Needtobreathe's Bear Rinehart Talks Opening for Taylor Swift, Being Named After Bear Bryant

Being the opening act for a megastar like Taylor Swift can be both a blessing and a curse. Let's face it: Stadium crowds are not known for their patience when it comes to waiting for the headliner; still, the chance for some big-time exposure is just too much for most acts to refuse.

That's the case for South Carolina's Needtobreathe. This country-rock four-piece has been around for over a decade and has already made commercial inroads in the Christian music market. But when the call came offering a chance to tour with Swift and play in front of massive audiences, it was an easy decision for Bear Rinehart and crew to make.

Speaking from a tour stop in Wichita, Kansas, and in anticipation of Saturday night's performance at Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Rinehart spoke with DC9 about getting the fateful call to open for Swift and what it's been like opening for one of the biggest stars in pop music.

Your band's music is much rougher around the edges than Taylor Swift's. Are you worried about being too edgy for her audience?
Actually, it's come off really well. It's been kind of a shock to us because a lot of her fans are very young. We've always believed that good music translates to everybody. I think we took that from Elvis and The Beatles. We feel that if we play our music well and be true to ourselves, it will translate to any audience. I think we have been seeing that on this tour. The response has been really good. Taylor has a lot of country fans and a lot of pop fans. The age range is amazing. I think she makes good music, and obviously people respond to it and relate to it. We've seen some of the same thing, even though we are obviously not a country band. We're a little bit different of a choice to tour with Taylor, but I think that's a tribute to her. She does what she wants. She has a vision for this tour and she is a fan of our band. I think she's been proven right in that the entire show has a lot of variety to it.

Were you really handpicked by Swift? How does that work? Do you just get a phone call?
Yes, we did get a call. We were in the midst of a headlining tour, and it was out of the blue. It wasn't something we even knew was happening. We were not pitching ourselves for it. Of course, it didn't take us long to make that decision. She said she liked the band a lot and wanted us to think about doing a tour. And they have been really good to us. It's not like we're playing to the audience with the lights on or with the sound down. They've let us do our show. And that makes a huge difference.

Is it intimidating to play these huge stadiums?
I thought it was going to be a lot more intimidating. We are from a small town and we have been doing this for about 12 years now. I feel like we were fairly prepared for it. The first 15 minutes of the first show, I think we were a little nervous about being in an arena. Since then, we have gotten into the swing of it. Connecting with an audience that size is definitely a different art form, much different from a club or a theater. We took it as a challenge and we've been enjoying it. We've been living it up. Playing Cowboys Stadium is a ridiculous opportunity. Being sports fans like we are, it's huge. I can't wait to get in there and throw a football around. We're like 8-year-olds when it comes to that stuff. We're going to take the tour. We've played Dallas a ton of times, but getting to play in front of that many people is going to be a good night.

In your song "Ohhs and Ahhs," you sing, "Take me back to a simpler time." Exactly when is that?
I think the entire new album [The Reckoning] is about the fans kind of looking back on our career. This is our fourth record, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We knew there would be a lot of attention on it. Our last record, The Outsider, was successful in our eyes. It sold almost 300,000 copies. For the first time in the band's career, instead of trying to prove to people that we are good enough, all of a sudden people had expectations for this new one. We wanted to make sure that we stayed grounded in who we are. We didn't want to get caught up in the mess that the music business can be.

You say that you don't play country music. How would you describe what you do?
We call it rock and dancabilly. We say rock 'n' roll. Music from the south has those rootsy elements like banjo and harmonica. We have that connection with country music. You can't say southern rock because people think you're talking about Skynyrd. What we do is a new southern rock, a lot of real music and real singing.

"White Fences" is a particularly rootsy cut.
It is old-school. It is a weird take on that sound. I guess the idea is of life not panning out exactly how you thought and how you are going to deal with that. There's some mandolin on that track. We made the drums really big. We like the idea of this record being as big as possible. This is the way people used to make records, folks like Tom Petty and Springsteen. That's when the music industry was in a great place and nobody told you no. We set ourselves up to make a record like that.

Your brother is also in the band. Do you ever look up and say, "Not him again."
I'd say about every 20 minutes. [Laughs.] I'm just kidding. We fight a lot, but I think that makes the band better. It's brought a very competitive nature to the band. When he writes a song, I try to write a better one. The other two guys in the band we've known since we were kids. The beauty of it is, tomorrow, we are not going to break up. I think we really do love each other. The band thing for us is much more than a job. I think we are really proud of that and you can see it when we play.

Many of your songs have appeared on the Christian music charts. Is there a stigma attached to being considered a Christian act?
I think to be labeled anything is bad. We've rebelled against that in the past. We've never felt comfortable in any particular music scene. It's like when Tom Petty was asked how it felt to be a new wave artist. He didn't even know what new wave was. That genre stuff is all about the business part and not about the music part. We want to be free to make whatever statements we want to make. We want to be able to do almost anything and have the type of fans who will go there with us.

You were named after the famous Alabama football coach Bear Bryant. Those are pretty big shoes to fill.
Those are huge shoes! We are all big football fans, huge sports fans. Bear Bryant is larger than life in Alabama. Football is a big part of our lives. We can't do anything else on Saturdays.

Why not use any spaces in the band's name?
It just looked cooler on a t-shirt.

Needtobreathe opens for Taylor Swift on Saturday, October 8, at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

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