Lead singer Bear Rinehart touches on the themes from the band’s third album The Outsiders, writing from an honest perspective, being part of the new Southern music sound, and the group’s increasing popularity.
How’s this tour been going so far?
It’s been really good, man. It’s definitely doubled and tripled the size that we’ve ever done, so it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been pretty cool.
You’re going to be doing some hometown shows this weekend, right?
Yeah, we’re on the way back to home now. We got a show in Charlotte, North Carolina today, and then Charleston is home and we have two there. That should be pretty cool, playing in front of people in our home state. We’ll change it up a little and do a little different songs.
So your actual name is really Bear?
How did that happen?
Both of my parents are huge Alabama fans. We call my brother Bo but his real name is Bryant, so the Bear/Bryant thing is from the great football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. It’s a little trailer trash, but they were huge Alabama fans and we had to carry on that tradition, too.
Your last album The Outsiders has been out for a little over six months. What does it feel like to have your third album out and under your belt now?
It’s cool. We’ve been doing this for a long time, almost 11 years now, and it’s been a growing process. We feel like we get better every day. Maybe we’re slow learners or something, but I think it’s taken us a long time to find our sound and find who we are.
This record’s been really cool because I feel like we’ve found an audience at the same time we’ve found ourselves and our sound. It doesn’t feel like work. It feels completely natural to us, and it’s something we’re definitely proud of. We’ve made a record that feels comfortable to us and feels like what we wanted it to sound, and we’ve found a crowd that’s into it.
The title The Outsiders is one of the underlying themes of the album. How did you come up with that and is there a deeper layer to it?
I think we’ve always felt that way a little bit. The song helped us put it into words. We’re from a small town and never felt completely comfortable in any musical niche. We never felt emo, or all of that. We never felt a million different things. We always felt like it was music to us.
Being from a small town, and then signing to a label in New York, every time we were in New York or L.A. we felt like we were on the outside looking in. We never felt comfortable completely.
Over the years, I think we’ve gotten more and more comfortable with the fact that our perspective was what was really valuable about us. I think the whole record is really about us coming to terms with not only being outsiders, but that that’s a good thing. I think it’s a song people get from it that we’re proud of it and that we’ve earned in a way, but it’s definitely something we can rally around.
Another thing I picked up on is that a certain amount of the record is also about dealing with the cares and trials of the world, and realizing you don’t have control over them. Songs like “Lay ‘Em Down” and “These Hard Times” address that. How did that subject come into shape on the record?
They come naturally. I think lyrically for us we never go into a song with a certain idea. It’s more of what the song should feel like and how does that play into what we’re dealing with at the moment. I think there’s something for us that we like to encourage people to live life for all it’s worth. Those songs are good examples of that.
One of our things over the years has always been that even though you’ve been hurt in life, if you don’t try it again, if you never become vulnerable again, you’ll never experience love again. That’s something we feel like is one of the depressing things about people going through situations who just get beat by it. We feel like our music can help with and hopefully inspire some people to give it a try again.
My favorite track on the record is the last song, “Let Us Love.” Does that go along with what that song is talking about?
Yeah. I think that song is meant to be a rock ‘n’ roll song for the first part, but it is also about being fed up with certain things. I think “Something Beautiful” is a similar thing. We get fed up a lot with people selling themselves short in terms of life, in terms of their artistic input on the world, and the things they enjoy and appreciate.
There’s a lot of great stuff out there, and I think a lot of times people sell themselves short on what they’re able to get. That’s definitely a theme on the record. How tired is everybody of bad reality shows, and just bull music? There’s a lot of people that are doing it, and there’s a lot of people who aren’t. They don’t see what real beauty is and what real authenticity is, and we’re trying to encourage people to look for that.
Also on the record you incorporated a wider array of instruments than you have in the past with more of a Southern influence. What was that like for you to work in?
