The White Buffalo is the project of the earthy, country rock-focused Oregon-born and Southern California-raised singer/songwriter Jake Smith. Following a 2002, self-released album he built a steady following, but became increasingly noticed after a 2008 re-recording of that same LP led to coveted international support slots, as well as film and TV sync deals. His 2014 track "Come Join the Murder" got nominated for an Emmy following its inclusion in the biker drama, Sons of Anarchy and Smith's run of albums that decade traced a natural transition from a largely acoustic-based sound to an altogether rockier and raucous approach. By 2020 he had found a natural home in Snakefarm Records, the country, blues, and roots rock arm of the Finnish metal label Spinefarm.
Smith grew up listening to punk bands like the Descendents and the Circle Jerks and didn't pick up a guitar until age 19. During his college years in the Bay Area, he began writing and performing his own songs, hitting upon the White Buffalo name as one of several suggestions from his friends that he drew out of a hat. His 2002 debut album, Hogtied Like a Rodeo, was followed three years later by The White Buffalo EP, which was produced by Eels' Koool G Murder. Released in 2008, Hogtied Revisited found Smith re-recording his first album in a friend's bedroom. Gigs with artists including Gomez, Ziggy Marley, and Donavon Frankenreiter, and in locales as widespread as Japan and Australia, spread the word of mouth about the White Buffalo. When pro surfer Chris Malloy heard Smith's music, he included the song "Wrong" in his movie Shelter, and White Buffalo tracks later appeared on the TV shows Sons of Anarchy and Californication. The 2010 EP Prepare for Black & Blue brought Smith to the attention of Unison Music, which signed the White Buffalo; the label's heads, Bruce Witkin and Ryan Dorn, also co-produced 2012's full-length Once Upon a Time in the West, featuring the talents of drummer Matt Lynott and bassist Tommy Andrews. It placed on several Americana charts, while his next record — 2013's Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways — was a much angrier, prophetic, and political concept album that was greeted with wild acclaim.
Smith's work has always been marked by characters who experienced the darker, hard-bitten aspects of what life had to offer. He began working with Dorn and Witkin again in 2015 on a series of new songs revolving around such real or imagined people in dire circumstances. Entitled Love & the Death of Damnation, and released that August, its music drew on country, blues, folk, and gospel sources. Smith's popularity got another bump in 2017 when his song "I Know You" was used in the trailer for the popular video game Halo 2.
That same year, Smith bucked a personal trend, by hitting the studio to record his next album without having written it. These sessions lasted just six weeks and resulted in the urgent-sounding Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights. Much of 2018 was spent promoting that record, including huge dates supporting Counting Crows and Alison Krauss in London and Dublin as part of Blues Fest. Spring 2019 saw him embark on a thorough Canadian tour, and by early 2020 the White Buffalo had signed a prestigious new record deal with the Universal Music-affiliated, blues and country rock imprint, Snakefarm. Lead singles from his next LP, the Shooter Jennings-produced On a Widow's Walk, included the lyrical "The Rapture," and a dynamic double-A side, "Problem Solution/Faster Than Fire," which was issued in March. ~ Heather Phares & James Wilkinson