With its spring tour wrapped, Needtobreathe is ready to get back into the studio to finish its fifth album, which frontman Bear Rinehart says is "three-quarters of the way through" after sessions in Los Angeles and Nashville.
"We've got another couple months to work on it, and it should come out in the fall," Rinehart tells Billboard. He describes the as-yet-untitled set as "a rootsy record. We're always fighting that battle back and forth; we go in feeling like we're going to make a really big record, pull out all the stops, then strip it all the way down."
Working initially at the current Sound City Studios in California before relocating to Nashville, Rinehart says Needtobreathe has recorded to tape for "just a really raw, band-is-in-the-room kind of sound. That's what we were looking for. There's a lot of first-take stuff, a lot of leaving mistakes in, letting it feel real."
He estimates that the group has worked on about 15 tracks so far, and it's been playing a few -- "Difference Maker," "Suspicion" and "a Creedenceish rock 'n' roll song" called "Carolina" -- during its shows.
"We feel like the live thing lets us improve (the songs)," Rinehart explains. "It just naturally improves it; we can see what would be better in this section or that section when we play it in front of people and then go back in and make it better."
So far the group has worked with regular collaborator Rick Beato as well as Joe Chiccarelli (the White Stripes, the Strokes, Jason Mraz) and others. Rinehart also feels that the new material is "a little lighter" than its predecessors, particularly 2011's "The Reckoning."
"'The Reckoning' was a pretty dark record, in my opinion," Rinehart notes. "I think this one's a little more hopeful, a little more about having fun. It doesn't have the same tension, which I think is a good thing. I think the band is in a little more secure place. There's still plenty of drama going on, but it's really eased up a lot. I think we've grown up a lot in the last couple of years and have gotten more on the same page about things. That's definitely having an impact on (the songs)."
"The Reckoning" was, however, a huge success for Needtobreathe, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and hitting No. 1 on both the Rock and Christian album charts. But Rinehart claims "there's less pressure" on the South Carolina group this time than it felt before.
"During 'The Reckoning' we put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves, and at the end of the process all of us felt like that wasn't good for the band," he explains. "It didn't necessarily make the record better; it just put extra pressure on us and made some things tougher. Right now we really feel like the band is in a good spot, and more than any record we've been able to articulate what kind of record we want to make. We're very unified about it, which hasn't happened before. So we really can't wait to get this finished and out there."