NEEDTOBREATHE return to the Magic City for two nights on the heels of 2014’s Rivers in the Wasteland. The Rinehart brothers, Bear and Bo, have a long history with the state of Alabama, with their parents’ roots stemming from Birmingham to Butler. While the family relocated to South Carolina, Bear still bears the name of one of the state’s most familiar celebrities and is eager to cheer for the team Bryant coached from afar.
Bear spoke to Weld about the name, about the Rineharts’ relationship with Alabama and their faith.
Weld: You have a couple of nights coming up at the Alabama Theatre, a venue I’ve heard you really love. Did I understand that you watched a memorable show there several years ago?
Bear Rinehart: Yeah, the first show we ever saw there was the Black Crowes. We were on the road at the time, and we somehow got some tickets and went and we were blown away by the place. It was a couple of years before we got to play there. That was a big deal, for us to get to play there the first time. Obviously, we’ve been back a bunch of times and it’s always great. Obviously it’s a beautiful venue, but it’s a good rock and roll show, too.
Weld: Do you remember the venue you guys were playing on that trip?
BR: I don’t. I remember we were in a van, for sure, so it has to be several years ago. I had seen the Crowes a few times, but never in a venue like that. When you’re in a band and you play the venues, you don’t ever see the front. You don’t get to walk in like a fan does. So it’s special for us to get that feeling at some of the venues like that, some of the ones closer to home, like Tabernacle [in Atlanta] or the Ryman [in Nashville] — places we’ve been to a show. It makes the experience completely different for us.
Weld: Why did you guys decide to record Rivers in the Wasteland without the same electronic elements of The Outsiders and The Reckoning?
BR: I think we wanted to react — The Reckoning was such a big record, sound wise, which was on purpose. We really wanted to throw the kitchen sink at the production. And this one, we wanted to make it as raw as we could. We wanted to get in a room together and play it live. I think that’s what it ended up sounding like, that’s what the process was like. I think the record was a really vulnerable record that we ended up making, partly because of the sound, but really because of the songs and the lyrics. It just fit what we were trying to say. If we had had a big arena rock-sounding record, it wouldn’t have fit for this. The record is a personal one and I think the acoustic stuff and the more stripped-down production fit it.
Weld: Are you looking to add a permanent drummer, or will you remain a three-piece?
BR: I don’t know. We’re definitely open to the idea of adding someone permanently. We’ve had a guy on the road with us now for the last year-and-a-half that we love. We just added a keys player, Josh Loveless, to the band. That’s the first guy we have added to the band officially since we started. So, we figure one guy at a time [Laughs]. We love Josh, he’s been amazing. So we’ll see what happens next, but we’re happy with the band we’ve got live now.
Weld: It’s easy to jump to this conclusion, but I think it’s actually true that you were named for Bear Bryant. How much of a Bama fan are you today?
BR: Man, I’m a huge Bama fan. Both of our parents were from Alabama. My grandparents were split down the middle, Auburn and Alabama, so we grew up around the rivalry. Alabama wasn’t very good when I was a kid, so I grew up going outside at halftime and crying, you know, from how bad it was. So I’m a real deal Alabama fan.
Weld: So you never became a Gamecock?
BR: Nope! We actually moved to Seneca, South Carolina, which is three or four minutes down the road from Clemson. I could hear the games, when I was 12 or 13 years old, from my house. I never went over to the other side. I’ve always been an Alabama fan. It’s cool to come back to Alabama, and I did a lot visiting my grandparents growing up. It all feels very familiar.
Weld: Do you guys still consider yourselves a Christian rock band, or are you a rock band with Christian musicians?
BR: It’s weird. I don’t know if I’d say it’s either. We’ve never liked the term “Christian band,” but we don’t like that term for anybody. It’s a weird marketing term. We think our faith plays a big part in what we sing about and ultimately, depending on what we’re going through, that becomes more or less what we’re singing about at the time.
I think our faith is a big part of our lives, and it comes through in our music. On this record, the band was going through a lot of personal stuff. Me and Bo had probably the biggest fight we ever had, and it nearly broke up the band, so I think we leaned on our faith a lot to get through that, and I think it comes across on the record.
Weld: A few years ago, Taylor Swift took you guys on the road. What did it do for you career, and what is your relationship like with her now?
