That deep rumble of Jake Smith’s baritone is unnerving.
Smith, who performs as The White Buffalo, is making his Billings debut on Saturday, Nov. 11, at the the Pub Station. He’s touring with Jon Snodgrass in support of The White Buffalo’s recently released album, “Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights.”
Speaking by phone from his home in Southern California, Smith talked about ignoring the "bright lights and big city" to maintain a humble lifestyle where he finds inspiration in the silence.
“Influences are weird to me. Inadvertently things seep into your subconsciousness, but a lot of my inspiration comes from silence, allowing things to come in as far as writing. I try to keep true to myself, keep things honest.”
Smith is a soulful guy who reaches deep to find the right story set in the appropriate tone. On his latest album, he said there was an urgency to writing his songs because he didn’t have a cache of music waiting to record. He puts himself into a character and writes from that space, evident in his new song "Robbery" that has a Tom Waits feel to it.
Smith has worked in alt-country, folk and blues, but this new album is different.
“It is a little more rock-based, more aggressive. I try to hit the emotions of all walks of life. The idea is try to make people feel things — feel good, feel bad, feel scared, the heartbreak and joy of life. I try to go all the way.”
Smith was born in Oregon in the mid-1970s and grew up in California. His was a baseball player into his late teens and didn’t even pick up a guitar until he was 19.
“I immediately started writing songs. I didn’t have much traction for a number of years.”
He recorded his first full-length album, “Hogtied Like a Rodeo,” in 2002 and followed it up with a self-titled EP that Smith said is about love, loss, booze with murder mixed in. A few years later, some of his songs, including "Matador" and "Wish It Was True" hit the mainstream after being featured on “Sons of Anarchy.” His covers of “House of The Rising Sun” and Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" are stunning.
His lyrics have a bite to them. On “Wish It Was True,” Smith writes about death, redemption and betrayal.
“Country, I was a solider for you. I did what you asked me to. It was wrong and you knew."
Even his love songs have teeth. On "I Got You," Smith rasps, "Hearts aren't always red, they're black and blue."
Smith can also spread good cheer as he does on "Don't You Want It" with the line, "Here comes the morning sun to spread its arms around everyone."
During his live shows, The White Buffalo becomes an aggressive power trio, including Smith on guitar and vocals and his rhythm section.
"It's pretty emotional. We try to make it exciting, try to go along with the little roller coaster."
After prompting from a friend who suggested that "Jake Smith is no stage name," Smith chose to go by The White Buffalo because it was cool imagery and a little mystical.
"Today with all the social media, there isn't much mystery left. You can still have a little of that."