The name Jake Smith may not ring any bells, but a lot of people are familiar with his music.
For seven seasons, Smith, who performs as part of a trio under the moniker the White Buffalo, provided stark music for the FX original series Sons of Anarchy, which followed the lives (and horrible deaths) of a violent California motorcycle club and its many enemies. The unbridled viciousness, juxtaposed with the caring, family-minded nature of the club’s members, is tailor-made for the White Buffalo’s music, according to Smith.
“It was actually my lawyer at the time who connected me with the show,” says Smith. “This was five or six years ago. He saw the scenes of dark and light and conflict in my songs. He thought it could be a perfect fit for the show.”
That vision for the White Buffalo, a virtually unknown entity at the time, turned out to be stunningly accurate. The show’s creator, Kurt Sutter, used eleven of Smith’s tunes on the show throughout the years, culminating in the last song in the series finale, which earned the White Buffalo an Emmy nomination. But Smith has taken the accolades in stride.
“I appreciate [the Emmy nomination], but it doesn’t seem to affect me that much,” he says. “It’s cool to be able to say you’re an Emmy-nominated songwriter, but I never imagined it would actually happen. It wasn’t a life goal.”
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The song, “Come Join the Murder,” is also the first tune Smith ever wrote as a collaborative effort. Smith says Sutter handed him the fully formed lyrics to the song, asking him to marry the piece of poetry with the White Buffalo’s characteristically morose music and Smith’s low, aching voice. But, he adds, it wasn’t easy.
“It’s completely foreign to me,” he says of collaborative writing. “I can do it, but I don’t like to taint my process that much. Normally, my songs come from nowhere. On my albums, I’ve written 100 percent. When I’m writing like that, it seems to be best.”
This weekend, Smith will bring the White Buffalo to Denver for the final day of Riot Fest, a traditionally punk-heavy event. And although his gruff but tender vocal style and sultry acoustic guitar don’t exactly fill that bill, Smith says, he’s completely comfortable playing for Riot Fest’s crowd.
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“There’s a punk aesthetic to how we approach performance, especially for an acoustic trio,” says Smith. “It’s a pretty big sound to come out of such a small group. I grew up listening to punk, and I still love listening to that. There are punk elements to some of the songs. It’s always been this kind of genre-shifting thing, the raw abandon of what punk is. We can carry ourselves in that world.”
With all the disparate outlets his music has trickled through, Smith could be forgiven for losing contact with his own art. But he says he doesn’t think his art is cheapened by it being on television and in movies or by playing for an audience that might not be in his wheelhouse. In some ways, he says, it’s ideal. His only real concern is that his songs remain honest and paint a vivid picture.
“I don’t really filter my shit, and people can feel that,” says Smith. “That’s the whole point. I’ve been writing music for twenty years, and [writing narrative songs] is something I’ve worked hard on — emotional, honest stories. I want people to feel something or go on a journey; that’s my purpose for writing songs.”
Riot Fest and Rodeo
The White Buffalo, 2 p.m. Sunday, August 30, Roots Stage, National Western Complex, $99 to $289, riotfest.org.