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"We're from a small town in South Carolina called Possum Kingdom," NEEDTOBREATHE frontman Bear Rinehart explains when asked about the place he and his younger brother/co-writer Bo were raised. "Trust me - there was absolutely no music scene there."
And, though he makes light of it, the relative isolation that came with growing up in such an environment must have played some part in fostering the independent-minded approach the Rinehart boys would later bring to their band. In this way, it makes perfect sense that NEEDTOBREATHE's third album is called The Outsiders' and listening to the anthemic title track that opens the 14-song collection, it's clear that they embrace this label as both a badge of honor and a battle cry.
The sons of an Assembly of God pastor, Bear and Bo Rinehart had inherited their father's gift with words, and put it to good use in their songwriting; their mother taught piano, making music a constant part of their young lives. Formed in 1999, NEEDTOBREATHE (with childhood friends Joe Stillwell and Seth Bolt) built an impressive regional following, playing throughout the Southeast. Along the way, they sold more than 15,000 copies of their self-released EP's, recorded by Seth, who had earned a degree in record engineering. 2006 saw the release of the band's major label debut, Daylight, and a relentless, national touring schedule. Despite being on the road nearly non-stop, NEEDTOBREATHE returned the following year with The Heat, which went to #2 on the Heatseekers chart and spawned the hit single "More Time," a top 10 success at Triple-A radio (sitting alongside established artists like Coldplay and Jack Johnson). The group's penchant for capturing a poignant moment or eliciting an emotion with their music is evidenced by the numerous songs from each of their albums that have appeared in film and television, including the Hilary Swank-starring, motion picture P.S. I Love You and MTV's "The Hills," among many others.
On their latest album, The Outsiders, NEEDTOBREATHE has truly come into their own, seamlessly blending ambient, arena-ready soundscapes with a decidedly Southern sensibility. "The 'Southern thing' is very scary to some people," Bear laughs. "But for us, it's not so much a sound than a feeling. It's just about having some soul in the words you write, the music that you play. And it's something that just comes naturally to us."
It might also be that "Southern thing" that lends a soulful warmth to Bear's distinct voice, providing the perfect foil to each song. From the soaring majesty of "Something Beautiful" to the philosophically minded ballad "These Hard Times," his vocals are emotive yet honest, making the words he's singing all the more powerful and moving. "Stones Under Rushing Water" (featuring Sara Watkins of the Grammy award winning group Nickel Creek) is achingly beautiful, both musically and, perhaps even more so, lyrically. "My favorite love songs are the ones that say things in the simplest terms," Bear relates. "When you think of a song like [Percy Sledge's] 'When a Man Loves a Woman,' the words just don't get much plainer. But the emotional impact is overwhelming."
Then there's the blues-inflected rocker "Prisoner" with its searing guitar solo - a first for the band ("It's about as 'Smoke On The Water' as NEEDTOBREATHE gets," Bear jokes). The alt-rock edge of "Hurricane" is countered by the back-porch ease of "Won't Turn Back" and the gospel feel of "Lay 'Em Down." The Peter Gabriel-esque anthem "Through Smoke" (inspired by a toy organ the group bought at a thrift store) and the orchestrally driven "Garden," build on the album's wide range of sounds. "We've never said we can't do something because it sounds a little country or too modern rock, because then we wouldn't be staying true to our ourselves," Bo elaborates.
And while they defy any restrictions to the style of music they play, NEEDTOBREATHE has a very clear idea of how they want their songs to sound. "Over the past two albums, we've learned that you can't look to a producer to make you great, that the magic has to come from within the band," Bear explains. "Instead, we wanted to work with collaborators that would bring a fresh perspective and, on the practical side, a particular expertise to the table."
To that end, the band deliberately chose to co-produce The Outsiders with three different producers with recording sessions taking place in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Charleston. "Jim Scott is an old school guy who's produced some of our favorite records. I mean, he worked on Tom Petty's Wildflowers? Wilco was leaving the studio when we were going in," Bear enthuses. "He doesn't use any Pro-Tools at all so it really challenged us as a band. Instead, he's got a bunch of old, vintage equipment that he uses it in a really cool way. Above all, we just really felt connected to him." A former jazz guitar teacher, Rick Beato (Shinedown, Jump Little Children) comes from what Bear calls, "a virtuoso standpoint. We knew from working with him on The Heat that he's such a talented musician, both creatively and technically. We really came to him as our problem solver." The third co-producer, John Alagia, worked with the likes of Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer - "Artists that were known as live artists," Bear continues. "Every band that's worth their salt live is trying to capture something in the studio that represents the magic that happens when they play together on stage. John helped us do that."
And it is truly magic when the four members of NEEDTOBREATHE take the stage. The band has honed their live show the old-fashioned way - putting in the time, spending years on the road. Aside from their skillful musicianship, there's a spontaneous energy that intangibly connects them with their audience, and their powerful performances have helped build a dedicated fan base that's been clamoring for The Outsiders.
"We've seen over the years that our fans consider NEEDTOBREATHE to be a whole experience," explains Bo. "Having a hit single is great and everything, but the only relationship a fan has with most bands like that is the three minutes they hear on the radio. We've always wanted something deeper than that."
"I feel like people who listen to our band have come to be fans of our albums, which has been really rewarding," Bear agrees. "I think NEEDTOBREATHE is bigger than any one song and that's something we've always worked toward."
Without a doubt, NEEDTOBREATHE are extremely proud of The Outsiders and can't wait to see what will unfold for the band next. "This band is our life - it's everything, really the only thing, that we've done for the last 10 years," Bear continues, explaining that the band literally poured everything they had into The Outsiders. "We know this is the best record we've ever made."