One aspect of the new disc that fans have come to expect is a varied set of songs and styles. Smith says that one song that forced his creative hand a bit was “Nightstalker Blues": “That’s the story of Richard Ramirez, who is a psychotic, evil and satanic murderer."
"He’s also a rapist and robber that terrorized Southern California,” he said of Ramirez, who spent the last 23 years of his life on death row in San Quentin before succumbing to lymphoma in 2013. “I did some research on him to kind of revisit the fear and his situation with the evil and aggression that he portrayed. It’s kind of biographical, at least from my side as a child looking at it, but also at the character. It was a scary and unsettling rabbit hole to go down.”
Smith stresses that he wasn't trying to sympathize with Ramirez in the song, or even approach the subject from his point of view -- rather, the song is mainly his observation of the heinous crimes that he committed. “To me, that would be a twisted way to approach it,” he said. “I don’t want to get in his head. The dark songs that I write are fantasy songs, and he was such a scary figure. I just wanted to create a portrait of that time. I never would want to glamorize the situation, because I think it’s just disgusting.”
Another story song on Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights is “Robbery,” which got its start with a simple guitar riff. “I just came up with this loop, and I really didn't know what the song was even going to be about. I came up with the idea to write this song from a first-person narrative about me and this other guy going in and they hit this convenience store, and the chaos that ensured after that. I always have loved those kinds of darker moments with a lot of twists and turns,” he noted. “That one came out really fast.”
The White Buffalo will be on the road plenty during the remainder of the year to promote the new music, and Smith says the live performance is an important part of what he does. “We still approach our live show in a fairly stripped-down presentation. We’re going out as a trio on this next run, which is me on the acoustic guitar and vocal, a bass player who sings and a drummer. We just try to get to the soul of the songs, the lyrics and the passion. That’s what it’s all about for us -- feeling a song. It’s a fun thing to perform, and I think that people feel that when you’re enjoying that. But I do like to keep on a kind of a roller coaster or a journey during the show.”
And those who pick up the disc or come out to the shows will find a musical offering that can’t be put in a box musically. Smith says he prefers it that way. “I have always been like that -- not attached to any one style of music. It’s American and very roots-based, but not categorizable in the sense that someone could call it country, rock or folk. I like being able to write what I want from a writing perspective. I don’t know any other way to do it. I don’t know if I could say ‘I’m going to write a country song,’ or so on. I’d almost feel as if I lost control of those initial inspirations. My fanbase has this expectation that I’m going to not have filler or fluff, and am going to keep it real and honest. I like the fact that they really don’t know what is going to come out of me.”