After a two year absence, NEEDTOBREATHE made a triumphant return to the UK this week. We caught up with lead singer Bear Rinehart following their London show to hear what they’ve been up to since they were last here and what’s next for the South Carolina rockers.
Firstly, congratulations on the show last night! How has the UK been so far?
Really good, it’s been cool! We’re reminded of how much people dig the records. Last night was great and it’s been the same since the beginning.
You last played here in 2012, so it’s been quite a big gap. Have you found the crowds are any different?
I think the crowd were great and they’re obviously the reason we come back. We’re always surprised at how familiar they are with our records and by how lively the crowds are.
I think it’s interesting that, as you said, we perhaps don’t get over to the UK enough, but maybe it’s because of that that their energy is really high.
So after London you’re onto Belfast and Glasgow, are you looking forward to those?
Yeah they should be cool! We’ve played Glasgow before, but we’re kinda stepping down the venue a little bit to a smaller one so we can do the acoustic thing, but their crowds are always pretty wild. As for Belfast, we’ve never played there before, but it sold out pretty quickly so that should be really great.
Your most recent album Rivers In the Wasteland has a much more stripped back sound. Did you choose now as the time to do an acoustic tour in order to reflect that?
Yeah. We’ve never done this acoustic thing before and we’ve always wanted to, so I think it was a combination of those two things.
Also I think it fits really well over here for the UK. I mean you never know what peoples’ expectations are going to be or what the energy is going to be like around a record, so I think we wanted to test that out on a smaller club, but they all sold out on the first day and went great.
Was it good to play material from Rivers In the Wasteland to a new crowd?
These days we can’t play anything new to a crowd anymore because they already know it! We find that if we’ve played something once, they already know it and it was that way last night. People were requesting things that aren’t even on records so that was really cool.
I heard a lot of Rivers was done in live takes?
Yes that’s true. This is the first record that we’ve really done a lot of it that way. We felt we’d just come off making a record that was a really big sounding record with a lot of stuff on it and we wanted to change that up. I think you know most people say that they like our live show first before they say they like a certain record and that’s important to us.
A lot of people would regard that as the highest compliment.
I think so and it’s what we felt like we could always control. There are a lot of things in the music business that you have no control over, like radio and things like that, but the live shows were always something that we could work on and feel like we could make it as good as we could so we’re proud of it.
Did you find that the creative process differed for this album?
It’s definitely a different process. I mean I think the creative process for writing the songs is always different because we’re so biographical with our song writing, but I think this record was different. The band was going through a lot and going through a pretty big change and I think we didn’t even know it when we started writing the record, so it feels like the record sort of happened to us in a creative way.
I think in the studio it definitely changes what you do because you’re not able to fix things. After you record a track live you go into the studio and go ‘oh well that wasn’t good enough, go do it again’, which is different to ‘oh we’ll add this and add that and maybe eventually it will turn into something good’. You know right away is it’s a good take or not and I think that challenges you even more.
Has that made it easier to prepare for these shows?
The band is very focused and clear headed these days and it’s been amazing to see how much we remember from working on the songs. We used to be a band that would take several weeks to rehearse for a tour before we could even play the songs, let alone play them well, so we’ve definitely gotten better at that. But it helps that these songs we’ve played a bunch of times in the studio already and I think it makes it more believable too, the versions that we play live.
Do you have a current favourite track?
I think “Wasteland” is probably my favourite track on the album right now, just because it’s so vulnerable. I think it’s that because it describes where we were when this record started out, not necessarily where we ended up, but where the basis was for us starting the process to making this record. I just feel it’s one of the better songs I’ve ever written so I’m very proud of it right now, I’m sure it will change in a month or two, but right now I think it’s that one.
And is that your favourite to play live as well?
I think it is.. It’s interesting. It’s a little bit different with the acoustic tour for some of the tracks, I mean “Carolina” plays really well and it’s a completely different vibe so that’s been a fun one to do this tour. It’s hard to pick one!
You’ve said previously that you changed the title from just Wasteland to Rivers In the Wasteland. Was that to reflect the journey the album took?
