:: The White Buffalo ::
:: October 11 ::
:: FBAG (Fuh-Can Beers and Guitars), Sculpture Park, Denver )
:: October 12 ::
:: Hodi’s Half Note ::
By Brian F. Johnson
Photos by Tobin Voggesser
“Whoa, that guy’s not paying attention. Pulling a triple lane change, here. Big van!” exclaimed Jake Smith, The White Buffalo, as he talked on the phone with The Marquee and wove his way through traffic from Los Angeles toward Corona, California. “Oh, and quadruple lane-change the other way!”
In other circumstances, Smith might have been a bit agitated about the southern-California traffic, but this day, he explained, he was on his way to Guild Guitars to pick up a new Orpheum Jumbo. The new guitar had been offered to Smith some time ago, but after United Airlines recently broke the neck off of his normal touring guitar on a trip to Colorado, Smith said that things were really pushed along to accept the gift.
“I used to take a backpack on flights, now my flights aren’t nearly as entertaining without books and writing utensils, but at least I can carry on both guitars,” he said.
In addition to that, Smith may have been taking the traffic in such stride, because his new album Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways, recently debuted at #1 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart. The album is Smith’s first ‘concept’ album, so to speak, but as he explained, it’s more thematic than it is conceptual. “I associate concept albums with something that’s more of a looser concept, and not such a straight narrative. This is essentially a longer story with a common beginning and end. I always wanted to do this narrative. I wanted every song and every word of every song to count. You know there’s the idea that the album is dead and it’s all about this fucking focus track world, so I wanted to do a longer story and I think of my songs as little mini movies, and I just wanted to make a longer one,” he said.
Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways tells the story of Joey White, who with few other choices, joins the Army, like his father did. The narrative follows White off to war, and to his eventual return home, and shows the way his immersion in that violence irrevocably changed everything for the hero and his family. The album sometimes straddles but often blurs the lines of White Buffalo styles ranging from delicate Ennio Morricone-esque spaghetti western ballads, to speaker-taxing crescendos of brute force, with Smith’s voice charging as hard as a herd of buffalo. Paste called the album “an Old Western prototype of Odysseus” with the veteran trying to find peace after leaving the front lines. WFUV called it “the Great American Novel as a record.”
“It was liberating and challenging to write this,” Smith said. “At one point, I think I realized what Joey had to do, or what had to happen. You know, a lot of times when I’m writing songs it’s very stream-of-consciousness and I’m crafting stories around that. But this one, when I was writing, I had to ask, ‘Well, how do I get him escaping his town and telling everyone to kind of suck it, and leaving to start this?’ The song “When I’m Gone” was this really important part of the story and there’s a lot that had to happen in that song to get him off to war. I knew I had three verses, two choruses and a bridge to get him from here to there.”
The album is also a departure for Smith in that the fiercely independent artist is working with a full team on this release via Unison Music Group, an L.A.-based indie label. “This release felt more real. We had our ducks in a row more than anything else I’ve put out,” Smith said. “When I was completely independent, it was just ‘release it however.’ It’s not that it wasn’t professional, but it was just my means. This one hopefully gets more attention though because of the gravity of the album, which is more powerful and poignant than anything I’ve done in the past,” Smith said.
While it’s typical for pop artists and rap stars to have all types of accompanying merchandise for an album release, things don’t really fly that way in the singer/songwriter realm. But Smith does have one ace up his sleeve with this release, that allowed me to jokingly refer to him as the “Jay-Z of Americana” — his own collaboration beer.
Before the album was released, Smith traveled to Lyons, Colo. to spend the day at Oskar Blues Grill and Brew with head brewer Dave Chichura. Smith and Chichura took the afternoon to brew a West Coast-styled IPA that features Centennial, Simcoe and Galaxy hops. “It was a really amazing day,” said Smith. “I’m not a home brewer or anything. I’m just a beer drinker. So we talked about what I like to drink and then Dave took all his knowledge to put this together. It was a real honor to be part of that, but it makes sense to me. I have a shit load of drinking songs. Probably half the songs I’ve ever written have some references to drinking, or the problems that ensue after that, or the insanity. It’s a big part of that Americana landscape from my viewpoint.”
The day of brewing was capped with a super secret show at Oskar Blues Longmont’s tasting room, The Tasty Weasel.
Oskar Blues and Smith will unveil The White Buffalo IPA at this month’s FBAG (Fuh-CAN Beer and Guitars) festival that runs in tandem to Denver’s Great American Beer Fest (FBAG is GABF backwards, duh), but the event is also a sort of antithesis to the monster beer fest, which sells out so quickly that it’s become an exclusive event for those willing to drop major cash on tickets. Whereas GABF leaves a lot of people out, FBAG is meant to include as many folks as possible.
In addition to the performance by The White Buffalo, Oskar Blues will host a slew of other bands for the event, including, Interstate Stash Express, Paa Kow’s By All Means Band, Jeff Brinkman, The Yawpers, West Water Outlaws, Smooth Money Gesture, Kyle Hollingsworth Band, Bonnie and the Clydes, Union Driftwood, Trout Steak Revival, Musketeer Gripweed, The Congress and The Bunny Gang. The event will also raise proceeds for the Oskar Blues Can’d Aid Foundation Flood Relief Fund and for the cancer-battling foundation Love, Hope Strength.
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