Needtobreathe headlines The Depot Friday
Music • Once pigeonholed as Christian band, the group has entered the mainstream with its purposeful rock.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Since late last year, it seems the South Carolina rock band Needtobreathe has become a member of the music world's in-crowd.

The band was hand-picked by Taylor Swift to open a string of dates during her sold-out 2011 world tour.

Its fourth album, "The Reckoning," debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard album charts in September 2011, and I named it the best album of 2011 in The Tribune's annual Top 10 pop-culture list.

And the band performed on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in June — its second time on the show in less than a year, a rare honor. The members met Katy Perry, Leno's featured guest, at the taping.

Perry and the band's two leaders, Bo and Bear Rinehart, all come from Christian households. All were Christian musicians before crossing over into the music mainstream. While Perry has gone on to become the vampish poster child of the zeitgeist, the Rineharts aren't convinced of their acceptance into a world of stardom.

The Rinehart brothers have matching tattoos that bear the name of their third album, as well as their world view: The Outsiders.

"I don't know if that perspective will ever leave us," said Bear Rinehart (who, yes, was named after famed football coach Bear Bryant).

Bo agreed. "Even though we've gained more fans, we don't feel a part of what's popular."

That view comes from South Carolina, where they still live. The brothers, along with bass player Seth Bolt, grew up in the imaginatively named small burg Possum Kingdom.

The Rineharts remember the first time they learned of Bolt. He was an 8-year-old schoolmate who rapped Vanilla Ice songs to the Rineharts' sister in a curious attempt to woo her. And the band's former drummer, Joe Stillwell, who left amicably this summer to focus on his family, had been a friend since the three met him in eighth grade. "We are a band with the only musicians we ever knew," Bear said.

After college, the band played throughout the Southeast and earned a reputation for intense, emotionally charged live shows that reflected the musicians' Christian beliefs of temptation, hope, sin and salvation. Atlantic Records signed them in 2005 and immediately marketed them in the growing Christian market, despite some worries in the band about being pigeonholed.

"The last few records, we weren't trying to make the record a certain thing," Bear said. "Faith keeps coming up in the songs, and we're trying to find the most earnest way to say it. Our ideas in what we believe in haven't dwindled."

Bo added: "It's important for me to make art that's important for me. Of course, you want to have as many people as possible to hear it."

Since 2009, the group has won nine Dove Awards, awarded by the Gospel Music Association of the United States to recognize outstanding achievement in the Christian music industry.

This year, "The Reckoning" won the award for Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year, although you won't find the word "Jesus" in any of the band's lyrics. More typical are themes expressed like those in the single "Drive All Night":

Beg the book to turn the page

'Cause I get stuck where the villains get away

Somewhere in this wretched tale there must be a line

Where the victim gets his way

Just one time, I'll get mine

So, is Needtobreathe a Christian band, or a band that happens be led by Christians?

In a sense, being an outsider means being a touring band that straddles the line between the Dove and Grammy Awards, and in the end not caring much about labels.

There's a freedom in that, Bo Rinehart said. "I've always been a guy who sticks to his gut," he said. "The most important part is, Did we do what mattered? That is the supreme end goal. The only regrets we have are when someone persuaded us to do something we didn't want to do. … What we're trying to do goes against what people expect us to do."

To Bear, the band's ethos is inclusiveness, but not pandering. "People sing along with their own meanings," he said. "What's important is holding onto what we think is important."

The two warm-up acts for Needtobreathe are Good Old War and Matthew Mayfield.

The Philadelphia-based Americana band Good Old War takes its name from the band members' names: Keith Goodwin, Tim Arnold and Daniel Schwartz.

The trio launched in 2008 when Days Away, the former band of Goodwin and Arnold, dissolved. Their bandmates were more interested in prog-rock, while Goodwin and Arnold wanted something simpler. Arnold knew he wanted to stick with Goodwin. "We're best buddies," he said. "We've always wanted to go in similar directions."

Good Old War's most recent album, "Come Back as Rain, was released in March and is full of sad stories backed by what Arnold calls "happy" instrumentation. While the band harmonizes about serious themes, the music is up-tempo and upbeat, reflecting the natural optimism of the members. "None of us are very religious, but we all use something spiritually in our music," Arnold said.

Matthew Mayfield's solo set will open the night. "I will be fighting the good fight with just an acoustic guitar," he said.

The Birmingham native and resident was in a band called Moses Mayfield that was signed to Epic Records in 2005. "All I ever wanted to do was to be in a rock and roll band," the gravelly-voiced Mayfield said. "I was 21. There were a lot of bigwigs telling you that you're the next big thing."

The band, as it turned out, wasn't the next big thing. "Now those castles have crumbled," Mayfield said.

Mayfield retreated back home and has released two albums on his own. The first, 2010's "Now You're Free," was a rock album backed by a full band, while 2012's "A Banquet for Ghosts" was stripped-down and intimate.

This will be Mayfield's fourth or fifth tour with Needtobeathe, which once opened for Moses Mayfield. Mayfield said he can't fall asleep in a moving van, so the boys in Needtobreathe offered him a bunk in their bus, which he happily accepted.

That's called good ol'-fashioned Southern hospitality. Or perhaps it's just an example of the outsiders inviting others in.

dburger@sltrib.com —

Do you reckon?

Needtobreathe will perform with guests Good Old War and Matthew Mayfield.

When • Friday, Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m.

Where • The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $20 at SmithsTix