Some bands like to fall neatly into a specific genre’s strictures. Others can’t stand the idea of being stuck with those expectations. Needtobreathe falls, somewhat neatly, into the second category.
The Grammy-nominated southern rock band will be in Helena Tuesday as part of its Acoustic Live tour, where the band takes its signature arena-rock style of Christian-infused lyrics and stomping country rhythms and make it fit a tight theater, or in Helena’s case, the Civic Center.
Needtobreathe formed in South Carolina in the early 2000s, with brothers Bear and Bryant Rinehart playing music throughout their time in college before joining with bassist Seth Bolt and drummer Joe Stillwell after graduation. A debut album flowed organically from their time touring in the southeast and “Daylight” was released in 2005.
Needtobreathe has toured and opened for bands as diverse as Train, Will Hoge, Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw. In the past year it opened for Faith Hill and McGraw and played in some enormous stadiums. This is a band that has also sold out Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Colorado’s Front Range for the past four years.
Keyboard player Josh Lovelace said that for the past few years, the band has been on the road “non-stop.”
“We’re trying to build our audience,” Lovelace said. “Making music that our fans love, opening for other artists and building new fans.”
With a Knoxville, Tennessee, twang and speaking from an open-air Jeep driving to the airport, Lovelace has the southern rock ethos down cold.
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While playing for massive crowds in sold-out stadiums fits much of Needtobreathe arena-rock sound, Lovelace said playing in smaller spaces during the acoustic tour has been “really fun.”
As the keyboard player, however, making sure his instrument is doing what it needs to has been a little thornier than it has been for the rest of the band.
“It’s definitely a tricky thing,” Lovelace said. “In radio stations, or doing small house concerts with no house sound system, I have to ask how the piano is going to be improvised.”
Lovelace still uses an electric keyboard (no one really wants to move a baby grand piano around the country for a band that tours as hard as them) but puts it into a piano shell while he plays. It's "for the aesthetic," Lovelace said. And it works for them, as the tour has been reminding Lovelace of MTV’s "Unplugged" series, where artists with big sounds played in an intimate space, using the change in pace to gain a whole different kind of depth.
“We’ve always been a band that tries to make music that’s real to us,” Lovelace said, responding to a question about how the band is labeled. Needtobreathe writes and performs music that has Christian-inflection and has been popular on the Christian music awards circuit, winning numerous Gospel Music Association Dove Awards.
But Lovelace said the band is more focused on making music that “soundtracks people’s lives.”
"We try to be real to who we are," Lovelace said. "(The music) is something you're living your life to."