The Unexpected Journey of NEED TO BREATHE
By lindsay williams
October 3, 2011
They just made their network television debut on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, are currently on tour with Taylor Swift and released their self-proclaimed “career album” two weeks ago. Life is good for NEEDTOBREATHE—but the journey hasn’t always been easy.
From the outside looking in, the life of a touring artist is glamorous, but for anyone who has insight into the true toils of road life, you know it’s not quite as attractive as it seems. With all the challenges it presents—long stints away from family, grueling schedules, isolation—the biggest obstacle for NEEDTOBREATHE’s Bo Rinehart might surprise you.
“I think the biggest challenge is having a brother in the band,” Rinehart shares. “We’re the songwriters, and we’re extremely stubborn and passionate about what we do. Inevitably, we’re going to bump heads. It’s a cycle, and it keeps happening. That takes its toll, but we’ve come to the understanding that’s what makes our music great. We really feel like we help refine each other. It really challenges us to write better, play better and to not have our standards fall short.”
The band—11 years strong and made up of brothers Bo and Bear Rinehart and friends Seth Bolt and Joe Stillwell—have increasingly high standards that are self-imposed. “That’s the trick—trying to make four dudes love what they do and love the music they’re putting out and believe in those lyrics that we sing,” Rinehart says. “That’s something we committed to probably around the second record. We just felt like everybody’s gotta be full steam ahead; otherwise, we’re just going out here and playing songs we don’t believe in.”
It’s evident in the delivery of popular songs like “Washed by the Water,” “Lay ‘Em Down” and “Something Beautiful” that the band passionately believes the lyrics to their songs. Their fervor and heartfelt musicianship has resonated with fans, yielding recognition from a plethora of A-list artists, including Taylor Swift. The songstress took her fandom a step further and invited the Southern rock outfit to open for her on her larger-than-life Speak Now Tour. Though not a tour the band would have chosen, it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. Their music is now being heard by thousands of new, enthusiastic fans each night.
“Whether or not people feel like it’s a fit, [Taylor’s] very passionate about her craft, and she truly is a music lover,” Rinehart says. “[Taylor] appreciates bands and live music. That’s exciting to us, ‘cause some people you can get on tour with are not really music fans. It’s just a paycheck; it becomes more of a business. And I think to her, even though it has become a mecca, she definitely does care about the music. We respect her as an artist.”
When it comes to amassing fans, the band’s preference is quality over quantity, even in stadiums filled to capacity with fanatical fans revved up to see Swift. “When we get out there, and we’re doing our thing, we don’t change what we do,” Rinehart emphasizes. “We have always gone by the motto, ‘Either love us or hate us.’ Even though there are 15,000 people in these arenas, we don’t feel like we need to make 10,000 of them fans. We feel like we need to make 300 to 400 completely, sold-out, in love with NEEDTOBREATHE sort of fans.”
But what aptly defines a NEEDTOBREATHE fan? The Rinehart brothers grew up as preacher’s kids, and with faith-infused lyrics, the band has always lived in the nebulous land between Christian and non-Christian industries, leaving many questioning what the band believes and who their audience is.
For the band, having success in the Christian music arena is both refreshing and unexpected.
“We have never been a band to reject people who love the music. Some people want their fans to be a certain thing, and we want our fans to love music. However they come, it doesn’t really matter to us because I think the level at which we relate to them is all about the music,” Rinehart says. “I don’t think they have to wear certain types of clothes; they don’t have to be a certain type of person. The type of people we’re looking for are people who dig what we do. And that’s it. So we welcome any type of fan.”
Regardless of the high-profile touring gig, TV and film placement, radio success, legions of loyal fans or their recent debut appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the men in NEEDTOBREATHE are themselves lovers of good music, passionate about creating meaningful art. “Whether we had fans or not, this is what I would want to be doing,” Rinehart says. “Once you find that thing—maybe you’re good at it, maybe you’re not, but there’s just something about it that is addicting. … I feel like in music, I have that all the time. There’s always this brand-new feeling or way of thinking about something that I’ve never thought of before. It just opens up your eyes in a new way.
“For me, writing new material is a little bit of trying to chase down that feeling of something that I’ve never felt before,” he continues. “And whenever that happens, it makes you want to keep doing it.”
The band has been chasing down that feeling and hard at work on their fourth studio album, The Reckoning (Atlantic/Word). Produced by Rick Beato (Shinedown, Jump Little Children), the album’s recording process was inspired by Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down a Dream DVD, with the band taking cues from Petty to concentrate on fewer songs and simply take those select songs to a whole new level.
“In the past, we’ve always come with 50 or 60 demos and just tried to choose the best ones out of those,” Rinehart explains. “In this case, we really wanted to focus on songs. … What’s the song we’re feeling in this moment?” The band members really tried to capture their live magic on tape, while also experimenting with their sound using everything from toy instruments to coffee cans.
The intentional, focused effort paid off. From top to bottom, the band is as pleased with this record as any they’ve made thus far. “We’re just going to keep trying to figure this thing out, and obviously make a lot of mistakes along the way. As of this moment, I feel like it’s as close to a classic record as we can ever make at this point,” Rinehart says. “If you don’t like this record, then you probably aren’t going to like NEEDTOBREATHE.”
For tour dates and more info on The Reckoning, visit NEEDTOBREATHE.net.