By larry may
Why would anyone decide to try music as a career anymore? With nonchalant radio programmers, sliding sales and pains at the pump killing tours, it seems as if being in a band is a sure path to financial suicide. There’s no money to be made from record sales because most listeners steal more than they buy. But what if none of that made any difference to artists more interested in their message than their checkbooks? That’s exactly what has happened to South Carolina rockers, Needtobreathe, who have chosen to make their spiritual dedication on the radio, no matter the expense? It seems like an exercise in futility, but what happens if the fans start to pay attention, and the group actually starts to break through the wall that stared them in the face from the beginning?
Their new single, “Washed By The Water” has hit number one on the Christian charts and their album ”The Heat”, has finally began to garner enough fans to break the band on a national level. The Seneca, South Carolina quartet, led by the brothers Rinehart, is definitely poised for a chance at the elusive success that many Christian bands seek and few among them achieve.
The backbone of the Needtobreathe camp is drummer Joe Stillwell. While on tour, he rang the Independent offices to chronicle what it is like to be on the cusp of accomplishing all of the band’s dreams.
Who named the band?
I did. It comes from hearing a speech by a speaker at a youth conference that explained
Socrates was standing by a pond, and answering questions from students. One of the students asked him, “How do I know when I have found my purpose in life”? He didn’t answer him, he just walked over to him and plunged his head under the water. After holding him under the water for a time, he let him up. While the young man gasped for air, Socrates told him,” When you need to fulfill that purpose as badly as you need to breathe, then you have found your purpose”.
Who named the brothers in your band Bear and Bryant?
That was their parents. I don’t know how all that got started, none of them are called by their actual names. Bear’s real name is William, and he just got called Bear. So his parents named the next one Bryant.
Did you guys grow up together?
They had all know each other since they were nine, and I moved to their town when I was twelve. But we’re based in Charleston now.
What was Seneca like?
It is a typical Southern small town. For Bear and Beau, they grew up in a camp called Possum Kingdom. It had plenty of kids moving through, and a lot of acreage. Everybody knows each other in small towns like this. They all have known us since we were kids, and it keeps us grounded. They keep us in check if we think we’ve made it.
Did growing up there influence your music?
No question. We try to write honest music, and we all have strong Christian faith, and all still go to church. There are Southern tones, not like the Allmans, but it does have a lot of the soul that Southerners have in their music. We’re totally immersed in our culture, and we’re proud of it.
Have you played in Alabama before?
We sure have. We have played Birmingham quite a bit, and Mobile, Decatur, Huntsville,
all over the state.
Who is a typical Needtobreathe fan?
It’s all over the place. We’ve had daughters who play the CD in the car on the way to school, and now their mom comes to the show with them. We’ve seen families who have had their babies with them. For the most part, it’s the college age fans that make up the most of the crowds. We’ve done some college shows with Edwin McCain. He’s a great guy.
Can we talk about the new record? The intro is something I’ve never heard open up an album. It’s kind of a mini song.
We had the songs finished going into the studio to record, and found some holes that needed to be filled. We wrote some more when we got into the studio to make it feel like a complete album from start to finish. We didn’t want singles with songs just thrown in.
When we wrote, “Spare the Time”, it was meant to be a brief intro to the band.
How about “Restless”?
It’s meant to reflect our experience in the record industry. You don’t get a big tour bus and a million dollars, that’s just not the way it works. After seven years, that was the way the band was feeling, sort of anxious and ready to get things working.
How was working with Ed Roland, and how did that come about that he produced the record?
We did some shows with Collective Soul and didn’t see him much. But later, when we would play in Atlanta, he would come to the shows with his girlfriend. We struck up a relationship with him, and he came in to produce some songs for this record. Ed has a lot of energy, and he would sing lines to us from the control room, and it was weird hearing our songs coming from the singer of Collective Soul! We had grown up watching him on MTV, and here he was helping us.
Do you have plans to tour for the rest of the year?
We’re going to headline a Southeast tour, and we’re also going to play some with the Wallflowers. In October, we’re going to rehearse for a couple of weeks to start work on a new record. We’re going to play until Thanksgiving, and then start on a new album.
Who are some of your personal musical heroes?
I’m a drummer, so I love John Bonham. I love what U2 has been able to accomplish. I also love Jump Little Children, they’re from Charleston, SC. They’ve inspired us a lot, especially with songwriting, and the way we think about harmony.
Any guilty pleasures in your collection?
I like to crank the Pat Benatar when I think nobody is watching. And I love hair metal.
My brother was big into Ratt and Motley Crue, and I still love to revisit some of my metal roots.