Ahead of his upcoming appearance at Upper Bout, sponsored by RightHereMusic.org, I sat down with singer/songwriter Ryan Necci to learn about his humble beginning, his musical journey, and how writing music is therapy for him. Necci’s band, Ryan Necci and the Buffalo Gospel, is on a mission to redefine the essence of Americana and even Country music. His journey, as revealed in our candid interview, is as textured as the music he creates, woven from strands of personal history, artistic integrity, and a deep-seated commitment to inclusivity and mental well-being.
Ryan Necci’s childhood, set against the backdrop of a small Wisconsin farm, played a significant role in his musical journey. This environment as he describes, was not just about the rural setting but also about the cultural and familial influences that shaped him. “I grew up with a couple of parents that were very into traditional country singer-songwriters and folk music. We had a ton of records around the house that really informed my love for songwriting and lyrics,” he recalls. This exposure to a rich musical heritage laid the groundwork for his artistic development.
Necci’s mother, in particular, had a unique influence on him. As a writer of romance novels, she was deeply invested in the English language and imparted this love to her son. “My mom was also writing romance novels at the time. So she was very big on the English language and teaching us how to type and all those kinds of things,” Necci shares. This early immersion in storytelling and language was not just educational but inspirational, steering him towards a path of creative expression. For Necci, these experiences were more than just childhood memories; they were the seeds that blossomed into his career as a musician, where storytelling became an integral part of his artistic identity.
The inception of Ryan Necci and the Buffalo Gospel marks a significant chapter in Necci’s musical journey, evolving from a personal project to a full-fledged band with a distinct identity. The choice of ‘Buffalo Gospel’ as the band’s name was more than a mere label; it was a reflection of Necci’s connection to the American bison and the plains states, symbolizing resilience and a grounded nature. Necci shares his personal connection, “I’ve always loved the American bison. It’s always kind of felt like what I gravitate towards in the animal kingdom. I’m kind of big and dumb and plodding. But I also get there eventually, and I’m resilient.” The name resonated with the band’s ethos and Necci’s personal journey, encapsulating a sense of perseverance and authenticity. “Gospel” represents truth and honesty, core values that are integral to their music.
In our conversation, Necci delved into the evolution of his music, particularly addressing how he uses his songs as a vessel to navigate through personal struggles. “That can be difficult, Necci explains. “I try and treat songwriting like a blue-collar job. I show up every day for a set period of time and work.” His methodical approach to songwriting is not about waiting for inspiration to strike but rather about maintaining a disciplined routine.
Necci’s music, especially in dealing with themes of darkness, becomes a canvas for him to express and process complex emotions. For Necci, writing music isn’t solely about creating melodies; it’s a means to process and express his thoughts and emotions, particularly the challenging ones. He acknowledges the challenges in translating personal experiences into lyrics and music, noting that sometimes the process yields a song, a line, or something that might inform future work. This process is akin to a workout for him, as he mentions, “It’s a muscle that if I go a month without writing, I’ll definitely feel that atrophy.”
Inclusivity is also a key aspect of Ryan Necci’s ethos, both personally and within his band, Ryan Necci and the Buffalo Gospel. Necci and his band take active steps to ensure their music and performances are inclusive spaces. He acknowledges, “We’re doing our best and I know it’s not enough. I know that a lot of artists are not doing enough.” This recognition of the need for more inclusivity in the music industry is a driving force for the band’s efforts.
The topic of inclusivity is personal to the band because one of their members as well. “We have been trying to book opening acts that either have a female artist, persons of color, or other diversity.” This conscious effort to include diverse artists in their shows demonstrates their commitment to breaking down barriers within their music scene. By actively seeking out and including underrepresented artists, they are not just talking about inclusivity but are practicing it.
The band’s commitment extends to challenging the norms within the larger music industry, particularly in festival line-ups and events. “I think we’re starting to have some difficult conversations about balance on festival rosters and things like that,” Necci comments. These types of conversations are crucial in shifting the industry towards a more inclusive and balanced representation. These were similar issues I discussed with Adeem the Artist, a country artist who identifies as non-binary, back in October.
Necci’s thoughts on mental health are particularly poignant. He advocates for open discussions about mental well-being, both in and out of the music industry. “We need to talk about mental health, to bring it into the light,” he urges. His music often touches on these themes, offering solace and understanding to those who struggle with mental health issues.
I asked Necci how he felt about the current state of Americana music. Necci perceives a significant difference in how the genre is evolving compared to mainstream country music. He believes that the lack of traditional gatekeepers in Americana and folk music are a key factor for this, and as well as its increasing popularity. “The reason that it’s kind of blowing up at the moment is the gatekeepers aren’t there, necessarily,” Necci explains, referring to the ones that guard the institution of Country Music in Nashville. This absence allows for a more diverse range of voices and styles to emerge in Americana, providing a platform for singer-songwriters who might not fit the commercial country mold.
In an environment where division can be prevalent, Necci’s music aims to unite and heal. His approach to songwriting and performance demonstrates a belief in the unifying power of music. Through his art, Necci offers a space where listeners can come together, find common ground, and perhaps gain a deeper understanding of themselves and others.