Interview with Bear Rinehart aka Wilder Woods

NEEDTOBREATHE’s Bear Rinehart on his new solo project, ‘Wilder Woods’, his debut solo album, and his current headlining tour.

Independent Philly recently had the pleasure of chatting with Bear Rinehart, an exceptionally talented singer-songwriter who has just released his new solo project, Wilder Woods. Better known to some as the frontman of the Grammy-nominated (and chart-topping) band, NEEDTOBREATHE, Bear has been hard at work on his brand new album, Wilder Woods, and he is set to play at World Café Live this weekend on Saturday, September 7th. Philly will be the third stop on his headline tour for his self-titled debut album and believe it when I tell you that once you hear these funky yet refined, lyrically sophisticated tracks, you won’t want to miss him!

Independent Philly:  It’s nice to meet you! We’re really excited to have you in Philly during your tour. I’ve been listening to your new album, Wilder Woods, which happens to be fantastic by the way, and I was just wondering, where does the name Wilder Woods come from?

Bear Rinehart:  It’s named after my two boys. I’ve got two young boys, Wilder and Woods. I really wanted the project to kind of have an identity of its own. And so I kind of fell on that. Haha, I mean their names are really cool so…

Independent Philly: Yeah, really cool names! You must be a really cool dad.

Bear Rinehart  Oh, we’ll see… (laughs)

Independent Philly  How old are your kids? 

Bear Rinehart:  Four and One.

Independent Philly: Those are such sweet ages! So your band, NEEDTOBREATHE, you started that with your brother, Bo, and you’re both originally from South Carolina?

Bear Rinehart:  Yes.

Independent Philly: And you guys grew up with a dad who is a preacher… I know that NEEDTOBREATHE was a more Christian-based rock band. How do you feel like that’s translating into your new album Wilder Woods, and to your solo music in general?

Bear Rinehart: Um, you know, I don’t know. You know, obviously when you make a solo record, it gets a little bit more personal. I think that the band records are made with, you know, a view of everyone in mind and the solo thing, you know, naturally ended up being more about me and my family and the way that I view things. So, I think that this project is really different in a lot of ways, especially musically, but also lyrically more than anything I’ve done before. So, you know, I hope that people can see it in a fresh way…

Independent Philly:  For sure. I mean, I’ve personally been listening to your new album and I particularly love the songs ‘Electric Woman’ and ‘Supply and Demand.’ I find that all of your songs are quite different from one another, but also very similar in a sense. So first of all, I love that about your album. Second, I’m wondering who your biggest musical influences were in creating this solo project? And did you purposely want each song to have a different type of sound and genre?

Bear Rinehart:  Yea, I think most of the influences for me you know, come from a soul sort of place. I think, first starting with some classic things, like Ray Charles or Otis Redding, Joe Cocker, all that kind of Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, you know, a lot of those things. I think the goal of the record was to write songs in the vein you know, of those kinds of guys, like very classic songs. And then when we take them into the studio, produce them in a much more modern way. So maybe it’s like Childish Gambino or Anderson Paak you know, something like that where it’s like… take the old stuff and then really screw it up in my own way. The things I’ve learned from a modern sort of production place. And I think that really ends up happening. I think what happens is like, you land in some place that feels very new, which was the goal…

I think that took us a long time to figure out exactly what it looked like, what sort of mixture… what percentage soul, what percentage modern and alternative and weird you know, could land us there.

– Bear Rinehart on finding the sound of his new music

And so, as far as artists whose careers I really like go, it’s obviously like a Beck or a Jack White, or someone who I feel like, is really unpredictable in where they land each time… and I really like that.

Independent Philly:  I love the mix of classic and modern. I mean, I feel like you found the right balance with that. 

Bear Rinehart: Thank you.

Independent Philly:  So, compared to touring with a band, how was preparation for your Wilder Woods tour?

Bear Rinehart: It’s been really, it’s been awesome. It’s been really tough. I think you’re starting something out, and no one knows what it looks like or feels like, no one really has context for it. I’ve been really fortunate to get a band that is amazing this first time out, which I know a lot of solo artists kind of struggle with that. I had a guy that I knew from Charleston, there’s a piano player, organ player, he used to play with DeAngelo. So, he sort of helped me build a band out. And so a lot of guys that I was aware of but didn’t know very well… so we’re like, going through the process of becoming a new band, you know, we’re like forming it together. So, every show is like a giant improvement from the one before. But they are like insane players and I’m excited about the tour ’cause I think it will have an energy that’s different than anything I’ve done before.

