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Ryan Necci on homecomings, MKE music and viral song remakes

Wisconsin native and rootsy country musician Ryan Necci may have traded Brew City for Music City, but he still considers Milwaukee his homebase when not in Nashville. 

His full band, Ryan Necci and the Buffalo Gospel (known simply as “Buffalo Gospel” during their MKE days), steadily released material in Milwaukee for nearly 10 years with a slew of Wisconsin-based collaborators, including Ryan Ogburn, Heidi Spencer, Allen Coté, Ben Lester, Christopher Porterfield, Nick Lang and Shane Leonard.

It’s only fitting, then, that Necci reached out to reunite with some of those colleagues and friends for a homecoming set this Friday, Nov. 25, in the Back Room @ Colectivo. Prior to the show, I talked to Necci about what to expect, the details of his most-recent EP and his deep Milwaukee roots.

When was the last time you were in Milwaukee? What is your go-to thing to do when you return home?

RN: I was lucky enough to share a backyard house show with the band Long Mama this summer. It was during the air show, so there were a few unavoidable flyovers, but that just made it feel like a pretty classic Milwaukee summer afternoon. I opened up with a little set and then got to sit back and enjoy their band perform. 

My go-to is to usually try and catch a show or two if I can and school myself a bit on what's going on musically in the city. The Public Museum is a pretty regular stop. I also really enjoy just wandering around and seeing what's changed downtown, and maybe dipping into a record store or antique shop.  

This is your sixth annual homecoming show. Give folks a feel of what to expect at Colectivo if they've never been to one of these shindigs.

Between you and I, and now all of your readers, the “Sixth Annual” title is a bit of a farce. We missed a few due to the pandemic. We were originally going to call it the “35th Annual,” but that felt a little too extreme. We've been doing a big show around Thanksgiving pretty regularly since the inception of the group, so it's really not too far off. 

All that said, we're gonna play a big set of old songs, new songs, sad songs, happy songs, murder songs, love songs and everything in between. We've invited a bunch of old friends to sit in with us throughout the night. I think it's going to get pretty chaotic but in the best way possible. We're all just looking forward to catching up, laughing hard and being in a room with good folks. 

Kyle Keegan, Ryan Ogburn, Kat Wodtke, Michael Rossetto and Allen Coté are just a few of the musicians set to share the stage with you. Tell us how you originally connected with them and what they'll bring (literally and figuratively) to your set Friday.

Kyle, Ryan, Allen and Michael Rossetto were all full-fledged members of The Buffalo Gospel at one time or another. The lineup has shifted a great deal over the 10 or 12 years we've been performing, and all those guys have had a pretty profound effect on the music we've made. 

They're some of the finest musicians I've been lucky enough to create with. Even after they moved on to other endeavors, their influence was still there, and I've remained a giant fan of all of them. 

Kat is a stellar songwriter I was introduced to through our guitarist, Andrew Koenig. He plays with our drummer, Nick Lang, in Kat's band, Long Mama. We've all been traveling in a similar orbit for a while now, and I've always been in love with Kat's work. She graced us with her beautiful vocals on a few songs at the house show I mentioned earlier, and I knew right then she'd be a great fit for this show.

Aside from all of that, they're some of my favorite people, and I'm thrilled we all get to be in a room together for a few hours. That doesn't happen nearly enough.

Johanna Rose is also part of Friday's bill. How did you come to be connected with them, and what does their work mean to you?

Johanna is another former Milwaukee artist that I've deeply admired since I first heard their music. We've played a few shows together over the years in different iterations, and they always blow me away. Their writing — and their beautiful voice — is timeless, raw and honest, three things that are tough to find in the music industry these days. Rumor has it they're bringing a full band for this one, and I couldn't be more excited as a fan.  

Battle Cry came out in May. What was the reception like for your latest EP in both your home state and your new scene in Nashville? What are some feelings and accolades that have really stuck with you since the release?

The reception has been a very warm one. It had been a while since we'd released anything new, and after the lockdown we were thrilled when BMG Music offered to put some songs out for us. I've been just kind of piling up new songs down here for the last few years, and eventually it just felt like the time had come to get back in the studio again. 

We worked with a producer, Bill McDermott, for the first time. He pulled together sort of a hybrid band of Kevin Rowe and Haley Rydell from The Buffalo Gospel along with a few studio musicians down here in Nashville. It was really cool to see the band come together and breathe life into the songs. 

It's been humbling to receive a number of very kind messages from folks who have found our songs to be a comfort in a difficult time. This EP seems to have resonated that way a bit, and that's the greatest gift I can imagine. 

All I've ever wanted our songs to do was make people going through a tough time feel a little less alone. I've been there at the bottom, and it's no place to be. Music was one of the things that saved me, and if we can be a comfort to even one person in their time of need, all of the work is well worth it.

A re-recorded version of your classic song “If I Was The Last Man" will be available soon. Why choose this particular song to breathe new life into? Has the story behind the song changed for you in any way?

"Classic" is very kind! Thank you. It was on our first album, We Can Be Horses, and we've been playing it pretty regularly at our live shows ever since. The story hasn't changed for me, but it feels like one of those songs that is abstract enough for listeners to pull their own story out of it. 

That's usually my approach — give enough details and lay a solid enough foundation so anyone can listen to the song and find something they relate to. I've never been one to write a really clear story in a song. I think it takes some of the magic out of it if the listener can't live inside the words and fill in some of the blanks with their own imagination and experiences.

I've been having a little fun posting videos of either myself, Haley and I, or a trio with Kevin playing stripped-down versions of some of our songs on Instagram. I posted a couple videos of me playing “If I Was the Last Man” out in my yard, certainly not expecting much, and they just sort of took off. We gained about 50,000 followers within a week or two, and a large chunk of those folks were requesting a recorded version of the song that was closer to what I was doing in the videos.

It just seemed like a no-brainer to go back into the studio and take another swing. We got some good friends to add a few parts — Ryan Ogburn and former Milwaukee / now Nashville musician Jamie Mitchell — and were lucky enough to have Milwaukee musician and engineer Ian Olvera help us pull it all together. I'm thrilled with where it landed, and I hope our listeners are, too.

What are you most thankful for this particular holiday?

My best friend and wonderful wife, Valerie, and my three dogs, Ernie, Jake and June Bug. I'm lucky beyond words, and they're the only home I know.