Ugly Fist Fight Nearly Breaks Up Needtobreathe


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With four records under their belts, the last two of which, 2009’s The Outsiders and 2011’s The Reckoning, entered the top 20 of the Billboard album chart, Seneca, South Carolina rock band Needtobreathe were poised to return in 2013 in peak form with a new album and tour. But somewhere along the way, frontman Bear Rinehart and his guitarist and brother Bo allowed a long-lasting sibling rivalry to escalate to the point where it crippled their creativity and let to vicious bouts of screaming and worse.

“About a year ago, we got in a fistfight and one of us ended up going to the hospital,” Bear Rinehart reveals to Yahoo Music. “Afterwards, we went, ‘Man, what are we doing?’ We realized our priorities were messed up and we had to figure out how to get to a better place.”

At the time, Needtobreathe were halfway through the album they thought would take three weeks to finish. They had planned to fly to legendary Sound City Studios in Los Angeles and bang out the record from a series of live takes. Six weeks later, and with just three songs finished, they went back home fuming and frustrated. They tried again, this time at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, but only knocked out another three songs before chaos ensued.

“Something was seriously wrong, and we were forced us to deal with it,” Rinehart says. “We decided we either had to fix things or break up the band because it had gotten so bad it was not fun anymore. We got back together and said, ‘Look, do we want to be brothers more than we want to be in this band?’ It was the first time we said that to each other and that relieved a huge burden from both of us because we both decided that family was more important than anything. So we changed the way we approached everything and got back to what we started doing, which was what we enjoyed.”

Two weeks later, Needtobreathe finished their fifth album Rivers in the Wasteland. Unlike The Reckoning, which is a filled with multi-dimensional songs and embellished with horns and strings, Rivers is simpler and more stripped down, drawing the focus to the basic melodies, powerful vocals and melancholy lyrics reminiscent of Tom Petty and Joe Cocker. “I think it became a really sincere and vulnerable sounding record because of the emotional state we were in when we made it,” Rinehart says.

Songs like “Rise Again” and “More Heart, Less Attack” reflect the spirit and perseverance Needtobreathe summoned to rise above their differences and create what turned into their highest charting album to date; On May 3, 2014 Rivers debuted at number three on the Billboard album chart.

“It’s funny because when we wrote the songs we didn’t think of them as positive in any way,” Rinehart says. “We thought they were the darkest sounding things we could ever write and the lyrics were a last ditch effort at hope. In hindsight, when the record was done, I could see that we had some ideas we were going to have to change some things, we just didn’t know how.”

"Brother" may be an exception. The band wrote the song after they had settled their differences and it served as a reminder that there is strength in unification and the divided stand alone. ("Brother let me be your fortress when the night winds are driving on/ Be the one to light the way, bring you home.”)

“We both realized it was really childish for us to be fighting all the time,” Rinehart says. “I think we watched too many documentaries about brothers who are in bands and we thought competition between band members was healthy. I would write a song  and Bo would try to beat it. Then we’d dig in our heels and not listen to anything the other person had to say. Finally, we went, ‘Let’s defend each other rather than attack each other.’ That’s the way we were when we were kids and the way we were when we first got into this band.”

It wasn’t exactly turning the other cheek that allowed Needtobreathe to realign their priorities, it was more a case of compromise and cooperation. Even so, faith remains an important part of the members’ daily lives and Rinehart says prayer helped him through the worst times, which explains why Needtobreathe decided to name the album after a Biblical reference from Isaiah 43:19: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland"

Still, as much as the Rinehart’s personal beliefs helped them overcome their rivalries, Bear Rinehart strongly objects to being called a Christian rock band. “We’ve always hated that term,” he says. “We feel like it’s so limiting and it gives people the idea that you have to be a Christian to like our music. That’s not the case at all. Of course faith plays a big part in our songwriting and our lives, but we don’t write with that in mind.”

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