Conversation with The White Buffalo this unclassifiable artist between preparing breakfast and the dramatic situation of the artists due to the COVID-19.
How are you dealing with the COVID-19 situation?
Jake Smith/The White Buffalo: I’m pretty good. My moral is still pretty high. Luckily, I turned into a good mental state before this situation. I’m staying positive, I’m trying to stay busy and productive but at the same time, I’m pretty good at getting lazy.
It’s a good time for everybody to be lazy and take a step back.
Jake: There’s no guilt involved in it which is kind of nice.
As a musician, is the situation different than when you are recording an album or writing songs at home?
Jake: I start to get a little crazy when I don’t get that live performance feeling. I started asking the bigger questions when I haven’t played in a while. With the album coming out, at least there is something to focus on so I can do interviews and try to take alternatives to promote it. That’s keeping me at least busy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of musicians and creative people in general.
It must be hard as you can not express yourself and play your new songs on stage.
Jake: Financially, it is the only way for us to make any money. We’re getting money through live shows and selling merchandise. To cut that out is tough, mentally too. The whole relationship between audience and performer is important to a lot of artists and it’s hard when you take that away.
It’s lacking from the whole experience of music.
Jake: Yes. But also this uncertainty. How long is it going to last? The two things that people will be more scared of are gathering and travelling. That’s what musicians do! And if you can’t do either one of those things it complicates our lives.
How do you keep the relationships with your fans at the moment?
Jake: We did a live stream where we tried to elevate the quality, both sonically and visually. We teamed with Cadenza to organize a paid live stream, with production, lighting and 3 cameras. We were in a studio so the audio was good. We tried to make it feel as live as we could. Even though there is no connection directly with the audience as there is no clapping, no noise between songs which is a little awkward. I am also doing occasional live stream on Instagram and this stupid thing called “In The Garage” which is me playing songs in the garage. It’s fun to do because it shows a sillier side of myself that maybe people don’t really know. I have a kind of a duo personality: there’s this dark song writer and on the other side the silly dad.
At least we are trying! It’s important to have content coming out.
Are you planning on doing more live streams suchs the one with Cadenza, or was it a one of a kind experience?
Jake: I’m hoping to do more because the response was so great. People were so happy because they could stream it on the TV. I got more text messages and more social awareness than almost everything we’ve done in this whole quarantine time. I think people appreciate it. We’re talking about doing another one but there is nothing on the books.
There are a lot of musicians and artists thinking these streamed concerts or live experiences could be the future of music for some time. How do you feel about that?
Jake: I agree with that. We have to figure that out better, especially how much to charge. Because in some markets, which we did not consider, if there are economies or currencies not doing well it can be complicated. There are places where we have huge fan bases in in which we did not realize that 10US$ were a lot of money.
At least during this time it’s the best thing to do. People are OK with paying a little bit of money. It can be a little escape for a whole family to dance around, get a drink while watching it.
How we did it was great, we could keep our distance from everyone. It was basically just the band in a room but we could connect enough as a band at least to perform.
It’s also a way where we can at least earn a little bit of money. Touring is such a huge part of our livelihood. That’s 90% of the way you make your money.
We don’t know about the US but in France there is not much help for the artists.
Jake: The government does not seem to be doing much for us and even the stuff that I’ve applied for. I don’t know if it’s about earning too much or what but I am not able to do it. There’s been no government help for me at least and for my band.
Let’s get back to your new record, “On The Widow’s Walk“, available since April 17th but coming out physically on May 29th. How do you feel about the delay in offering your new music physically?
Jake: Everything got delayed especially for the production and the shipping. There are multiple warehouses involved. One is printing the cover, one is manufacturing, and it all comes together somewhere else. I don’t know how to feel about it. I think it’s fine, I’m hoping other people like my music the way I make it that because I try to make every moment worth listening to. I love that and to me it is a bummer. In a perfect world they should have all come out at the same time and people should have got their vinyls and CDs. But whatever, it is what it is!
At least the fans have the digital album.
Jake: Yes, everybody who bought the vinyl should have gotten a code to be able to download the album. Hopefully everybody’s got satiated with the digital record and once they get the physical copy, they can have this whole experience. There is just something beautiful with a vinyl. There is a different sonic range and a whole experience with listening to it, flipping the record over, discovering the artist’s vision. Going on that whole journey is ultimately what I am going for and hopefully some people are consuming it like that.
Did you record your new album having in mind this kind of consumption of music, mostly on vinyl now?
Jake: I always write and record my music keeping in mind that is the way for my music to be consumed. For example: “Cursive” ends side A which is kind of a ballad and a heavy song, then you have the time to flip the record over and it starts with “Faster Than Fire” which is the most aggressive song on the record. If you have that mental gap, the time to relax your ears, to flip the record over, you reset and you’re ready for some rock. That’s part of the journey! And it’s fun to be able to read the lyrics, discover an artwork that somebody spent time creating.
What was on your mind when you wrote “The Rapture”?
Jake: Nothing. (laughs) A lot of the dark songs, like murder fantasy songs, often are just coming out of nowhere. I’m just sitting around and lyric would come out.
This one was inspired by just the guitar part of it. Initially I just wrote the first verse and it was a good setup for this dark exploration, this primitive emotions state that some humans have. It was not inspired by any kind of serial killer.
It’s fun for me, I like to dive in the dark side.
In general, how do you write a song?
Jake: The majority of the time is me sitting down until it all comes out with the guitar, and singing. Most of the time the vocal is guiding it. My best ideas usually come out of nowhere. I just try to be quiet and silent and I allow it all to just come in. Then I go back and listen to all the ideas together. Sometimes I’ll be in the car and a melody will come out to my head. So I will sing it and then I’ll add music to it later.
Has it always been the same way for you to write music?
Jake: Before I was always sitting with my guitar and writing. The first time I went out with Shooter (Jenning, producer) to talk about the record and the process of producing the album, I was sleeping and I came out with an idea of a melody out of my slumber. And I thought that I could work on it with Shooter the next day. But that’s rare.
It did not happen like that when I was younger.
How was it working with Shooter?
Jake: It was amazing. Prior to us going into the studio, we had a day that we spent in a bar talking about working together, life, family. Just a meeting to get to know each other. We immediately became buddies. He really inspired me then, because I didn’t think most of the ideas I had were not much worth but he validated me and my ideas to a point where it get me on a creative high. I finished the songs on the album in a week or so after that.
In the studio, it was very loose and very organic. It was just us in a room, him playing the piano, my bass and drum players with us. We were just playing, trying to get a live feeling to the songs. You know we never rehearse as a band. And he just came in and it felt like he has been playing with us forever.
Shooter is a magical dude. It was a pleasure working together. He has good ideas for arrangements and music.
It’s great to have someone that fits in.
Jake: He understands the dynamic. He writes music, plays the piano. He understands also the space. The best thing in a band is that it feels loud with a little bit of instrumentation and voices. And also the silence, to let things swell for some time. Just a very human touch.
Last question: Our website is called “RockUrLife”. So what rocks your life, Jake?
Jake: Czech pilsners rocked my life last night!