It was natural for us because we’ve done all the records. It’s a matter of the tools most of the time. We just went out and bought a bunch of stuff to have lying around in the studio. It was like, let’s get a banjo in there, a mandolin and a mountain dulcimer. All this stuff that we don’t even know how to play. Let’s put it around the studio, and when we get to a song we feel like has hit a wall or needs something, let’s mess around with this stuff. That’s really how the stuff made it on the record. It was a very organic thing that way.
Having your own place, you definitely feel the liberty to experiment with stuff. That’s what I think happened on this record. If we needed to take a few hours to learn how to play the mountain dulcimer so we could put it in a song, we would do it. I think that was a cool part of the record, and it added a lot of texture. We’re in the process now of starting to think about our next record, and it’s a matter of that kind of thing again. What kind of tools do we have lying around when it comes to a song?
Another interesting thing was you did three different recording sessions with three different producers. Are you happy with how those turned out?
Yeah, I am. I think this record we really wanted to stress the fact the songs were different within the record. We were going to serve the songs, and do whatever it took for the individual songs and not worry about it being a record until the end. That’s something we really are proud of.
When you listen to the record, it does seem a little bit all over the place. I think that’s definitely what we were going for. We’ve learned over time that we can’t not be ourselves. It always comes across as sounding like us, regardless of what we do. So for us, that’s encouraging, and we can try anything we want. That’s what this record is about.
On the one hand, you’ve got these really stripped-down songs, like “Stones Under Rushing Water,” which was a live take and completely raw, and then you have songs like “Hurricane,” which was really more like a science experiment with a ton of tracks and all this crazy stuff going on. We wanted to be able to put those on the same record because I think that represents our band, especially live, where we go from all the way down to more anthem type rock. Definitely the different producers helped us do that because they love going to a different place with different shades, so naturally it’s going to be different.
As far as writing goes, do all four of you bring different song ideas and lyric ideas to the table, and then you work from that? How does that process usually work?
Usually me and Bo, my brother, bring the songs to the band. A lot of times we’ll work on them together before we bring them to the band, so it’s more of that process. Then obviously once we get to the studio, it’s all hands on. We have the time because we work in our own place to try anybody’s idea, so it’s definitely a collaborative thing in that way.
All four of us are very different as far as our influences go. I think when we bring a song to the table, we’re all seeing it through different eyes, and we try to get a little bit of that flavor from each guy.
Of all the songs on the record, what was the one that came the most naturally and what was the one you had the most difficulty writing?
I think probably “Lay ‘Em Down” was the one that came the quickest. Bo had had that riff on the guitar for a while. We decided to do it in the studio one day after we had been playing it in soundcheck a little bit, and it just came out in no time.
As for the difficult song, there’s a couple on there. “Something Beautiful” was a really hard song to get right. We had actually written three different verses for that song. It was one of those where we kept on going back and refining it and refining it. We can make it all hard, I think [laughs], harder than it should be. We way overthink the stuff because ultimately this is our life and these records last a long time. This is pretty important stuff, and we spend way too much time with them.
Jon Foreman of Switchfoot had a cool little quote where he said, “I write about things I don’t understand, so mostly God and women.” Does that apply to you and your writing style as well?
I think maybe the God and women part [laughs]. I think we try to write about things we do know about. Maybe we don’t understand them in some ways, but we try to write honest emotions. That’s something that we’ve found, regardless if people are going through the same situations as we are, which most of the time they’re not. There’s emotions that go into that situation, and dealing with that situation, that seem to be pretty universal.
It’s always surprising how much people relate to the music, and sort of weave it into their everyday life, when we have so little in common with them. It’s mind blowing because we’re writing about fairly specific situations in our lives and the way those made us feel, but I think the human condition is very similar. I think people take those things, those emotions and those feelings, and translate them into whatever they’re going through.
Have you and your brother always written music together?
