The 10 Best Elliott Smith songs, by The White Buffalo

Elliott Smith
Elliott Smith
(Image: © Wendy Redfern \/ Getty Images)

“I love Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt, and these people who hit these emotional places,” says Jake Smith, a.k.a. The White Buffalo. “But Elliott Smith to me was the beginning. I was writing a lot of that time, but he was the one. He was definitely a major influence on me”

The White Buffalo’s new album, Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights, is an album that’s real and emotional and true, filled with vivid pictures of love, loss, crime, death and redemption. But while Smith’s songs were often fragile, The White Buffalo’s are often infused with a gritty, steely toughness.

“I saw him at The Warfield in San Francisco, and I saw him at The Fillmore,” says The White Buffalo. “I actually got to meet him after the Filmore, which was pretty crazy. You know how you say you should never meet your heroes? He was quite frail. I ended up sharing some Jameson’s with him from a bottle. People were treating him like this delicate little flower they had to kind of dance around. And I wanted to grab him and say, ‘Dude you’re a fucking legend: a hero!’ Everyone was treating him like a child, which you imagine just added to his sadness and darkness.”

Below, The White Buffalo picks his Top 10 Elliott Smith songs.

Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights is released on October 13, and can be pre-ordered now. The White Buffalo starts a US tour next month, before coming to the UK for a series of dates next April.

Needle In The Hay

The disillusionment and the alcohol and the drugs: my favourite line is the one that goes, “Strung out and thin / Calling some friend trying to cash some check / He’s acting dumb / That’s what you’ve come to expect.” I think it’s a really great way to talk about a junkie: the imagery of that song is just amazing.

Clementine

I love some of his opening lines, when something grabs you right off the top of a song. This song in particular, with the lyric “They’re waking you up to close the bar / The street’s wet, you can tell by the sound of the cars”, is great. Firstly, the bartender’s waking you up, you’re obviously hammered, and you’re in a bad place. And then the second line is just a beautiful way to say that it’s wet and dark outside.

St Ides Heaven

I love how he has this urban thing where you feel the darkness and you feel the desperation, but there’s also a slight bit of hope as well. And he starts this one off “Everything is exactly right / When I walk around here drunk every night / With an open container from 7-11 / In St. Ides heaven”. There’s a bunch of great lines in that song.

Alameda

Either/Or is his masterpiece, at least in that stripped down setting. The guitar playing was insane. I love this song. In this song there’s the man or the boss or some kind of bully, somebody who’s controlling him or keeping him down. it opens up with “You walk down Alameda / Shuffling your deck of trick cards over everyone / Like some precious only son / Face down, bow to the champion.” It’s a great way to say that this guy is bigger and better than you, and you’ll never really be that.

Rose Parade

It’s supposed to be a portrait of him going to see the Rose Parade and how sad it is. I love the part where he’s talking about the trumpeter. “The trumpeter’s obviously been drinking / ‘Cause he’s fucking up even the simplest lines / You say it’s a sight that’s quite worth seeing / It’s just that everyone’s interest is stronger than mine / When they clean the street, I’ll be the only shit that’s left behind.” It’s a great lyric.

Angeles

The guitar playing this is mind blowing. I have a fairly primitive style, but the speed and accuracy of his finger picking makes it flow so great. My favourite lyric is “I can make you satisfied in everything you do / All your secret wishes could right now be coming true / And be forever with my poison arms around you”. It sounds like all his relationships are these kind of twisted, desperate situations where he’s just trying to hold onto some kind of love or hope… and often failing.

Waltz # 2

I don’t know if he signed a major label deal or something, but it seems like he got his hands on a lot more stuff as far as instrumentation and arrangements go. Waltz # 2 maybe my favourite ever lyric of his. I think it’s a song about his mother, and maybe a new stepfather, or a new man in her life, and he’s feeling kind of cast away, but he still loves her . There’s a line that goes, “She appears composed, so she is, I suppose / Who can really tell? / She shows no emotion at all / Stares into space like a dead china doll.” I love that lyric. The imagery of the dead china doll: She’s just empty.

I Didn’t Understand

I think it’s just vocals. He’s doing an almost symphonic thing, with vocals and the harmonies, and again it’s another sad song about a woman leaving him. “And so you’d soon be leaving me / Alone, like I’m supposed to be / Tonight, tomorrow, and everyday / There’s nothing here that you’ll miss / I can guarantee you this” It’s just like, Jesus! Come on! Give him a break! You know?

Somebody That I Used To Know

This was off Figure 8. Another heartbreak relationship song. There’s a line, “I had tender feelings that you made hard / But it’s your heart, not mine, that’s scarred” which I think is just fantastic.

