album. Some of it is moderately blues based but my own style of blues. It’s not formulaic but kind of rooted in that. There’s a song that has almost an 80’s twist to it called “No History”. It’s still organic but sounds like it’s from a different era, it’s possibly the most pop song on there. But there are also some dark tales that are based in the roots of country, folk, and rock.
EB: Is there any song on the album that you’re particularly proud of, and excited for people to hear?
JS: I never really know which songs that I’ll like the best. For me, they’re always the songs that have a creative way of saying something new and said very simply. Like “Cursive” is probably my favorite one on the album but I don’t know if it will be for other people. I really like ballads and always have for some reason.
EB: So of course you have plenty of acoustic on this album but it sounds like there is also some electric guitar as well. Which set of Ernie Ball strings did you use to create the signature sound for this record?
JS: Oh, I always play Ernie Ball Paradigm strings, the Phosphor Bronze Medium and also the heaviest gauge. They give me more security when I play.
EB: You’ve been releasing music for 20 years now, how has the journey been for you so far?
JS: I’ve been lucky that I haven’t really had to bend that much. It’s not that I don’t have ambition to be bigger, but I’ve always just been content with where I’m at. At the same time, I’m able to artistically do what I do and write what I want to write. That’s part of where the longevity comes from, both writing wise and career wise, it’s just having to come from an honest place and not try to push it to where I’m not comfortable with what I’m doing. My journey has really been about staying true to what I create and believing in it. And hopefully people can feel that and interpret songs and performances and feelings in their own way and make it part of their own lives.