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Interview with NEEDTOBREATHE's Joe Stillwell

Saturday, March 20, 2010

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NEEDTOBREATHE is Joe Stillwell, Bear Rinehart, Bo Rinehart and Seth Bolt.
Since it's release in August, NEEDTOBREATHE's third album "The Outsiders" has been picking up speed and building the band's notoriety.

But it hasn't just been the last seven months for this South Carolina outfit. The band formed in 1999, composed of brothers Bear (lead vocals, guitar) and Bo (guitar) Rinehart and childhood friends Joe Stillwell (drums) and Seth Bolt (bass). They've toured incessantly for over a decade now.

Their first album came with Atlantic's release of "Daylight" in 2006. "The Heat" followed in 2007, and with it came increased exposure, including the hit single "More Time."

It's been even bigger and better things since "The Outsiders," though. Top to bottom, it is the band's strongest work to date, including such tracks as "Lay 'Em Down," "Something Beautiful," "Hurricane" and the energetic title track.

The group's current Won't Turn Back Tour will bring them back to Indianapolis for a show at the Vogue at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

Stillwell recently took a few minutes to talk to me about the tour, the album and what life's like for a band on the rise.

Banner Graphic: How's the tour going so far?

Joe Stillwell: "It's going great. We had an amazing show at the House of Blues in Dallas. It was really, really good. It's the first time we've played the big room there at the House of Blues. They have a smaller venue there and we did that last time. We've sold that out a couple of times. We got into the big room, and I think about three times as many people as came to see us at the smaller venue were there last night. It's a huge success. It was really cool."

BG: Since releasing "The Outsiders" in August, it seems the band is really picking up momentum. This is the third time you've played Indianapolis since the release, and each time it's been in a larger venue. What has the experience been like?

JS: It's really gratifying. We've been doing this for a little over 11 years now. We started just playing at the little coffee house and me and Bear's college when we were freshmen. It's been a long time coming.

I think it's more gratifying that it's taken so many years of hard work to get there. If it would've happened all of a sudden, I don't think we could've appreciated it. There's some bands that have their one big radio hit and then everything takes off for them. I think for us, we've kind of grown into it in a really good way. It kind of helps us to have some perspective on it and to be grateful for how much it's been growing the last year or so.

BG: What influence has the long progression had on your development as a band?

JS: It helps you to stand out from everything else. There's a lot of pressure in the music business to kind of follow trends with whatever's happening at the time and whatever's happening on the radio. For us to kind of have that freedom to grow gradually and to introduce our fan base to new things that we get into -- it helps to have the fan base grow with you. It develops a more dedicated fan.

We feel like we can pretty much put out anything; we could do like a country record and I think our fans would still get it. They would still embrace it as something new that's coming from us.

BG: The freedom to explore your sound seems like a special situation, given your label. It's the kind of freedom you would expect from an indie, not a major like Atlantic.

JS: It's definitely been a unique situation with us. It's really good to have Atlantic there and have them available for the things we need financially and promotions-wise and just to have the experience of a major label behind you.

I'm actually really surprised at how much freedom they've given us -- everything down to Bear and Bo just edited the last video we shot for "Hurricane." Instead of sending out a stylist, they say, "Go out shopping. You know how you want to look and you know how you want to sound."

I think we've proven to Atlantic that we're so personally invested in what we do in this band; we've been together, the same people, for over 10 years now. This is everything we've go, so we've proven to them that we're putting everything into it. That's developed a little bit of trust with them.

BG: Does having the same lineup all these years make it more gratifying? You've had the opportunity to share this experience for a decade with people you already know and love.

JS: I hesitate to use sports analogies, but it's very much like a team. You go through so much together, and you were friends before you were even in this band. To have known somebody for so many years and to accomplish the same things together through all the work we've been putting into it, there's already that bond that was there from the friendships. But to do all this in our professional lives, it just strengthens that even more.

And it's always good to have people around who've known you for a long time because you don have to put on any airs or facades. You can be yourself. They know who you are; you know who they are. Everybody is on the same page about everything. I think it's a lot more comfortable playing with these people than it would be playing with a solo artist where you just got hired on to do a single tour.

BG: From your August show in Indianapolis to the November show, the accompanying light show really grew. As your venues grow, will that become more complex?

JS: We've stepped it up a little more on this tour. We still have the LED curtain backdrop, but we also brought out some intelligent lights that we're going to be running. Our light guy has put a bunch of new stuff together.

It all just adds to the impact of what we can do live. As you grow and as more people find out about you, you want to step up what you can put out there. We always want to do something a little bit bigger and better than the last time we cam out. It just seems natural to us to go to each next level and just get more stuff, get bigger trailers and try to figure out how to fit everything into a trailer. I think right now, our tour manager would probably be a world champion at Tetris with the way he's got all these cases packed in the trailer.

BG: What has the Indianapolis scene been like for you as a band? Has this always been a good area for you?

JS:> It's been a little bit of a slow build. Before we headlined in Indy, we did a few opening shows. There's only been a couple of markets for us that have been really taking off the first time we've come there.

I think Indy has been a little bit quicker of a build in terms of seeing more people come out. There's so many different things about the music culture in each of these cities. The first time we played Seattle, we'd had some radio play and we sold out the show the first time.

It's a different beast in different cities, but I think we've felt really good about Indianapolis. We love the city. The venues have always been great. The fans have always been good to us as well. It just makes sense for us to come back.

Tickets are still available for NEEDTOBREATHE's stop at the Vogue. They are $15, and the show is for only those 21 and older.



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