Needtobreathe with Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Orpheum, 203 S. Main. Tickets: $32.50, available at the box office.
Ask Bear Rinehart, lead vocalist for Needtobreathe, and he’ll tell you that sibling rivalry — with all its brewing resentments, blowups and sometimes violent conflict resolution — powers much of the South Carolina rock trio’s career.
“It drives us to be honest with you,” says Rinehart, crediting his familial tension with brother/bandmate Bo for pushing the band through three successful records and numerous tours, including a stint two years ago opening for Taylor Swift. “Don’t punch in the face is one of our rules. It literally is knockdown, drag-out, and it kind of carries over to the rest of the band.
“Me and Bo are both competitive about songwriting and performing. Just because we’ve all been around each other so long, I feel like all of us treat each other that way. If we feel like somebody is sucking, we tell them, which is a good thing most of the time.”
That combative spirit is spilling out onto the road now as Needtobreathe prepares to kick off its new “Drive All Night Tour” on Sunday at the Orpheum theater. Accompanying the band on the 25-date run is former Memphian Drew Holcomb, whom the band first saw perform a few years ago in Nashville and who has been a regular opener since last year.
“He’s as competitive as we are, which helps,” Rinehart says of Holcomb, who last month released the album Good Light with his longtime band the Neighbors. “You have to be able to do that to be on the road with us. With two brothers in the band, we basically compete at everything from golf to songwriting and everything in between. And Drew jumped right into that.”
The Rineharts’ competitiveness is baked in. Born and raised in South Carolina, Bear, 32, and his little brother Bo, born Nathaniel Bryant Rinehart 31 years ago, were named after legendary University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Bear Rinehart even played college ball at Furman University, where he won South Carolina football player of the year honors in 2002.
But the brothers also had music in their blood. Sons of a preacher, they learned to play a number of instruments at an early age. Soon after college, they teamed up with Seth Bolt and original drummer Joe Stillwell to form Needtobreathe. (Stillwell has since left the band and has been replaced on the road by Randy Harris.)
The new group honed its sound in Bolt’s Plantation Studios, where they still do most of their recording, and in 2005 they signed with Atlantic Records. Because of the Rineharts’ background, the band was associated early on with the Christian music scene. Their 2006 debut, Daylight, landed them on the cover of Christian music publication CCM Magazine, and the two subsequent records, 2007’s The Heat and 2009’s The Outsiders, did well on the mainstream and Christian charts. The band also has to its credit nine Dove Awards, given by the Gospel Music Association.
But Bear Rinehart downplays Needtobreathe’s spiritual aspects. For its most recent record, the 2011 release The Reckoning, the group looked to Tom Petty for inspiration. After watching their crowds grow steadily for five years, Rinehart says the band felt they were at a tipping point where it was time to make a truly great album.
“We had made our first couple of records basically as a sweaty rock-club kind of band,” says Rinehart, explaining how the band was inspired to make an album that would hold up like works such as Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. “It about killed us making it, but I’m really proud of how it came out. That was the first time we had felt that kind of pressure, and we had decided to take every song through the ringer.
“We had seen Petty say they recorded ‘Refugee’ 47 times before they got it right, and that became our mindset behind the record. My only advice to every musician out there is: Don’t watch DVDs of the making of classic records.”
Tortuous as it may have been, the gambit appears to have paid off. Though only time will tell whether The Reckoning achieves classic status, it has been the band’s most successful release to day, topping the rock and Christian album charts and earning the band three of those Dove Awards.
For its next record, however, Rinehart says the band is switching gears. They recently recorded for the first time outside the confines of their own studio, working at Los Angeles’ Sound City Studios where classic records by Petty, Johnny Cash, and Nirvana were made.
“It’s pretty much just the band in the room, completely the opposite of how we did the last record in the sense that we’re trying to keep it as innocent as possible,” says Rinehart, explaining how the studio’s old-school analog technology forced the band to stop relying on control room trickery and to focus on having its stuff together before tape rolled. “It was a very refreshing thing to not get bogged down in the recording part. It was more about the performance.”