The Los Angeles-based Troubadour on Cowboy Dreams and Living in the Hills
Evoking sun-beaten cowboys and open plains, The White Buffalo, AKA Jake Smith, shares “Sleepy Little Town” from his debut album Once Upon a Time in the West. The Southern California native has been making waves in the local surf community since one of his tracks was used in pro surfer Chris Malloy’s iconic movie Shelter. From his beginnings playing North Shore dive bars, Smith’s increasing cult status has enabled him to join the international festival circuit and tour Japan and Europe. A lucky break occurred at his first festival appearance, in Victoria, Australia, when all the gear was lost in transit and Smith was the only one able to perform to the 10,000-strong crowd. “I've always been pretty optimistic, and never really get disappointed if that deal doesn't happen,” says Smith of his self-released album and two EPs released over the past five years. “I'm just doing my own thing and getting where I'm getting on my own, and on my own terms.” NOWNESS ventured out to Temescal Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains to meet the rogue musician.
You grew up listening to country music in Huntington Beach. Was it weird in a setting known for its punk scene?
It was weird. At first, all I would listen to was country music. I saw Randy Travis, who I actually still kind of like now. And then I started getting really into the punk scene for a while. But I remember having a tape of Foster & Lloyd I'd be carrying around.
Do you still listen to country?
I still love the old country music. I can't really handle what's going on now, because it's not really country music. It's more pop than pop music.
Being a musician, do you have a true sense of weekends?
I'm a family man. I have kids, a wife. We drink, probably too much. But that's not exclusive to the weekends.
What did you find yourself drawing upon in your early days?
I started with really dark songs, right off the bat. The subject matter is pretty serious, I suppose. When I learned how to play guitar, I got more into Bob Dylan, Jon Brion, Leonard Cohen. I started listening to words more than I ever had. I started to focus on lyrics, as opposed to emotion and melody.
It's hard to imagine the person writing these songs not living on a prairie, cleaning out his shotgun on a regular basis.
I'm not really a huge part of the Los Angeles music scene. I've worked pretty independently of that. I do what I do and I don't let things influence me. But I still live in the hills, if you can call it that, and it's inspiring in a way… the shallowness [of LA], the strangeness I can see from a distance. I do like Los Angeles, I like it a lot, and it has its virtues. I just don't take it too seriously.
Photographer: Nicholas Haggard.