I think the record really happened to us. Even when we wrote some of the songs I don’t think we knew what their real meaning was and, furthermore, I don’t think we knew how they were going to fit into the theme of the record. You have some things that when you’re going through them, they’re heavier than you can really understand and I think that’s the way it was with these songs. It wasn’t until we finished all the records and put them in a row that we were like ‘oh I get what this is all about now’ and you can see. You kind of zoom out a little bit and see what just happened.
I think this record more than any, had sort of a theme throughout it that we really weren’t doing intentionally. We knew the songs were vulnerable, we knew we were in a rough spot and I think that was pretty obvious in that way we recorded them.
We did them live because we wanted them to be intimate and vulnerable in that way, but other than that, in terms of knowing this thing would be such a great turnaround for the band and you know relationally kind of made up for 14 years of lost time in a couple of months, I don’t think we knew that was going to happen.
You’ve said there were a lot of personal experiences that impacted the album, did you find any particular musical influences affecting you whilst making it?
I’m sure there were things going on while we wrote it, but I honestly feel like it was maybe the oldest influences we have that played the biggest par. I think we went back a little bit, to when we first got into music and were listening to stuff like Ryan Adams and his band Whiskeytown, that kind of thing; even Tom Petty, stuff like that, stuff that’s a little more classical.
Whereas in the past when we were writing new records it was always something really obscure that was influencing our music, this was more about ‘ok it’s a song that were trying to get across here and we only have us in this room’. So I think we went back to some of the things we initially got in to, like The Black Crowes for me or Otis Redding and Ray Charles and Joe Cocker, that kind of thing, and I think that played a big part in this.
Do you have similar influences and taste across the band or do you duke it out for control of the stereo on the tour bus?
Oh yeah we definitely duke it out! We’re all over the place.
I think me and Beau especially, you know we just have different tastes. Although sometimes there will be a song that will just hit us both square, where I’ll play it for him or he’ll play it for me in a car.. I remember a Springsteen track where that happened, a couple of years ago and we literally both sat there in silence after it finished cause we were both just so blown away. I tend to be a little more Soul Rock and older kind of things; Beau likes a little more ethereal music I’d say. He likes soundtracks and that kind of thing so it’s nice for him to push me that way, and I think he enjoys that I push him a little the other way and we both appreciate the other side.
You’ve been together a very impressive 14 years now. Do you ever get bored of touring or find it wears a bit thin?
I think we go through seasons where we’re ready to go home for sure. If you’re out for too long you start to lose the creative part and it starts to not be fun, but I think we’ve done a much, much better job than we used to. We used to do 120 shows a year and we did that for 7 years in a row, but we really just didn’t go home enough for us to get a break and write songs and that kind of thing. So I think we’re doing probably around 80 shows this year and we feel like it’s a way better way. Now we get along better and put better shows on; we just kinda found a balance.
Last time you were in London you played Koko and you’re coming back to play there again in May next year. Was that a deliberate choice to come back to that venue?
Yeah it was, we love that venue and also I wanted a second crack at it! The first time we played there I had actually lost my passport before I left earlier in the day, so I barely got there before the show! I also didn’t have a voice, I remember saying halfway through the show, so yeah we wanna come back and do it right.
Is it one of your favourite venues?
No it definitely is, I thought it was great and we had a really good experience. I was incredibly sick when I played last time, so even last night I was just like ‘Man it’s good to be in London and to be healthy’ so yeah I can’t wait to do it again.
And those shows will be a bit different to last night’s?
Yeah it will be a full rock show for sure. So that should be fun to see how far that goes and it will be completely different to last night.
Do you have any more plans for the UK after Koko?
Yeah we do. We’re trying to get back and it’s something we really want to commit to.
We have always felt, and you could tell last night in the room, that there’s something going on here which means we just have to keep coming back and take the time to do it. We have new management now and we’ve really made it a priority for us to come back as many times as we can so I’m hopeful.
What else is coming up for NEEDTOBREATHE?
We’ve got our new video for “Brother” coming out in the next few weeks, which is really cool and we’re really proud of it so check that out!
NEEDTOBREATHE return to the UK with their ‘Rivers In the Wasteland World Tour’ in May 2015 – tickets are available here