We probably started when I was about 16. When you’re in high school, your brother’s not that cool, so we didn’t hang out that much until I went to college. I started playing before him, then he started playing, and pretty soon after he started writing songs. Both of us never knew how to play other people’s songs. We were always writing our own.
So after having a guitar for two or three months, we both started writing right away. I think that helped us a lot. We started to learn how to write together and what we felt was good. It’s been an interesting way to get close to your brother for the last 10 or 11 years.
The other two guys in the band are also childhood friends. What’s it been like for the four of you to come up together and do this as one?
It feels very much like a family. I think we’ve always had that, and it gets more and more that way. The people on the outside are trying to put their hands on it. It’s made us really close. Me and Bo being brothers I think has translated with the other guys. I feel like we all deal with each other like we’re brothers. We fight a lot, we’re very harsh with each other, but I think it brings out the best in us because we know what each other is capable of. We don’t let people slide without giving it to the other guy, and I think that’s something that’s definitely strengthened the band.
One of the things you’ve experienced, as far as popularity goes, is that it’s been a slow burn where you’ve had to tour a lot to get your name out there. Do you feel that’s been paying off and going well?
Yeah. I can’t say that when we first started this 10 years ago that we had that in mind, but I can say we’re really glad it happened that way. We’re really proud of it. I think it’s taught us a lot over the years about what is valuable, personally and business wise, and what we were like as a band really trying to come into our own. I feel like we made every mistake you could possibly make. So when we go into it now, we have a lot more to handle.
In the last year, it’s started to grow exponentially for us. This tour, even the last couple of weeks we’re playing bigger places than we’ve ever played. We’re doubling and tripling the size. At times right now, it feels like a rollercoaster. In comparison, we used to be only growing by 20 fans at a time. Growing up that way certainly makes you stronger. You learn to not take it for granted. I think this time we’re in right now is a lot of fun. Every night we get to play to a full house of people, and we’re completely grateful for it.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed is you have a fairly similar background to Kings of Leon. If you exploded like they have, would that kind of blow your mind?
Yeah [laughs]. It’s interesting, because I was talking about this the other day, but I remember when they first got together. We had been a band for probably three or four years already. I remember getting their first record and thinking, “Man, who are these dudes?” It’s been cool to watch their progression. We’re fans of the band.
I feel like we’re a part of something that’s happening that’s beyond just them. You look at My Morning Jacket, Manchester Orchestra and stuff like that. I feel Southern rock is changing. It took a long time to get over Southern rock being Lynyrd Skynyrd, and we feel like we’re a part of a movement in some ways of a new Southern sound. People are really digging it right now.
I will say it definitely beats the Nickelback sounding bands.
Yeah, totally [laughs].
So what do you have coming up next after this tour is over?
We’re doing a bunch of festivals. We’re playing Bonnaroo and Summer Fest. Then we’re going to do some opening stuff in August. We can’t say with who yet, but we’re big fans. Then we’re going to headline again at the end of the year. It’s gone so fast. We feel like half the audience every night is new people, and most of these shows are sold out. It’s like we have to get back to town to play bigger venues and keep working at it.
Do you like to write while you’re on the road, or do you like to save that for when you’re home in the studio?
I think we do. I think we write pretty constantly. So yeah, we’re kind of messing with that a little bit now. We’ve definitely written a bunch of songs since the last record already. I think for us, we like to write the songs, and have that direct us a little bit and feel out to see what the record is going to be. How we’d like to record it and what directions – all those conversations are starting to crop up now more and more. Leading into the record we won’t sleep for much, trying to find how we’re going to do it, but I definitely feel like that process has started.
So I take it you don’t miss not having gone the wide receiver route?
No. I really don’t, man. I love sports. It’s kind of ridiculous. We could hang with some people in the sports world, and it’s funny how much they want to be in this world and we want to be in that one. I really don’t miss the getting hit and the working out. I’ve always felt like this was the thing I wanted to do, and I just feel really blessed to do it now.
Originally appeared on Decoy Music