South Carolina rock group Needtobreathe debuted in the 2000s with an earnest sound similar to John Mayer and Kings of Leon and lyrics inspired by their Christian faith. Despite occasional spiritual pigeonholing, the band found crossover success with secular audiences, touring with genre-spanning acts such as Train, Taylor Swift, and Tim McGraw. With each successive album, they made a slow climb to the top of the charts, emerging in the Top Ten with 2011's The Reckoning and rising to number two with 2016's Hard Love.
The band was formed by brothers Bear and Bryant "Bo" Rinehart, who were born and raised in rural Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, where their pastor father ran a church camp. After moving to nearby Seneca, the two siblings were exposed to a variety of music and started playing instruments themselves. Several years later, while enrolled at Furman University, Bear -- who was also an award-winning wide receiver -- moonlighted as a vocalist, guitarist, and pianist, even finding time to perform around campus with longtime friend and drummer Joe Stillwell. Meanwhile, Bo studied architecture at Clemson while playing guitar in his spare time. After graduation, both he and bassist Seth Bolt joined the Bear/Stillwell duo to form Needtobreathe.
Since Bolt had received a degree in recording engineering, the band honed its sound while recording several EPs at Bolt's own Plantation Studios. A strenuous tour of the U.S. Southeast and Midwest followed. The hard work paid off when Needtobreathe came to the attention of Atlantic/Lava Records, who signed the band in 2005. A debut full-length album, Daylight (the cover of which was painted by Bo), arrived one year later, recorded at the British Heliocentric Studios with Keane's producer, Andy Green. Tours with Train, Collective Soul, and Will Hoge kept the guys busy throughout the year, and they returned to the studio in December to begin work on their follow-up. The Heat was released in August 2007, and helped establish the band as one of Christian rock's most successful newcomers, spawning several singles and earning two Dove Award nominations while maintaining a crossover audience.
The Outsiders followed in 2009, boasting an epic sound reminiscent of U2 and the Fray. The album also highlighted the band's love for Southern rock, leading to a string of strong singles that helped The Outsiders fare well with Christian audiences (resulting in the receipt of three Dove Awards in 2010) and secular listeners (who helped push the album to number 20 on the Billboard charts). Needtobreathe's heavy touring ethic helped, too, and they wound up staying on the road for two straight years, playing festivals like Bonnaroo before opening a series of North American stadium shows for Taylor Swift. Meanwhile, they released the EP Live Horses in late 2010, and continued writing new material, much of which wound up on 2011's The Reckoning, which climbed to number six on Billboard's Hot 200. Stillwell exited the band in the summer of 2012, and an EP of songs from the Reckoning sessions titled Keep Your Eyes Open followed that fall and cracked Billboard's Top 100. Their five-track Cercas Blancas EP arrived in 2013.
The following year, the band released their fifth studio album, the down-to-earth Rivers in the Wasteland, as well as a live EP, 60/50 Ocean Way: The Live Room Sessions. Rivers in the Wasteland peaked at number three on the Billboard albums chart, and the song "Multiplied" earned Needtobreathe their first Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song. Their first full-length live album, Live from the Woods at Fontanel -- recorded at the Nashville venue on September 13, 2014 -- was released in the spring of 2015, and was followed by the group's first North American headlining tour. A third Wasteland-related release, Rivers EP, appeared toward the end of 2015. It featured four reworkings of tracks from their hit album, including a new version of "Brother" with Gavin DeGraw. In early 2016, Needtobreathe announced their sixth studio LP, Hard Love. Released in July of that year, the album added hip-hop beats and a pop sensibility similar to OneRepublic. Lead single "Happiness," with its gospel choir and handclapping, debuted on the Billboard Christian chart at number five. The album itself peaked at number two on Billboard's Top 200, making it the band's highest-charting album to date. Following a year of heavy touring in 2017, Needtobreathe returned in early 2018 with the singles "Bridges Burn," "Darling," and "Bullets" from the EP Forever on Your Side. Later that year, the band issued Acoustic Live, Vol. 1, which collected 12 tracks recorded during their 2017 acoustic tour. ~ Marisa Brown & Neil Z. Yeung