It’s been quite a year for Buffalo Gospel. Following a lengthy break between records and significant lineup changes in the process, the Milwaukee country outfit truly returned to form in 2018 with On The First Bell. Not only is the long-awaited record is one of the year’s best local releases, it’s also garnered praise from national publications, earned the band slots on respected festivals and in support of touring talent, and brought the band to new stages in faraway places—including a run of shows in Nashville.
As Buffalo Gospel prepares to bring its biggest and best year to a close Friday with a “Thanksgiving songwriter showcase” with David Huckfelt of The Pines and Nickel&Rose, we asked bandleader and founding member Ryan Necci to look back in the group’s impressive 2018, talk about some standout moments, and give us an idea of what we can expect from them next year.
Milwaukee Record: It’s safe to say this is Buffalo Gospel’s biggest and most productive year yet. Has 2018 met your expectations?
Ryan Necci: I’d say it’s far exceeded expectations. I always tell folks that this project was never really intended to be a live band. It originally was just a way for me to selfishly get together with the musicians and friends that I love being around to record and write music. I was pretty tired of touring and that whole grind when Buffalo Gospel started. It’s really become, very unexpectedly, a lot more than that. I still get to make music with the people I love and look up to but, honestly, we’re just having a great time meeting new people and performing for them. We’ve played about 10 times as many shows this year as we ever have before, and I really just want to keep playing. It feels like we’re hitting a new gear on stage where we’re pushing these songs further and trusting each other and listening to one another. That’s the kind of stuff that you only get to when you’ve put a lot of time in together. It’s a pretty magical feeling.
MR: What’s has it been like to see On The First Bell get so much positive local press and garner attention in national country and roots circles as well?
RN: It’s been pretty overwhelming. Both records, On The First Bell and We Can Be Horses, without being too dramatic, were ones that I had to make. They were songs that helped me get through a couple of very low points. The process of bringing them to life was a really cathartic one. The fact that these songs that were so personal are resonating with others in a positive way is a real trip. It’s really humbling to have folks that I respect so much tell me that they enjoy the record.
MR: Outside of the album—which you wrote and recorded with an all new cast of collaborators—the band has done a lot this year. Between playing a run of shows in Nashville, landing on regional festivals like Blue Ox, performing at a ton of local fests, landing some choice opening slots, and having a music video with a Ted Perry cameo, what are some moments or events that stand out to you?
RN: It’s really difficult to narrow it down, but the trip south was a highlight for me. None of us had ever performed in Nashville, so to play at a couple of the town’s most storied venues—The Basement East and Station Inn—was a real dream. We had a blast with each other and the van didn’t break down. That’s a win any way you look at it.
MR: As the band’s busiest year draws to a close, what’s next? Are you working on new material and plotting for an even bigger 2019, or are you going to take some time off and relax?
RN: I’m definitely turning my focus to writing. It really is the part of all of this that I love the most, and winter is a great time to hunker down and churn out a lot of material. We’ve started working with some new folks on the management and booking side of things, so 2019 is definitely looking like it’s going to be a busy one. We have no intention of slowing down.
MR: Before that, though, you have a couple more local shows left this year. What can people look forward to at Friday’s “Songs Of Plenty” show?
RN: We’ve been playing a few stripped-down trio shows lately. It’s been a lot of fun to get a little more vulnerable with some of these songs. There’s nothing to hide behind when you boil them down like that, so it’s kind of a new level of awareness on stage. Haley, Kevin, and I will be performing a bunch of our songs. I love the big shows with the full band, but playing and singing with Haley and Kevin is one of my favorite things to do. I couldn’t be more excited for Friday.
MR: Friday’s show is being billed as “a Thanksgiving songwriter showcase.” What are some things you and, as an extension of you, the band are thankful for at the moment?
RN: It sounds a little hokey but I’m truly thankful for each and every person who has taken a chance on Buffalo Gospel. We’ve gotten a lot of love over the last few years and it’s definitely not lost on us. We wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing without the wonderful folks who have come out to a show, told a friend, bought the records, let us sleep on their floor. It’s a little overwhelming.
I’m also incredibly thankful for the players in this band. They really are absolute killers on their instruments and wonderful friends. The fact that they’ve decided to dedicate their time and talents to this almost doesn’t seem real sometimes. I’ve been very lucky.
MR: It seems like you’ve knocked a bunch of things off your to-do list and reached a lot of goals this year, so what are your sights on next?
RN: Man, I just want to write better songs. Traveling and performing and all of that is great. It really is. We absolutely love to do it and feel insanely lucky to have the opportunity. It’s gravy, though. The goal is always to create and leave behind better songs.