BR: It’s interesting. We learned a ton, obviously. We played every arena in the country it feels like and a lot of the stadiums. It was a huge experience for us. We learned a lot about trying to connect in those venues, that big of a venue. In terms of our career, I feel like The Outsiders was probably our biggest record to date and now The Reckoning, which came out right after we went on tour with her, it wasn’t as big.
It’s interesting to see what it really did. I think a lot of people thought that it would blow up the band when it happened, and I don’t think that did happen. I think our crowds are so different. Her fans are very young. I think what we are able to do when we go out and headline and play in front of our fans is actually more valuable. But in terms of the experience and the opportunity that we got from it, we’re incredibly thankful for it. You just don’t get the chance to play Madison Square Garden or Staples Center of Cowboys Stadium in your lifetime, and that was huge.
Weld: The first time that I heard you, I immediately recalled Kings of Leon. Is that at all fair? Did their work have any influence on your own?
BR: I like the band a lot, I do. Our band has been together longer than theirs has. So it’s hard to say that we picked up something from them, I really don’t feel that. I remember when Mumford and Sons came out. Before their first record came out, people would hand it to us and say, “You should listen to this band because they sound like you guys” because we had been playing banjos and stuff. And now, it’s like, “Well, you guys sound like Mumford and Sons.”
I think we’re cut from the same cloth, some of these bands. And I think that’s a good thing. People say, “Oh, you sound like the Black Crowes or you sound like the Rolling Stones” or this or that or whatever. It’s Southern rock, in a way, and it’s got soul stuff infused to it and I think those strands tie us together. And we’re cool with that. And I do think Kings of Leon is a good band, but I don’t think we draw inspiration from them or anything, no.
Weld: You mention Southern rock and that’s interesting — do you think this new collection of bands from the South that you are a part of has redefined what Southern rock is?
BR: You know, I don’t know. I can’t speak for those other bands. I don’t know if it was our intention to redefine it, but I think it has — there’s been a rebirth, in a way. There’s a huge acceptance for bands from the South. When we first got signed to Atlantic Records — we started this band 15 years ago — we would play a banjo or harmonica or do a slide solo in a song, people scoffed at it. When we signed with Atlantic Records, their first advice to us was to be “more international,” which was really, they were saying, “Be less redneck. Be less Southern.” Because it just wasn’t popular at the time. It was before any of this had hit in the mainstream.
And immediately, when Kings of Leon had a hit or Mumford had a hit, it was, “Well, now let’s put the banjo back on the song.” It was hilarious to us that that happened. So I do think, at least, it’s been made more acceptable. But there were always bands that we were drawing from before that. I was always a Petty fan. I was always a Black Crowes fan. So those bands, to me, they were carrying that torch that we were inspired by.
Weld: What kind of relationship have you maintained with Seneca?
BR: Our parents still live close to there in Anderson. It’s hard to say how many of those things rub off on you, but you start to realize it when you move away, you move onto a new musical thing, you realize that you couldn’t have been formed anywhere else. You realize, you meet other people and they are inspired in different ways — the first couple of records were written there in Seneca above a garage. I think there’s a feeling we had. There was no music scene except for the local gospel and bluegrass music. No one was there that was really good beating us down and saying, “You’re not good enough.”
We had a dream. We believed that we could do it, and luckily we didn’t get discouraged too quickly. We’re really proud of that. We’re proud of where we come from.
Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
BR: Oh man. That’s incredibly hard. I’m going to leave somebody out because you said it like that, but I’m going to put Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in the for sure. Springsteen and the E-Street Band. I’m going to put the Black Crowes in there.
I’m going to add the word influential. And I’ll put Pearl Jam in there. And…I’m going to get off the phone and realize I missed someone major. It’s hard to think of bands and not solo people.
Weld: I’ve had people include solo artists if you want to include solo artists.
BR: I’m going to put Ray Charles on there.
Weld: Awesome. Throw that out on the bus and have a nice chat on the road.
BR: Yeah, we’ll fight about this one. I already know which ones they’ll want to fight about.
NEEDTOBREATHE will perform at the Alabama Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 11 and Friday, Sept. 12. The Thursday show is sold out, but tickets are available for the Friday performance through Ticketmaster.