NEEDTOBREATHE: Rivers in the Wasteland

[Legacy Content]

Growing as an artist is a hard thing. To be true to yourself you have to keep making art from where you are in life. The trick is, however, sometimes where you are in life today is a different place from where you have been in the past. As a fan of the artists, you want the people to have those experiences and have the chance to grow and change. As a fan of the music, though, it is sometimes hard to grow along with that artist.

If you’ve journeyed with NEEDTOBREATHE over the course of their first four albums, you’ve experienced some of that growth. Hitting their stride with 2009’s The Outsiders and solidifying their position on 2011’s The Reckoning, the band claimed their space as the purveyors of solid southern rock. Their previous records had tip-toed around this territory without owning the identity, and their latest effort, Rivers in the Wasteland, seems to return to those origins.

In speaking with the band, it’s clear that they have gone through a tremendous growth period. They have fought through internal strife and professional pressures and have come out on the other side with a renewed sense of purpose. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m glad for them as individuals to be in a better place. However, in my experience, tension makes for more compelling art — maybe that’s just me.

The album opens with great promise on the slow-burn, acoustic track “Wasteland.” Then, we immediately turn west out of South Carolina and start cruising down the 5 along the coast with Brian Wilson on “State I’m In.” To be fair, A) I love the Beach Boys, B) the similarity really stops once the verse starts, and C) it’s a great song; it just doesn’t feel like a NEEDTOBREATHE song.

And this is the story of much of Rivers in the Wasteland: lots of great songs, but they just don’t feel very cohesive and don’t sound like what we’ve come to expect from the band. They hit home runs on tracks like “Oh, Carolina,” perhaps the most similar to the southern rock sound we’ve come to expect. The heartfelt and mellow “Difference Maker” also has the downhome honesty that’s easy to love, but then we’re stuck by the unexpected 80’s flavor of “Where the Money Is.”

It’s worth noting that lyrically this album plays into a greater faith context than their last couple of records, again hearkening back to their earlier days. While the band has never been shy about their faith, this one waves the banner a bit more explicitly than either Outsiders or, especially, The Reckoning did. As one of the few “Christian” bands to achieve mainstream acceptance in recent years, it will be interesting to see the general public’s reception of this album. Certainly, it will endear them to a wider Christian audience who may have been only marginally aware of them up to this point.

As such, Rivers in the Wasteland will serve as a solid introduction for new fans to get to know the band. It will showcase their versatility and will likely make for a great live experience. As the years pass, however, it will be interesting to see the place that the album and its individual songs take in the band’s history and ever-growing catalog.


[Legacy Content]

FaithVillage contributor Ryan Brymer recently had the chance to interview Bo Rinehart of the band NEEDTOBREATHE. The band’s new record, Rivers in the Wasteland, is already generating plenty of buzz and Ryan asked Bo about the band’s spirituality, music and much more.


FaithVillage: It’s been several years since you released your last record — and it’s probably been your biggest success period. What’s been happening since we last heard from you guys?

Bo Rinehart (NEEDTOBREATHE): Everything. We’ve been hitting it hard for the last seven years and really going non-stop. From there we started right into The Reckoning, possibly to our detriment. A lot of things were happening. I have a two-year-old now who was born right after that record was finished, so that has been a process. You know, we’ve lived a lot of life but it’s been a pretty amazing ride.

Around eight months ago, everything had come to a head and we decided to take some time off. Things had gotten to a certain level where we had lost sight of why we had started this in the first place and we needed to recharge. So, we got some time away and were able to decompress and it’s been amazing.

FV: You talked about returning to your roots on this record — both in terms of production and in the songwriting. To me, the album seems a lot more overtly-spiritual than the last couple of records. What drove that decision?

Bo: The record is called Rivers in the Wasteland. It was going to just be calledWasteland and we were in a pretty dry place; very empty and dried up. So, it felt like “this is the record” and those were the things we were going to talk about. And I feel like God was already starting to work there and we weren’t even aware of it. Really, the verse that jumped out was a verse in Isaiah that says, “Can’t you see that I’m already doing a new thing? And I will create rivers in a wasteland.” So from there, we knew where this was going. This is the story.

We had started a lot of these songs before we had this watershed moment and I think it was all part of a process that God already had a plan for. We had gotten ourselves to a place where maybe we worried too much about what people think and placed a value in the things that we do. God was teaching us a lesson, however, about our place and how much He actual needs us – the song “Difference Maker” is a little bit about that and another song called “Multiplied.” This has been a season of finding our identity in Christ more than anything else. It’s an easy thing to do, trying to compare yourself to others or trying to control things that we really have no control over.

FV: NEEDTOBREATHE are one of the few distinctively Christian artists that have a truly mainstream appeal. How does that influence your career as far as how you perform in front of a “mixed” audience, or how you plot what comes next?

Bo: That’s been a consideration from the beginning. We’re very comfortable in who we are and believe that the message shouldn’t be any different from day to day. We’ve never been preachy in our performance. We’re doing something different and it’s about the heart. Our goal is to be genuine and honest and we’ve always been that way — but on this record, we’re being way more vulnerable about it.

When we started, we were a bit hesitant because of the stigma of the Christian market. I think that with the music that we make and the things that we talk about, we’re a band for in-betweeners. You know, we grew up in the church, but we’ve always felt like outsiders.

We never wanted to turn a certain way for the sake of money or success. We didn’t want to not be able to do what we wanted to do. We’re constantly learning and this phase of the band is totally heart-led. We’ve found our identity in Christ, and that’s not about making people like you.

FV: As an old school Hootie and the Blowfish fan, I have to ask: is there an unwritten rule that bands from South Carolina are required to have their own charity golf tournament?

Bo: (laughing) We actually know those guys and they’re a lot of fun. We  started playing golf on the road and fell in love with it. It’s just a great chance for us to get outside. It doesn’t matter how many people you have — you can always find a golf course wherever you go. It’s not like basketball where you need a bunch of people and have to find a gym. Golf is everywhere.

A while back, we were part of a tournament put on by Albert Pujols and we loved it. We had a blast. At the same time, we were becoming friends with and getting involved with the Palmetto Medical Initiative. So it all came together and sort of made sense.

PMI runs medical missions to Uganda, Nicaragua, and Burundi. They are all about creating a self-sustaining system by sending doctors and nurses to train locals who run hospitals. They make two trips every year and Bear (Bo’s brother, lead singer of the band) got to go a year-and-a-half ago and see first-hand and it was amazing. There are parts of Africa that have no access to medical attention and there are people who have had life-long issues that take next to nothing to fix, if they just had access.

It’s cool that they are able to address some pretty huge issues and we love that people can get involved on a really small level. The pill for malaria only costs $5 — and they are dying from it over there. It’s such a simple, easy fix, but somebody has to go and do it and they’ve got to have supplies. It’s just an amazing organization and a cool thing to be a part of.

FV: As you guys set off on tour, what are you most excited about on this trip? What’s going to make it different from the last time out?

Bo: Well, we took a pretty sizable break since our last tour and we’re really ready to get back out there. It’s going to be fresh. We really love and miss the road, so we’re antsy to get back out there.

As a band, we’re at our most creative and passionate when we have new material. We’re really excited and we’re ready to jump into the new music. When there’s new music, there’s no limitations — no boxes of songs we feel like we have to play or don’t have to play. We’re really able to wear our hearts on our sleeves.