Life in Needtobreathe is good these days within the band as it tours behind its recently released concert album, “Live from the Woods at Fontanel” and the 2014 studio album that preceded it, “Rivers in the Wasteland.”
That’s a welcome change from three years ago, when the group was coming off its 2011 album, “The Reckoning.” At that point, it wasn’t even clear Needtobreathe would continue as a band, and the difference isn’t lost on the group’s bassist, Seth Bolt.
“Coming from our lowest point, personally, and not knowing whether we were ever going to play music again, that really feels like a second chance,” Bolt said in a phone interview. “It means that each night we’re walking on stage, we have an incredible amount of gratitude that we still get to do this. We’ve had tons of friends in bands, and it’s rare to have a career that lasts longer than five years, much less going on 14 or 15, where we’re at.”
Indeed, Needtobreathe’s beginnings date back to 2000 in Seneca, S.C. The group’s founding members – singer-guitarist Bear Rinehart, his brother, guitarist Bo Rinehart, Bolt and former drummer Joe Stillwell – were in college at Furman University, playing shows locally. The group found time to self-release a few EPs and begin touring around the Southeast.
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Eventually Needtobreathe came to the attention of the record industry, and in 2005 the band signed deals with Atlantic/Lava Records for the mainstream rock market and Sparrow Records for the Christian music market. (The four original band members are Christians.)
The band’s first two CDs, “Daylight” (2006) and “Heat” (2007), helped it build a considerable presence in Christian music, where “Heat” was nominated for a Dove Award for rock/contemporary album of the year.
In the mainstream arena, the group built enough of a following that when its third CD, “The Outsiders,” was released in 2009 it peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard magazine album chart. Emboldened by that response, the band pushed themselves musically, crafting a melodic, yet punchy rock sound that fell between modern and mainstream rock. Fans responded, and “The Reckoning” peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s album chart and topped the magazine’s Christian music and rock album charts.
But within the band, tensions between the Rinehart brothers were building to a boiling point. The two split songwriting duties and had created a competitive environment, thinking that having to battle to get their songs on Needtobreathe albums would push each of them creatively and result in better songs.
But by the time of “The Reckoning,” the competition had started to corrode the brothers’ relationship, and when the album tour ended, the possibility existed that the band was ending as well. Stillwell left the group in 2012.
“The brothers, the fighting got way out of hand, to the point that they stopped speaking to each other,” Bolt said. “We were kind of forced to go home.”
But Bear and Bo Rinehart took stock of the situation and came to each other with hope of working things out.
“The way they dealt with it is they both came to the other and said ‘I’d like to do this completely differently with you. I’d like to work differently. I’d like to communicate differently. But if we can’t do that, then I’m OK with hanging it up and just being your brother again,’ ” Bolt said. “They kind of both prepared the same speech for one another. They were like ‘OK, well great, let’s do this.’ ”
What emerged was a far more supportive songwriting dynamic between the two brothers for the 2014 album “Rivers in the Wasteland.”
The band has described it as the hardest album they’ve made, as the brothers looked to get more vulnerable lyrically, and the band wanted to bring a simpler, more live-sounding feel to the songs after the heavily produced sound that characterized “The Reckoning.”
The band added keyboardist-vocalist Josh Lovelace to the lineup, while using a pair of drummers, including touring drummer Randall Harris, on the “Rivers in the Wasteland” sessions.
Now Needtobreathe is back in a good place as a band. And that spirit is evident on the 17-track “Live from the Woods at Fontanel,” as the five-man live lineup delivers a spirited set that leans heavily toward songs from “Rivers in the Wasteland.”
“It just felt like a magical night all around,” Bolt said. “I think we were already sort of … inspired by the setting because we’re in the Tennessee hills and we’re out in the middle of nowhere and there are 5,000 people there and they’ve got like a bonfire going. It felt like a big party or something on a summer night. So it felt great, and it just kind of lifted the band. We did play probably one of our best shows of the tour that night.”
What: The 4th annual Kids Helping Kids benefit concert includes headliners Needtobreathe
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7
Where: Harris Center, 10 College Parkway, Folsom
Information: 916-608-6888; https://harriscenter.net