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The White Buffalo

"Guitar playing to me is pretty visceral. It's primitive in a sense. But it really is a vehicle for all songwriting and performance. It's my livelihood." Jake Smith aka The White Buffalo discusses his songwriting process and more in this episode of String Theory.

Transcript

Jake Smith:
I didn't get a guitar until I was about 19. We used to go over and drink beers and do other things at my buddy's house, and his dad would played Bob Dylan songs. I just went to a pawn shop and got a guitar. I immediately started writing songs and not learning other people's songs. Just started writing songs with really no agenda, just that was what I did. I think my first guitar was a Fender. It was like a Fender acoustic, 200 bucks in the pawn shop. Not a great guitar by any means.

Jake Smith:
Guitar playing to me is very visceral as far as performance goes. It's a primitive in a sense. I'm all kind of right hand, but it really is the vehicle for all songwriting and performance, and it's my livelihood. My songwriting process is they're one and the same. The guitar and the vocal and the melody all come at the same time. It's rarely anything mapped out or even an idea of what I'm going to do on the guitar. I'll just start playing chords or playing some kind of an idea that's just coming out.

Jake Smith:
I'm a string breaker and always have been a string breaker. I've got to really hard, heavy right hand and I really attack the strings very primal ape man approach to guitar playing. I play the Phosphor Bronze. I play them the Everlast, the heaviest they have. I think it's a 13. I play really hard so if I would go with the lighter gauge, it wouldn't really hold up. I want my guitars going set up to handle as much tension as possible. I've always played as heavy as I could get my hands on. They're great. I actually haven't been breaking strings much lately, which is odd. Yeah, probably has a lot to do with the craftsmanship.

Jake Smith:
Live performance, we often play as a trio so the guitar is, it's almost more like a big rhythm section. There's not a lot of noodling. There's not a lot of space in between the lyrical content. I need something that acoustic-wise that both is warm and has that acoustic tone, but also cuts through the mix. I need something with attack, which is unique. It's not really a lead instrument, but it's kind of carrying and captaining the sound. You need those, both the warmth and the attack. I play through an amp, a lot of them. Been using the Music Man to give it, have it cut through in the mix, which gives a kind of a unique sound.

Jake Smith:
Why do I keep playing music? It's what I know how to do now. There's the different aspects of it. I love playing guitar. I enjoyed recording, and I enjoy performance. They're very different and they're satisfying and difficult in their own ways, each one. Sound craft and trying to make every word count and taking somebody on a journey or making them feel something is what I think it's all about, for me at least, how I approach songwriting, and it's all I know how to do. It's how I pay the bills, how I feed my family so got to keep doing that.

Jake Smith:
The acoustic guitar has always been the vehicle that I've ... since I for my whole career. I mean the versatility in it might change. It can be quiet. You can finger pick. You can be aggressive. Depending on how you do it, it's very ... a lot of the way I play is very percussive. Some of it's very rhythmic, some of it's muted, but ultimately I want it to be the raw sound of what it is, to have it be as organic and natural as possible because I think that's what this band is about.

Jake Smith:
I don't really have any effects on my guitars. The whole ethos and the whole thing behind the band and behind what I do is there's no BS. It's just you get what you see. I try to make it sound as much as like an acoustic guitar as possible with the effect of an amp in it, just to cut through. Other than that, there's no effects. It's just, it is what it is.

Jake Smith:
I'm trying to be original. I'm trying to come up with a way of playing guitar that's unique, is always what I strive to do. I've never had any lessons. I never learned anything other than what I would create.

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