The White Buffalo, Penn Sultan

The White Buffalo

Jake Smith's "White Buffalo" conjures a mythic portrait of America. A country populated by outlaws, dreamers, drifters and fallen heroes. It imagines our small towns before the days of strip malls and chain restaurants. With a voice that seems to emanate from some ancient source, his dynamic performances range from a whisper to a scream. His herd boasts the talents of Matt Lynott on drums and Tommy Andrews on bass. Together, they put on a live show that builds and propels like a freight train shot out of hell with a pulsing energy that keeps audiences buzzing for days.

The songs of Once Upon a Time in the West are rooted in everyday struggles, on both epic and personal scales, with elements of blues, country western, folk, and classic rock. The influences of story-tellers like Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt, Elliot Smith, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Bad Religion shine through. The album ranges in themes from slices of life in the shadows ("The Bowery") to coming out of a battlefield ("Ballad of a Dead Man") to dark heroic fantasies ("The Pilot") from putting the concepts of family and country under the microscope ("I Wish It Was True") to etched childhood scenes ("BB Guns and Dirt Bikes," "The Witch").

"The whole point of songwriting is taking people on an emotional journey, like a mini-movie," says Smith. "Most of my songs capture moments in time, small snippets of life and some paint broader pictures. It's less about the Old West, than the new one I grew up in, with some politics and some nostalgic memories of my childhood in Southern California."

Born in Oregon and raised in Southern California, he moved to the Bay area from Huntington Beach to pursue college on an athletic scholarship. From the moment he learned his first three chords on a guitar he got in a pawn shop, Smith began writing songs, which came quick and easy, though he kept them to himself. "I don't analyze them as much as other people do," Smith insists. "I prefer the songs do the talking for me. I've always been isolated, outside the system, and done it on my own. If you're writing stuff that's real, emotional and you believe will resonate with people, that's what you have to do."

The White Buffalo's first full-length album, Hogtied Like a Rodeo, debuted in 2002, followed by The White Buffalo EP, produced by Eels' Koool G Murder, which Smith states is about "relationships, love, loss and booze with a little murder mixed in." In a friend's living room in 2008, he re-recorded his first album, only this time with more guts and less whiskey, dubbing it Hogtied Revisited. Combined, these independently released albums have sold over 20,000 units, as Jake toured Australia, Japan, Europe and the U.S. with acts like Donavan Frankenreiter, Gomez, Xavier Rudd, State Radio, Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, among many others.

When a bootleg tape of Smith's music made it into the hands of pro surfer Chris Malloy, one of his songs, "Wrong," was featured in his popular surf movie, Shelter, and earned him a burgeoning fan base on his return to his roots in the Southern California surf community. It eventually led to further film scoring and composing work, with three of his songs featured in FX's hit show Sons of Anarchy and HBO's Californication.

In 2010, a second EP, Prepare for Black and Blue, was recorded in six days by producer Jimmy Messer [Kelly Clarkson] and released through Chad Stokes Ruffshod imprint via Nettwerk Records earlier this year. The music and the Artist captured the attention of Unison Music's Bruce Witkin and Ryan Dorn, who inked Smith and co-produced Once Upon a Time in the West. "When we sign someone, we look for someone who can play live and songs with longevity," says Dorn. "He's a terrific story teller and his performance is right in your face," adds label founder Witkin.

Accepting the help of major players wasn't easy for Smith, who prides himself on his self-reliant approach. Meanwhile, the buzz on The White Buffalo continues to grow, thanks to the intensity of the band's live shows, including a much-talked-about appearance at Bonnaroo this year.

"For a long time I was off the grid," he admits. "This is the first time I've had the luxury of going to the studio every day for two-three months. It was pretty focused. If I can do it my own way, write my songs, move people and have it be something I'm still proud of, I'm up for it. I don't know how to write songs that are not like that. I try to dig a little deeper, to express an emotional thought."

A family man with a wife and two kids, The White Buffalo has retained Jake Smith's DIY approach. Driving thousands of miles to dozens of cities, the band is a hard working, no frills outfit. They load their own gear, sell their own merchandise and pack it all up at the end of the night. From Bonnaroo to the smallest local neighborhood bar, The White Buffalo delivers its signature sound as if each show was its last.

If Once Upon a Time in the West is any indication, The White Buffalo will find itself on the grid for a long while.

$12.00 - $14.00

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The White Buffalo, Penn Sultan with DJ Carbo

Friday, August 9 · 8:00 PM at Church