High Hopes: Needtobreathe

There comes a time in every band’s life when they’re confronted with big decisions. In the case of South Carolina trio Needtobreathe, that moment arrived during the making of new album Rivers In The Wasteland.

“This process has been the toughest on us,” says multi-instrumentalist Bo Rinehart, who co-writes everything with brother and lead vocalist Bear. “This is our fifth record and we’d gotten to the point where the band was more focused on success and the wrong kind of things. Bear and I were at completely different ends of the spectrum and didn’t speak for two months. Eventually we stopped blaming each other and realised that we were at the heart of what the problem was. That brought about a big change in the band.”

The decision to start afresh was a sound one. The strident Southern punch of Rivers In The Wasteland, which marries the melodic suss of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers to the bluff dynamics of early Kings Of Leon, raced to No.3 in the US album chart. It’s their biggest Top 20 Billboard success, following on from 2011’s The Reckoning and its predecessor, The Outsiders (2009).

The latter was a particularly apposite title, given that it took a while for Needtobreathe to feel like they belonged. As devout Christians, their songs are strewn with biblical metaphors and allusions. “We’ve been going for 14 years and it was hard at first,” admits Bo. “It’s not cool to be Christians in a rock’n’roll band. And from the other side, to have any music in the secular mainstream is frowned upon too. So we felt caught between a rock and a hard place. We used to care about that a lot, but it’s been an incredible release knowing that we can say whatever we want and be exactly who we are.”

Coming from the brilliantly named Possum Kingdom, the Rineharts bonded over Petty, The Black Crowes, the Stones and “anything that had grit and soul”. In the meantime, as sons of the local church pastor, sacred music ran deep in their bones. One of their key signifiers is their expert harmonies, abetted by childhood friend and Needtobreathe bassist Seth Bolt. “Growing up in church means that you’re always finding harmonies,” Bo offers. “And that gospel thing pokes its head out in our music.”

Their father is another chief influence. In the 60s, Bill Rinehart was a member of LA cult legends The Leaves and The Merry Go-Round, as well as the co-author of several Gene Clark songs. “He also toured with Roy Clark and Glen Campbell back in the day,” adds Bo, “so he’s always loved music and been really encouraging.”

Nine years on from their debut LP Daylight, Needtobreathe have yet to slay the UK like they have the US – but that’s surely just a matter of time. “It’s amazing right now because of the reconciliation with Bear. We’ve set our sights on the future and we’re not looking back.”

Rivers In The Wasteland is out now on Atlantic.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.