When NEEDTOBREATHE kicks off their upcoming tour May 1st at the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield, MO most fans will have no idea what a rocky road it was for the band to get there. In fact, lead vocalist Bear Rinehart admits they came very close to calling it quits, but somewhere in making their fifth studio album, "Rivers In the Wasteland," (due April 15 on Atlantic Records) the South Carolina rockers rediscovered the passion for music and appreciation for each other that placed them center stage to begin with.
After their 2011 album "The Reckoning," NTB spent over two relentless years on the road and lost drummer Joe Stillwell in mid 2012. Tensions continue to mount in the band and Rinehart says he, his brother/guitarist Bo and bassist Seth Bolt were ready to hang it all up. "It was a combination of a lot of things," Rinehart tells Billboard. "We'd been doing this for a long time and we hadn't really had enough rest to be honest. It had been probably eight or nine years since we'd taken a few weeks off and it makes it really easy to get your priorities messed up. Ambition had really taken hold of us a little bit. You start to value that more than the people around you, and that's really dangerous."
Listen to the premiere of new track "State I'm In":
It all came to a head as the band struggled to make the new album. "It had us pinned up against the wall," Rinehart says. "We had the songs for the most part written, but they just wouldn't go down in the studio for some reason. We flew out to LA for six weeks and only got three or four songs, so something obviously wasn't right. We would come home and just feel beat up by the process and feel like, 'Man, this should be a lot easier than this,' especially [because] the type of record we were making was a live take sort of thing. I thought the way we had the songs together, this should take two to three weeks and we should be done with it. So it forced us to look and we started to realize we really got ourselves into a mess. Individually, we looked at each other and said, 'How am I responsible for that?' That's what the record was about. That 'wasteland' that's where we thought we were and it was dry and uninspired. We needed to back up."
The band took six weeks off, during which time Rinehart brothers didn't even speak. "We were thinking about our role and what we wanted it to be," Rinehart recalls. "When we got back together we said, 'We can't do it the way we've been doing it and, if something doesn't change, then I don't want to do it anymore.' It's funny after that six week period of time both of us felt the same way. When we got together, it was like instantly putting it back into perspective, like, 'Hey we could give this up. We love each other. We're brothers and that's not going to change. This thing is something we do and it was given to us as a gift and not something we own or control or have to have.' And there was such a freedom making this record. I really feel like this album is such an autobiographical thing. It's really the transition in us as people put down to music over a year's period of time. When you listen to the album from start to finish you'll hear that."
The album was co-produced by the band and several producers including Joe Chiccarelli (My Morning Jacket), Kevin Augunas (The Lumineers), Ed Cash (Amy Grant, Jason Crabb) and Jerrod Bettis (Adele). Rinehart says the first track "Wasteland" describes where they were at the beginning of the recording process. "'Wasteland' is about feeling like, 'Man, we're at the bottom, but there is some hope.' A lyric in the song says 'there's a crack in the door filled with light' that is really where we were when we started the record. It was bleak, but at the same time, something was happening. We are here for a reason and we ended up naming the record Rivers in the Wasteland because we really felt like that hope, something came out of nothing. . . We started loving each other and enjoying the moment and immediately things started being more inspired. We started getting surprised by what was happening rather than dictating everything. That's really what the record is about."
In talking to Rinehart, his tone is much more relaxed than it was during the press push for "The Reckoning." The passion and sense of playfulness that first engaged both audiences and critics has returned. It's easy to see Rinehart is in a much more comfortable place now, but he admits there were some dark times, including Stillwell's departure. "That was a tough time for sure. We looked at each other, 'Are we still supposed to do this? Are we okay to do this?'" he relates. "We brought in a guy to play drums, Randall Harris, who was an intern for us before that. We had known him for years and didn't even know he played drums. He never said one word about it and come to find out, he's an absolute beast on the drums."
Rinehart is anxious for people to hear the new record. In addition to the sneak peak being offered on Billboard.com, fans will get a taste on Conan this week when NEEDTOBREATHE performs their first single "The Heart" on Feb. 20. "It's about the things we care about, the things that mean something to us," Rinehart says of the single. "We definitely started this band because we loved music. We had no idea how to make music into a business. We had no idea how to get from playing the places we were playing or to sign a record deal. This record was really about trying to get back to that and appreciating each other for what we bring to the table and really not worrying about the outcome. Somehow over time you get more concerned about the outcome than you do with the enjoyment of making it and that's really horrible for artists to ever be in that place."
Since the beginning the band has always had broad appeal and has been worked to both the mainstream rock and Christian rock markets. That approach continues with "Rivers In the Wasteland" as the track "Difference Maker" is climbing at Christian radio. "It's really about walking that line of humility and how that really makes you a difference maker. Maybe none of us should be an authority on too many things. I don't think that's our place especially as musicians. I feel like we can easily get on our soapbox. I think we wrote that song really to ourselves."
The band first rose to national prominence with 2006's Daylight and continued to gain momentum with 2007's The Heat. With 2009's "The Outsiders," the band's career hit another level and the album has sold 365,000 units according to Nielsen SoundScan. It was buoyed by the hit single "Something Beautiful," the band's best-selling digital song with 429,000 downloads. The guys followed with 2010's Live Horses and The Reckoning, which has sold 196,000 to date according to Nielsen SoundScan. A pair of EPs followed in 2012 ("Keep Your Eyes Open") and 2013 ("Cercas Blancas").
Rinehart says the band is looking forward to the tour. "It gives us a chance to revisit the old songs and just chop them all up and do them how we would do them now, and play a bunch of new stuff," he says. "It's going to be fun."
Foy Vance is the opener on the tour's first leg. "This guy is amazing and we're huge fans," says Rinehart. "The whole reason why we're taking him out is because we know our fans are going to love him."
Look for NEEDTOBREATHE on the road this spring.
Tour Dates (more to be announced):
May 1: Gillioz Theatre - Springfield, MO *
May 2: Brady Theater - Tulsa, OK *
May 3-4: Suburbia Music Festival - Plano, TX
May 5: Marquee Theatre - Phoenix, AZ
May 6: The Wiltern - Los Angeles, CA
May 7: The Fillmore - San Francisco, CA *
May 10: The Neptune - Seattle, WA
May 11: Vogue Theatre - Vancouver, BC *
May 14: The Fillmore - Denver, CO *
May 15: Uptown Theater - Kansas City, MO *
May 16-18: Hangout Festival - Gulf Shores, AL
May 31: The Tabernacle - Atlanta, GA *
June 1: The Tabernacle - Atlanta, GA *
June 3/14: Stage AE - Pittsburgh, PA
June 5: House of Blues - Cleveland, OH *
June 14: Murat Theatre - Indianapolis, IN *
June 8: Pabst Theater - Milwaukee, WI
June 10: Simon Estes - Des Moines, IA
June 12: Skyway Theatre - Minneapolis, MN *
June 13: The Pageant - St. Louis, MO *
June 14: House of Blues - Chicago, IL *
June 15: House of Blues - Chicago, IL *
June 17: Town Ballroom - Buffalo, NY *
June 19: Danforth Theatre - Toronto, ON
June 20: The Fillmore - Detroit, MI *
June 21: Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, MI *
* With Foy Vance