Christian Brothers

Again, it’s the boss; the idea of people controlling him or forcing him to be this way. I went to a Christian brothers school and I know that Christian Brothers is also a shitty alcohol, a wino thing to drink. And there’s the line “No bad dream fucker’s gonna boss me around / Christian Brothers gonna take him down”. The thing about Elliott Smith, lyrically, is that quite often you don’t get it on the first listen, or even the tenth lesson. His lyrics were a gift that kept giving. You could continue to listen to him and continue to find these little emotional diamonds then maybe you didn’t catch on the 10th or 20th listen. For me, at first I was thinking, “is he talking about drinking?” Which is a common theme of his: the escapism, his way of dealing with pain. But it could also be about control and religious thought and sin.

Tour Dates

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 at 8:00PMThe SirenMorro Bay, United States
Friday, October 27, 2017 at 7:00PMLobero TheatreSanta Barbara, United States
Friday, November 10, 2017 at 9:00PMTop Hat LoungeMissoula, United States
Saturday, November 11, 2017 at 9:00PMPub StationBillings, United States
Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 9:00PMEaglesBozeman, United States
Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 8:00PMNeurolux LoungeBoise, United States
Wednesday, November 15, 2017 at 8:00PMThe DepotSalt Lake City, United States
Friday, November 17, 2017 at 4:00AMBelly Up AspenAspen, United States
Saturday, November 18, 2017 at 7:00PMOskar Blues 15th CANiversary CelebrationLongmont, United States
Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 7:00PMThe Bridge at Sante Fe BrewingSanta Fe, United States
Friday, December 1, 2017 at 8:00PMCedar Cultural CenterMinneapolis, United States
Saturday, December 2, 2017 at 9:00PMBottom LoungeChicago, United States
Sunday, December 3, 2017 at 8:00PMHigh Noon SaloonMadison, United States
Tuesday, December 5, 2017 at 8:00PMThe Grog ShopCleveland, United States
Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at 7:00PMThe ShelterDetroit, United States
Friday, December 8, 2017 at 7:00PMAuraPortland, United States
Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 8:00PMShowcase LoungeSouth Burlington, United States
Sunday, December 10, 2017 at 8:00PMBrooklyn BowlBrooklyn, United States
Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 7:00PMThe Foundry at The FillmorePhiladelphia, United States
Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 7:00PM9:30 ClubWashington, United States
Friday, December 15, 2017 at 7:00PMParadise Rock ClubBoston, United States
Saturday, January 13, 2018 at 9:00PMFonda TheatreLos Angeles, United States
Friday, January 19, 2018 at 7:00PMThe Observatory North ParkSan Diego, United States
Saturday, January 20, 2018 at 7:00PMThe ObservatorySanta Ana, United States
Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 7:00PMThe CatalystSanta Cruz, United States
Wednesday, January 24, 2018 at 7:00PMThe FillmoreSan Francisco, United States
Friday, January 26, 2018 at 7:00PMHi-Fi Music HallEugene, United States
Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 7:00PMWonder BallroomPortland, United States
Sunday, January 28, 2018 at 8:30PMThe CrocodileSeattle, United States
Friday, February 9, 2018 at 8:30PMThe LoftAtlanta, United States
Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 9:00PMThe Grey EagleAsheville, United States
Sunday, February 11, 2018 at 7:00PMVisulite TheatreCharlotte, United States
Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 9:00PMZanzabarLouisville, United States
Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 8:00PMMercy LoungeNashville, United States
Friday, February 16, 2018 at 9:00PMThe Hi Tone CafeMemphis, United States
Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 7:00PMThe Parish Room at House Of BluesNew Orleans, United States
Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 7:00PMHouse of Blues - Bronze PeacockHouston, United States
Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 7:00PMThe ParishAustin, United States
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 at 7:00PMClub DadaDallas, United States
Friday, February 23, 2018 at 7:00PMClub CongressTucson, United States
Sunday, April 15, 2018 at 7:00PMO2 RITZManchester, United Kingdom
Monday, April 16, 2018 at 7:00PMO2 ABCGlasgow, United Kingdom
Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at 7:00PMO2 InstituteBirmingham, United Kingdom
Thursday, April 19, 2018 at 7:00PMO2 AcademyOxford, United Kingdom
Friday, April 20, 2018 at 7:00PMO2 AcademyBristol, United Kingdom
Saturday, April 21, 2018 at 7:00PMO2 ForumLondon, United Kingdom
Monday, April 23, 2018 at 7:00PMGloriaCologne, Germany
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at 7:00PMUebel & GefaehrlichHamburg, Germany
Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at 7:00PMHuxleysBerlin, Germany

The White Buffalo - Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights album review