Independent Philly: That’s awesome! I know that it’s definitely hard and you need to find your groove with new bandmates, but you’re very lucky that it worked out so well. I’m sure the audience will really be able to feel that energy during your shows. I did watch some of your Instagram videos before talking to you and I saw that you mentioned Anderson Paak and other artists like that. Are you into rap?

Bear Rinehart  Yeah, I mean, it’s funny, like, I grew up listening to a lot more rap than probably people would think with, you know, a very Southern upbringing, but by the time I was in eighth, ninth, tenth grade, I would say… you know, things like Outkast and Tupac and stuff like that were as influential, probably, in my musical upbringing as anything else. Until I got to college, I really wasn’t like putting those elements together. Like, taking what I knew about soul and R&B and rap and all that and like putting into something I could play and own, you know? But yeah, I mean, my influences come a lot from that. I think early 90’s, like, R&B are always like a sense of melody to me that I feel like I fall back on.

Wilder Woods

Independent Philly: Nice, that’s really interesting. I would have never thought that about you so I’m sure your fans will love to know that! So… just curious, any favorite rappers other than the ones you’ve mentioned already that you currently listen to?

Bear Rinehart  Yeah, um, I hesitate to say… haha. I’m trying to think of who I listen to right now as far as rap goes, I mean, not a whole lot, I think most of my stuff would be dated you know what I mean? For me, like it was always about, like the mix of rap and song. So, I think it’s hard to like go away from someone like Jay Z and Kanye. The Kanye stuff probably has musically influenced a lot of what I do now. It’s hard to go to think of like him not influencing people, musically. But you know, really breaking down the samples and the meaning behind the samples and just sort of setting the stage, like thinking of the song as like this epic thing… I think that that is something I would say the Beatles did, and Kanye does and, I think that in that way, I respect both of them the same way.

Independent Philly: Okay! Good answer! I mean, the 90’s were a great decade. I also noticed that you play an insane variety of musical instruments. So, it sounds like you really understand music and that you’re able to take different elements and put them all together in a beautiful way. How did you get into music originally? And playing all of these instruments?

Bear Rinehart: Well, both of my parents played music, my mom was a piano teacher, when my parents first got married, they were choir directors and um, it was something that was always around, I wasn’t super into it early on… and still I wouldn’t say I’m like one of these music nerds in that way, I mean, I really learned enough on all of the instruments to play from a “feel” place. You know, I think that music is very childlike in a lot of ways. And I think you get proficient enough to act like a child on your instrument. And I think that’s kind of what I really like about it. I think I play a lot of things okay, and not great at any one of the things, but enough to write songs on it. And I think that was always the thing for me when I first started playing music within two months of picking up a guitar, I was writing songs. I never was really interested in covering other people or learning how they did it as much, I mean, I’m still that way. The first thing I do when I pick up an instrument, you know that I’ve never played before, is try to write something on it.

Independent Philly: That’s really cool. So you would consider yourself a singer/songwriter?

Bear Rinehart: Yeah, I think the writing songs is a big part of what I do. I think, something that has been my experience is that I’m a band leader in a lot of ways, you know, I really like, you know, finding characters and like letting them speak in a way that they know best. And I think that’s something that is really fun about this project, is I’m kind of already bringing in a drummer that I really love and I’m kind of just directing, rather than having to play it all myself. And I think that has been a lot of fun… it’s just like… get a group of people together and get the best out of everybody.

Independent Philly: I mean, from everything you’re saying, I consider you a true artist, you know? So… sidenote. I just read that you recorded your first album with NEEDTOBREATHE in the UK. Were you able to develop a cool British accent at all?

Bear Rinehart: (Laughs) No, I’m horrible at it! It’s weird, you know, when I’m in the South, the southern accent gets crazier. Yeah, when I’m over there I feel like I start picking up certain phrases, but I can only do it when it’s unintentional.

Independent Philly: Okay, well, I won’t make you do it then. I was going to originally…. but I won’t. So your tour. You’re starting off in Nashville and then Canada, eh? And then Philly.

