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NeedtoBreathe on How Rock Music Has Changed & What They Take With Them on Every Tour
After debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with Hard Love (July 15), South Carolina's NeedToBreathe embarked on their Tour De Compadres, featuring 53 dates across the U.S. The band, comprised of brothers Bear and Bo Rinehart, Seth Bolt, and Josh Lovelace, has been playing together for over 15 years -- but they're still experimenting. They earned their first Hot 100-charting single in 2015 with "Brother," and promptly took a whole (and considerably more danceable) tack with Hard Love, which landed atop Billboard's Top Albums chart.
Calling in from the road, Bear, 35, talks about taking chances in rock, how he thinks the genre's changed, and why the only souvenir he looks for in every city is a wooden animal.
When you heard Hard Love completed for the first time, could you tell that it would be a hit?
We were pretty nervous for the record to be out, to be honest, because it’s so different from our last one -- there was just no way to tell how people are going to receive it. Hearing it every day, the change happened gradually. It wasn't as shocking. When you’re a fan two years removed from the last record, and the new one is like, “Whoa, so new...” But it’s been received incredibly well -- way better than we expected.
You've been playing together for so long -- how do you stay inspired enough to try new things?
We’re very aware of repeating what we’ve done before, and we hate that. We’re still a band that doesn't feel like we can go through the motions in any way -- even the songs from four records ago we play live in a different way, just to freshen them up. I think it’s important for people to know that you’re genuine and sincere, and in order for people to know that you’ve got to continue breaking down the model and starting over. You also have to be willing to fall on your face a little bit, because you’re going into new territory you may not be an expert in. My favorite artists and records have always been those that you knew took chances, and I think that’s something we can relate to.
Are there any recent examples that you would point to?
You know, I’ve always looked to Beck as an example of that. I didn’t realize I would like him as a folk star as much as I did. He’s an artist that shows a lot of different sides of himself -- I just can’t imagine going from turntables to what he does now. But he’s done it in a very great way, obviously.
How's the tour been going so far?
It’s been incredible. We rocked the songs up a bit, which we always do, but we also did some things that we’re not used to. I’m doing some songs where I’m not on guitar, which is the first time I’ve done that -- maybe ever in my career. Some things are a bit flashier -- we’ve got a video screen and stuff like that. There are some vocal effects too, like a Bon Iver meets Kanye sort of thing. So we’re experimenting with some new things, and the fans have been really receptive. I saw a fan say, “This is the weirdest music show we’ve ever been to," and I was like, “We’re proud of that.”
It’s an interesting time to make rock music -- in 2016, it's certainly not the dominant force in pop it once was -- but obviously you guys have carved out a niche.
When I listen to alternative radio now there are so many bands that I'm into, where 10 years ago it was a lot of what we called butt rock: you know, drop-tuning, people wearing black t-shirts etc. In a way, I think it’s much more musical now. Rock can go a lot of different directions. My favorite Pearl Jam record is Yield -- we’ve always been influenced by that band, but that’s a very musical record it has horns and strings and all these experimental things for that band, and I think it’s one of the best that they did.
We’re in a time where bands can do that -- sort of stretch their legs -- and I think it’s probably because audiences, fans are listening to a million different things. I do think people are listening to really rock records right after pop records, or rap records or whatever it is. People’s palettes are much broader. It used to be like 1+1=2 -- like when Aerosmith played with Run-D.M.C., it’s rap and rock: that’s a cool combo. But now there could be 47 combos in one band, like a little bit of EDM or a little bit of folk, or anything. That’s good for artists, because they don’t feel limited by the genre they’re "in."
What’s the most unexpected record on your personal playlist?
Probably Selena Gomez -- I like pop more than I used to. When we first started playing guitar, I didn't like anything that didn’t have guitar. For whatever reason, over time I've learned to appreciate those kinds of things. I think our number one song for walking off stage is always [Naughty By Nature's] "O.P.P." It just gets the mood going after a show -- people probably don’t envision that as our dressing room music but…
Speaking of pop, you guys opened for Taylor Swift for a while. What was that like?
Yeah -- 80 shows! It’s crazy how that all happened. She was a fan -- it didn’t probably make much sense businesswise for her. She sort of stuck her neck out for us, which was really cool. We were a little in over our heads, playing stadiums and arenas at a time when we'd just been playing clubs and theaters. So, she taught us a lot about connecting to an audience that big and we’re still trying to learn all of those lessons. She’s obviously great at what she does, and incredibly professional.
Sometimes we talk with somebody now, who says, “I found you on that tour!” And they were in middle school [during the Speak Now tour]. That’s amazing, obviously. It was really good for us to be able to be exposed to that type of audience, that type of market. People took us more seriously.
You've spoken a little bit in the past about not wanting to be just described as Christian artists -- do you see this as the moment to cross over?
No, I don’t think at this time our career is any different from any other. We could have had that interview 10 years ago. The point I want to make the most is that we just hate the idea that people think we’re not making music for them -- that they would write it off before they hear it. That’s the biggest struggle with it. I don’t want to be disparaging towards Christian music at all, they’ve been very welcoming to us and great fans. I obviously grew up listening to it, which I say in the article. The difference between [making Christian and secular music] probably doesn’t take nearly as much of our attention as people think it does.
NeedToBreathe's Bear Rinehart's 5 Tour Essentials
1. "I have probably 10 cellphone chargers in different places: the bus, the dressing room, the stage. If you're not connected to home, it can get very weird out here."
2. "Sports equipment is important for me -- anything I can beat the other guys at, I'm into! But football is my favorite sport. I was a receiver in college."
3. "This tour, we actually have a record player in the dressing room. We like to play soul and gospel before we go onstage, along with everything from Elvis to The Black Keys."
4. "As long as I have my pillow, I can sleep by a dumpster and be OK. It makes me feel at home anywhere. I got it as a gift -- it's supposed to keep you cool. It's a real fancy pillow."
5. "At every stop, I find a wooden animal for my son and write the date and city on the bottom. When he's old enough, he'll have about 3,000 animals telling him where Dad has been."