The band plays the Glass House in Pomona on April 30 and the El Rey Theatre in LA on May 1. Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records and needtobreathe.net.
Bear Rinehart traded the playing field for a concert stage.
As wide receiver at Greenville, S.C.’s Furman University, he helped lead the football team to consecutive playoff appearances, broke several all-time school records and won a prestigious sporting award.
Raised by a pastor/trumpeter father (who performed with Roy Clark and Glen Campbell) and a mother proficient on piano, music was ingrained in the Rinehart family life.
The career decision was a no-brainer.
“I had a real passion for music in college,” admits the needtobreathe singer, in a phone interview from Charleston , where the rock band has a home studio. “It wasn’t like I didn’t like football; I just had no desire to play for the NFL. Music was an obvious choice for me. I have a hard time faking it.”
Acclaimed third album The Outsiders made a top 20 debut on the Billboard 200 last summer and has spawned two hit singles (the stomping, inspirational “Lay ‘Em Down”; shimmering “Something Beautiful”) at various radio formats. The latter tune can be heard in romantic comedy When in Rome starring Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell, while new single “Hurricane” is set to climb the alternative charts.
Named after successful University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, Rinehart formed an early incarnation of needtobreathe in 2000, playing coffeehouses around campus. Upon graduation two years later, the lineup was solidified in nearby Seneca (population 8,000) by his guitarist brother Bo, bassist Seth Bolt and drummer Joe Stillwell (a fellow Furman alum). Bo was also drawn to the gridiron, having served as an acting double in the ‘03 Cuba Gooding Jr. football flick “Radio.”
Needtobreathe – the moniker was derived from a story about Greek philosopher Socrates – recorded an indie album and two EPs. Atlantic Records released major label bow Daylight in 2006; tours with Train, Jars of Clay and Collective Soul (whose vocalist Ed Roland would produce songs on expansive, Dove Award-winning 2007 album The Heat) ensued.
The band took an organic approach on the excellent The Outsiders, adding elements of folk, blues and soul. What results is a compelling cross between U2 and Black Crowes.
“Each record has seen us branching out a little further,” explains Rinehart. “We’ve also become more honest about what we like. We really had to get behind it and say, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I writing this song? Who is it for?’ Ultimately, if we don’t go crazy over it in the studio, we won’t put it on…That led us to [using] slide guitars, banjos and harmonica.”
Rinehart says the album opener and title track reflects their roots. “We didn’t come from a big music scene and always felt like we were outside looking in.”
Key tracks include the duet with Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek on plaintive ballad “Stones Under Rushing Water,” the driving intensity of “Hurricane,” rollicking “Girl Called Tennessee” (“I was trying to get a Jerry Lee Lewis feel”) and anthemic closer, “Let Us Love” featuring a gang chorus. It was done “live, in the moment. The lesson there was we have to trust ourselves and let spontaneity happen.”
This time, the guys were also more hands-on, serving as co-producers, while Bolt - who has a recording degree and opened Plantation Studios when he was 16 - assisted with mixing and engineering.
“You can be more harsh with people you know,” Rinehart jokes about the benefits of Bolt’s expertise. “We do things differently. What the band does is the law. Nobody goes home because they’re not feeling well. Everybody’s working and we don’t [leave] until we get it right. That makes the atmosphere around what we do more important. It feels like a real team, having Seth do that and Bo doing all the art and web site.”
Songwriting duties are usually divided equally between the siblings. “There’s hardly any songs in our career where one of us brought everything to the table. It’s always a work in progress where we come together. I think that’s good. Because we’re brothers, some people [assume we’re] similar - that couldn’t be further from the truth. Me and Bo are the most opposite two people could possibly be.”
Bear cites influences like Joe Cocker, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen - “basically anybody with a chip on their shoulder” - and believes “everybody has something they need to prove…If we don’t, we should hang it up. Once Springsteen became successful, I respect and appreciate the fact he always had that passion.”
Although the Christian music community was first to embrace needtobreathe (and continues to do so – they’re nominated for three 2010 Dove Awards), Rinehart doesn’t like being slotted exclusively in that genre because he says the band makes music for everyone, regardless of faith.
Following an extended break earlier this year, needtobreathe is anxious to get back on the road and play bigger venues as a headliner. In June, they’ll play Bonnaroo for the first time.
“This is definitely a new level for us and it’s very exciting…We’re constantly after a relationship with people through the record or the live thing. It’s built on sincerity and honesty. Those things are our strengths.”