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Land of the White Buffalo

Jake Smith, aka the White Buffalo, talks about touring, his new album and keeping it simple

What you see is what you get.

That's quite possibly the most appropriate phrase to use when describing Jake Smith, aka the White Buffalo. The grizzled folk/Americana troubadour seems to revel in the simplicity with which he approaches pretty much everything -- especially when it comes to touring and live performances.

"We're a pretty hard-working blue collar band," Smith said about his touring group, which includes long-time drummer Matt Lynott and bassist Christopher Hoffee (also a producer/engineer based out of Escondido). "We're pretty much a no-frills, no-effects kind of band ... For the type of venues we play, we show up in some places and they're like 'Really? This is it?' We roll up in a Suburban, or we're three dudes in a Town & Country minivan. They're like, 'Where's the trailer and the bus?' [laughs] It's just how we roll. We're a pretty streamlined machine."

For an artist like Smith, who's perhaps known as much for his story-laced lyricism as his sturdy baritone, the simpler the better. Who needs entertainment filler like pyrotechnics, backing tracks and a fancy light show? At a White Buffalo show, the music always takes center stage.

"The nature of what we do is very organic and stripped down, where it's ultimately about songs and emotion," he said. "At the root of it, it's about songs. Hopefully, if these songs are reaching people in some way, you don't need all that extra bulls---."

Fans would seem to agree. Smith, who got the break of a lifetime by having multiple songs licensed for use in the FX television series "Sons of Anarchy" (as well as recent features in the shows "The Punisher" and "This Is Us"), has built a career out of writing songs about real people dealing with real life issues. Hitting the road only informs his writing even more.

"I think luckily, as a musician and somebody that gets to travel a bunch, you see the world and you get to see these different climates and different pieces of humanity, and inevitably they are going to affect you and open up your mind up to new situations and inspire some ideas," he said. "It's been a real blessing to be able to do this for a living and have people come out and be passionate about the songs and the music. I couldn't feel luckier in that respect."

With his latest album, 2017's "Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights," Smith went down a less-traveled road (for him) by -- dare I say -- rocking out on a couple tunes (namely his single "Avalon"). The typically stoic songwriter admitted that he hadn't really planned on going in that direction, but rather it just came out that way.

"It was just the place I was in," he said. "For this album, I didn't have many songs going into it. I wrote the bulk of the album while we were recording. I only had a handful of the bones of songs, and really vague outlines of what I was gonna do. I don't know if that was the urgency of having to create really fast which kind of caused it to be more 'rock' ... A lot of my stuff isn't really conscious, it just comes out in the moment. Because of not having many songs going into it, I think that affected it in a way; it kind of brought this panic or this desperation to it in a way."

So should we expect more of that in the future, or maybe a 'White Buffalo goes electric' kind of moment?

"At some point I feel like I could expand," Smith said. "I like the electric guitar but I think I squeeze it too hard and it goes out of tune a lot. [laughs] But at some point, I want to go there -- not necessarily for an entire album -- but it's something that I may explore in the future.

"We'll see," he said. "Never say never."

The White Buffalo headlines the Observatory North Park on Friday, Jan. 19. Doors are at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available here.

Dustin Lothspeich books The Merrow and runs the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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