When Needtobreathe recorded its latest album, "Rivers in the Wasteland," the Southern rock band grappled with which direction to take after the departure of drummer Joe Stillwell. The band members, suffering inner tensions and the pressures of fame, felt the need to make bare-bones, from-the-heart songs to satisfy their collective soul and re-energize. The 10-time Dove-winning band chose wisely: The album landed at No. 1 on the Billboard Christian Album and Rock Albums charts, and No. 3 on the Billboard 200. I chatted with Needtobreathe guitarist and backing vocalist Bo Rinheart about the new album and tour, getting vulnerable, the hardest track to lay down, and his favorite apps.
How has the current tour been going?
So far this has been the most refreshing tour we've done in 10 years. The band is on a different level right now, with camaraderie for one and the excitement about the new material and our love for what we do. It feels like we started over.
How are you handling drumming duties without Joe Stillwell?
Randal Harris is touring with us and has been for a little over a year and a half. He's been like a brother to us and has been around us as a recording engineer for quite some time.
When Joe announced that he was leaving the band last year, fans were shocked. What led to his decision?
I think it was several things. I wouldn't want to speak on his behalf. For us, it was the right thing at the right time. We love Joe, and we still speak occasionally and catch up when we're in town. In the future, I could still see us being involved musically at some level. But he was beginning a family. So it was the right thing for him and for everyone.
You and Bear are brothers, and the band is often described as a brotherhood. Can you describe the band dynamic?
[Bear and I] have always been brothers, but our relationship carries over to the other members of the band and even the crewmembers. But I think because we've always been a part of sports teams and team camaraderie, that relationship of "You gotta fight for one another" is something we appreciate, and we carry that vibe over to whoever's up on stage with us.
The title of your new album, "Rivers in the Wasteland," is based on a biblical verse. Why is it meaningful to you?
You have to get to the low point to understand that verse fully. It's only when you become that desperate, that the river in the middle of nowhere jumps out at you. When we started, we were locked in to what we thought was best and would trust our understanding and knowledge, like if I want to be successful, I should do things I want to do great.
But on this record we were stretching ourselves to be more vulnerable. It looked good as a concept, but once we started putting it down to paper and being more exposed, the reaction within the band was one that we didn't necessarily anticipate. We were ripping apart at the seams. But it took us to a place that we didn't realize we'd get to. We thought we were in a desert, and a lot of the songs have that lyrical association. But in the midst of that, something new was happening that we weren't aware of. The answer is I couldn't anticipate what was to come.
Why did you decide to take this tactic?
We've always been a band that's honest and a band that's genuine, but on this record we decided to not let any other outside factors determine what direction we'd take going forward. We weren't thinking that this would open it up to a wider market, or this would be a greater radio song, or making it a financial decision. A lot of the record is about the heart, so from lyrics to the sonic elements, we're making decisions we believed in. We had nothing to gain but staying true to the idea.
Which was the hardest track to lay down?
"More Heart, Less Attack" -- that was right in the middle of us struggling the most. We were in the studio and stuff was not getting done, and we were pointing fingers at each other. But for this song -- I was sitting in front of the mirror while writing this song -- and as much as I wanted it to be the motto for the other guys, I knew it was about me. There's a mirror there staring back. It's more of a reminder to myself.
Switching gears, what are your top five mobile apps?
1. MLB -- I watch a lot of baseball.
4. We check the movies a lot, so Fandango is one.
5. I use Afterlight -- a photo-filtering app. It's probably the closest to Photoshop of any photo-editing app that I can find.