The Two Worlds of Needtobreathe
By Ryan Hamm and Seth "tower" Hurd
August 25, 2009
Needtobreathe has its feet in a lot of camps. On the one hand, they're
southern, roots-y rockers from small-town South Carolina who love the
Black Crowes. On the other side, they've grown accustomed to hanging
out in New York and LA with major label executives. They've been
nominated (and won) several Dove awards ... and they've had their songs
featured on The Hills and in a commercial spot for Desperate
Housewieves. They play sold-out shows to passionate fans; but they
still get tons of attention because one of them (a pop star named Miley
Cyrus ... heard of her?) tweeted about them.
The band's status as people who don't quite fit in led them to title their new record The Outsiders
(releasing today from Atlantic Records). "The title came from us feeling like
on a lot of different levels, we are different and that's a good
thing," says Bear Rinehart, lead singer for the band. "For a long time,
we were trying to fit into something that we weren't,
and that's a difficult thing. We became more and more comfortable over
the years with those scenarios—we felt like 'we've kind of made it
now.' That was some fake sense of worth. That really wasn't what we
were all about."
Rinehart recounts what helped to bring the band back around in time to record The Outsiders: "Something that pulled us back was that the songs on our
last record that were the most important, and most important live times were
those moments that were the most honest and real, that no one could
have called. They were the moments only we could claim. That gave us
a lot of confidence at the end of our tour and going into this record.
We were really proud of the fact that we came full circle with that."
result? Musically, the southern flare that put them on the map is still
there, though it shares much more with the loose Americana of classic
CCR than with the riff-driven Kings of Leon. The Outsiders is a
much bigger affair this time around, with layers of backing vocals,
hand claps, harmonica, B3 organ and piano building on the sound of the
last two albums. Former
Nickel Creek violinist Sara Watkins steps in for guest vocals on
“Stones,” a standout track focused on the brevity of life. Thematically, most of the 14 songs deal with life’s
struggles, in faith, in relationships, in the daily grind.
Doves and ... Desperate Housewives?
is one of those rare bands that seems to find success in both the
Contemporary Christian Music and the secular markets. But unlike other
bands who have had to "crossover" from the CCM world to the secular
world, Needtobreathe did it backwards, first signing with Atlantic
Records and only then releasing their music in the Christian market.
advantage we had was we signed with Atlantic
first—we passed on every Christian record deal that was in front of
us," Bear says. "But the reason our music is available in the
Christians market is because we wanted
it to be. When we were kids, Bo and I could only listen to Christian
music cause we had pretty strict parents. It was cool for us to have
good music to listen to. Really, on a very basic level, that's why we
made our music available in that [CCM] world: We felt like there were
out there who wanted some good music to listen to and we hoped we could
be a part of that. Most of our friends told us we were crazy for doing
it at all; we didn't need to do it, and the deal was done with Atlantic
first. It was intentional for us and we felt like it was important."
recounts the difficulty they had with the "Christian" label at the
beginning of their career. "One thing we’ve had to come to terms with,
as a band is that we need to play the same show, whether it’s at a
club, or at a Christian festival the next day. We’ve figured out as a
band there are certain things you can say from stage that will
help you sell more CD’s. The difficult thing for us was coming to grips
with who we are, and being consistent even if it means not all of the
Christian audience 'gets us.' We played one festival between two
worship bands, and most of the audience didn’t respond to us at all.
But that’s OK, because there might have been 20 people out of a crowd
of 2,000 that really understood what we do. But those are the ones who
really become strong fans, and we’re able to communicate with them in a
way those other bands weren’t able to."
reluctant stance toward the Christian music industry hasn't hurt
Needtobreathe in that market. They won two Dove awards (the CCM
equivalent of a Grammy) last year for their sophomore album, The Heat.
But Needtobreathe has gotten recognition in plenty of other areas than
just the Chrisian market. They've had songs featured in films like P.S. I Love You, on TV shows like The Hills and Prison Break
and on ESPN's NASCAR coverage and Fox's World Series broadcasts. Bear
laughs when asked about it, saying they only really got made fun of by
friends when they had a song appear in a commercial for Desperate Housewives.
"Anything seems more fake when you're a part of it. When you hear your
song on a movie or a commercial, it all of a sudden seems cheaper. I
try not to watch them anymore; we never watch movies or TV shows are
songs are in. It's a major letdown when you see them in there!"
Needtobreathe has grown more comfortable with the attention it
receives—even from the strangest places. They've discovered one of
their most vocal fans is none other than Miley Cyrus, the reigning
queen of all things tween and Disney. Cyrus tweeted several of the
band's lyrics and identified them as one of her favorites.
"It was hilarious," Bear says of the Miley tweets. "Of course, when it happened
someone on the bus got sent a message about it and I was like 'That
can't be true.' And then someone else got it. I thought it was
hilarious. And of course she spelled the name wrong when she quoted it!"
band is fine with Cyrus using Twitter to get their songs out and with
pretty much any other way people might hear about their music. "These
days it's like any way you can get your music to people it's a
good tool," Bear says. "You never know what kind of stations people get
town—I know radio sucks in a lot of places. Maybe TV is the best way to
get new music and maybe that's the only way. [We use] whatever avenue
can, and it's been a pretty cool thing.
"[Now] if you
come to a show and polled the audience and asked how they got there,
there are like 47 different ways they found out about the band."