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The Now-Existential NEEDTOBREATHE

The Now-Existential NEEDTOBREATHE

“I really do genuinely love this record, which I don’t say every time,” NEEDTOBREATHE frontman Bear Rinehart said. “I might be proud of it, but I might not love it.”

It’s a surprising admission from an artist whose band has released eight studio records. Over the years, NEEDTOBREATHE’s signature blend of rock, folk and alternative has earned them a devoted following, critical acclaim and widespread international success.

And now, two years after releasing Into the Mystery, the rock band dropped their ninth album, CAVES — 14 songs of self-reflection, melancholic moods and gratitude-filled lyrics.

CAVES emerges as a notable moment in their career, blending the band’s rootsy sound with a newfound connection to storytelling. The album’s name itself alludes to the idea of a hidden refuge, a place of introspection and transformation — a theme that resonates deeply with much of the human experience.

We sat down with Rinehart to discuss what inspired their latest project and what he hopes fans take away from their music.

Your latest album is called CAVES. Is there a reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?

It’s interesting. I love that, and I’m aware of it, but I don’t think the inspiration was from it. But I’ve read more on it since we wrote the song, and I see how it fits. It honestly was just a feeling I had. I spent a lot of time in the last year and a half while we were making this record diving into what we do in art and why we do it.

I don’t agree with the notion that you must have this horrible life to be a good artist. I think that’s totally bogus, but our job is to wrestle with the tougher things.

As humans, you want to move on from that as fast as possible, most of the time, unless you’re in therapy or something. I think for us, it really came down to the fact that we get a year to write songs and spend time in our subconscious and wrestle with why we’re doing what we’re doing, what our motivations are, and what our failures are, instincts that have come from trauma.

All that stuff is the source of what we do for music. And so, for me, that felt like a cave in a lot of ways.

If you’ve ever been to a studio, that’s exactly what it is. It feels like we were working in studios with no windows and 10 days at a time.

So I think that’s where it came from, this idea of, and writing a song about, that’s why we do it and that it’s important to do that, but more of the songs are actually about coming out of this cave-like scenario. So, for me, that’s what putting a record out feels like.

That’s the first track on the record. It feels like, OK, now we can actually enjoy these songs we wrote and stop wrestling with them. It is a very existential self-exploration.

Is there a message or theme connecting the songs on this album?

There is, which is funny because we never do that beforehand. I think that limits some of the writing in a way. So, it’s always been about getting into the emotion you’re in that day, writing the thing that’s the truest to you to that day, and then figuring out why you wrote it later. It can be difficult to connect that way to planned things, almost like you’re teaching a class. We don’t want the music to ever feel like that.

I think I probably hear thankfulness when I listen to the album. Well, actually, there’s a couple of things. One, this band still gets to make music in a relevant way. We have a career in which we can have a lot of freedom, which is incredibly rare. We went through COVID together as a band. We’re in a world right now that, to me, is just hurling towards this inferno. It’s like this division that we have, and AI is coming and all these really heavy, heavy things.

But I feel like the music, at least when I listen to the album, is not weighed down by that. That was a little bit surprising to me. To me, my career in the past with the band has been like, “I’m trying to write the darkest lyric possible inside of a song that’s not so dark.” And I was surprised at how there was a lack of that. And I’m proud of that. It felt like sometimes those statements can be very selfish.

You know, as a writer, it feels like you haven’t worked this problem out, but you’re just kind of judging people for not understanding it or not feeling the way you feel. That sort of condescension is missing from the record in a really great way.

Thankfulness is especially present in the music video for “Everknown,” where you asked fans to share the “humble heroes” in their lives. What inspired you to write that?

You know how in therapy, people talk a lot about the negative voices we hear? Even if you haven’t been in therapy, you know what I’m talking about. Well, I’ve always enjoyed looking back on relationships that have made a big impact on my life — like a coach or a teacher who wasn’t around for very long — and I’ve always been blown away by how many positive voices I’ve had in my life.

It’s surprising where they come from. A lot of times it’s my parents, or sometimes it’s the coach I had for a period of time. And for me, it’s also been very small interactions with people that made these impacts on my life that live on forever.

I think it’s been surprising to me; I don’t know why it would be, but it is a little bit surprising how ready everyone is to tell their stories about the people that have impacted them in their life. It’s shocking; it’s like you can ask almost anyone, and they’ve got an answer right away. They just want to be thankful about that thing.

I feel like it’s cool that the song gives people an opportunity to do that. It’s obviously that so much of our culture right now is just so jacked about fame and all the ridiculous things. But it feels, to me, these people that actually make the biggest difference in our life are kind of humble here. They’re loving on people in very small ways that are making huge impacts. And I want to be more like that.

Were there any other songs you were especially excited to share with your fans?

There were a lot. Honestly, I really do genuinely love this record, which I don’t say every time. I might be proud of it, but I might not love it. There’s a song, “Temporary Tears,” on the record that feels like I could have written it when I first started. You learn a lot about the craft of songwriting and some ways it gets streamlined. It’s like songs become more about the structure than the actual thing. And that song is like that. It’s just a moving song to me. I would play it at my funeral. So I’m excited about that.

“Dreams” is another one I was excited to share with everyone, because it has a crazy deep connection to us. It’s a song I wrote with Judah from Judah and the Lion. He’s been a buddy of mine for a long time, and I’ve watched their careers as they’ve been coming up. He told me a story while we were writing the record that blew me away.

He called me one night and said, “I have this story you probably don’t know.” When he was 16 or 17, he saw us at Cannery Ballroom in Nashville. And he told me, “I literally went home and decided I’m going to make a band.”

That blew me away. I’ve known him for a long time; I didn’t know that. So he asked, “What if we wrote a song about how it’s a dream that I’m getting to go on tour with you?” And I just thought that’s heavy but humbling and awesome and all those things. So, we wrote a song that was thankful to both of our audiences.

That’s something that, like any band, needs a lot of grace. And if they’ve made nine albums, you can get lost along the way. A lot of times, you make tons of mistakes. Both of us have incredibly loyal fan bases that care about the records we make and live their lives to them. The last line in the chorus is, “Fools like us are only here to prove that you make dreams come true.” And it’s that. I can’t believe we’re in this big band. We’re both rock stars. And how did this even happen? It feels ridiculous to us in a lot of ways, but we’re so thankful for it.

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