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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Buffalo Gospel Find Hope and Strength on Debut

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As you drive into Plains states like South Dakota, chances are that you’ll come across barren wilderness like the Badlands, with nothing but seeming desolation for miles. A variety of animals call these areas home, including buffalo. For Ryan Necci, lead singer of Milwaukee Americana/alt-country band Buffalo Gospel, he always enjoys traveling through these places on tour and has grown especially fond of buffalo of late.

“Over the past few years it’s almost become my spirit animal,” says Necci. “It’s been a rough couple of years for me personally and this is sort of the thing that’s gotten me through it. It’s very close to my heart now.”

His band’s debut full-length, We Can be Horses, finds Necci writing from personal experience, unraveling lyrics that draw on these challenging times and trying to find direction in life. In the song “The Northern,” he references the album’s title, singing “we can be horses, we never have to come back,” seeking out happier and more hopeful times.

“There’s a theme, at least in my head, of lost hopelessness all the way to finding something and going somewhere and hopefulness,” says Necci. “Just this theme of leaving your current situation that can be terrible and finding something hopeful and moving towards that and that line really works well with it.”

When it comes to his actual band though, there’s nothing but good vibes all around. The band also features singer Heidi Spencer and her Rare Birds guitarist Allen Coté, as well as mandolin player Ryan Ogburn, bass player Brian Wells and drummer Kyle Keegan.

“Everybody’s very laidback and very professional,” Necci says. “They come in with their parts and are masters at their craft.”

Necci had previously played with Ogburn and Keegan in the band Fat Maw Rooney, which helped the chemistry, but he adds that everyone in the band has played shows with each other and are big fans of each other. When Fat Maw Rooney broke up Necci started this band with the songs he had written on the side. From there, it went from a hobby to a working band quickly.

“It was never intended to be a band,” Necci says. “We just wanted to go into the studio and have a good time together. And it just kind of evolved like, ‘Well, let’s not just do it ourselves. Let’s actually go into a real studio. Let’s get these people to do it.’”

They headed to Jeff Hamilton’s studio with producer Tony Scholl. With the exception of Spencer, who added her vocals later, the band played the songs mostly live. Previously, the band had settled on mainly “laidback” folk songs with their two EPs. But for this album, which they completed in three days, the slightly altered lineup added Americana, country, bluegrass and rock influences.

“Ninety-five percent of the record is live which was really fun and that’s how we kind of prefer to do it,” says Necci. “A lot of the songs are second or third takes and we were ready to go.”

The recording was a new experience for Spencer, who usually fronts her own band. “I’m so used to being a lead player and writing my own melodies,” she says.

“So a lot of time she’ll come with her own harmonies written, and most of the time they’re way cooler than anything I wrote,” Necci adds. “I know that she’s versatile enough that whatever she does it going to be pretty stunning.”

For Necci, there was a big gap in the songwriting of the album. He had finished five or six songs before hitting some rough times. When things improved he had his mind set on recording just those songs, but Spencer suggested, to his initial disappointment, that they should do another four or five and make a full-length album.

“Heidi and I got a beer together and she said, ‘You have 60% of a good album here,’” says Necci. “In hindsight I’m really glad, because I feel a lot of the stronger ones came out of that second phase of writing.”

Buffalo Gospel will release We Can be Horses and play their first-ever show Saturday, July 27, at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn with Jonathan Burks at 9 p.m. $5 cover or $10 with CD.