Bear Rinehart: Yea

Independent Philly: Cool! You’ll be playing at World Cafe Live on September 7th, is there anything that you can think of that you would want Philadelphians and the people of the Northeast in general to know about your tour and your new album?

Bear Rinehart: Yeah, I think just that, you know, fans of the band, are probably curious whether or not this is sort of a hobby for me, or if it’s you know, a side project or whatever. But it’s something that is really important to me, and I’m going to be working at it you know, for the long run and I think that this show will be the first evidence of that.

I think people will really see like, “Woah this is the real thing.”

Bear Rinehart on his solo career

And so I think the show can be a lot of fun and have a lot of depth to it and show me, a different side of me that people haven’t seen before. Which I’m excited to get to and I love that venue, we’ve played there before when we were comin’ up… I think it’ll be a lot of fun.

Independent Philly: Nice. Well, I can’t wait to see it!

Bear Rinehart: Also, we’re giving away free Cadillacs and gold chains.

Independent Philly: What?!

Bear Rinehart  So, you know, you gotta be there. Haha, I’m just kidding!

Independent Philly: Okay, yep you got me there. I guess I’m a tiny bit gullible…

Bear Rinehart: (Laughs)

Independent Philly: Other than that though, I’m wondering what your brother thinks of your solo project?

Bear Rinehart: Yeah, I don’t know, you’d have to ask him. I think that everybody has been supportive. Which I think is a cool thing. Because I think that creativity, you know… it’s really hard to contain it, you know, and when you start trying, it kind of goes away. So I think everybody respects that part it’s like, everybody has their own things that they’re doing right now. And we all feel like we should be supportive of that, even if we don’t know what it is exactly. I think when we get back together, that will be helpful.

Independent Philly: It’s great that you have everyone’s support. Other than that though, I’m kind of dying to know where your name, Bear comes from. I did hear that it’s a nickname.

Bear Rinehart: Yeah, it’s a football coach from Alabama, Bear Bryant. And both my parents were from Alabama and both of them obviously were rednecks… enough to name me after a football coach. But it’s been a cool thing because I’ve never really been called anything but that. And, you know, I got picked on a little as a kid for it, but I really appreciate it now, it really is unique I think.

Independent Philly: Very cool! Okay, last question.. Is there anything you can tell me about yourself that would surprise or possibly even shocked fans?

Bear Rinehart: Um, yeah, I mean, I think… I don’t know if it’s a shocking but you know, I wake up at 6:15 every day with these two boys that want to fight first thing in the morning. That’s surprising. Haha. And, I was a college football player. And… was really good, I was the college football player of the year of my senior year.

Independent Philly: Wow, nice. So you’re an athlete too?

Bear Rinehart: …Though I don’t look like it. Yeah. I was, haha.

Independent Philly: Haha. Well, we’re really excited to see you and I know everyone’s going to love your new album. Actually, out of curiosity, what’s your favorite song on the album? I know you have to be partial to them all. But I mean…

Bear Rinehart: Yeah, “Light Shine In” is probably my favorite right now. Yes. (Laughs) It has the most words in it but also, I think it’s really says what the theme of the record is and the lyric and the way it came about was so spontaneous it’s a lot of fun for me to hear it now. We basically started that in the studio, we tried to write that song three or four times to lyric and changed musically a bunch of times.

Then one day in the studio, one of the last days were there, we were working on some feedback for another song, like this crazy sound was going on and that’s what starts the record. And then the intro came from this little sort of nursery rhyme thing that I had written to sing with my boys. We change the key of it… So the record starts with me singing that on my phone and then goes into the band coming in. And all of that happened within like, three hours in the studio. So the fact that it’s the opening track now, it feels really fresh to me.

Independent Philly: Okay, I obviously didn’t know the story behind it but ‘Light Shine In’ is such a beautiful song. Knowing the backstory just adds more layers to it for me! SO, I wish you the best of luck in Canada and Nashville… and I hope you guys love Philly. We’re all excited to see you out here!

You can download and stream new album Wilder Woods here:

Wilder Woods (Bear) will be performing at World Cafe Live on Saturday, September 7th in Philly. Doors open 7:00pm/ Show starts 8:00pm.

Purchase your tickets here!

[ Interview by Jen Strogatz ]

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