Needtobreathe — Revitalized band focuses on playing music, not selling music _lowres

Atlantic Records photo by SULLY SULLIVAN -- Needtobreathe

From South Carolina, Needtobreathe bridges the gap between the stadium anthems of U2 and Southern rock of the Black Crowes. Country and folk are in the mix, too, but it’s all still the special sound of Needtobreathe.

The latest Needtobreathe album, “Rivers in the Wasteland,” debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes albums chart and No. 3 on the Billboard 200. The Top 5 Billboard debut for “Rivers” exceeds the No. 6 peak reached by 2011’s “The Reckoning” and the No. 20 spot for 2009’s “The Outsiders.”

“We try not to look at the charts,” Needtobreathe keyboard player Josh Lovelace said recently. “But sometimes we catch ourselves looking on iTunes or something.”

Revitalized following difficult times within the band, Needtobreathe would rather keep its eyes on the basics of making and playing music rather than the selling of music.

“We just want to play music for people and get music to fans,” Lovelace said. “Rivers in the Wasteland” is the album that almost wasn’t. The more than two years of touring that followed the release of “The Reckoning” left the band frayed and conflicted. Brothers Bear and Bo Rinehart were estranged.

“Anytime that you have family involved in art and business, it can be tough at times,” Lovelace said. “When you’re in close quarters, emotions sometimes come out.”

The tension that accompanied Needtobreathe on the road stayed with the group when it entered the studio to make “Rivers in the Wasteland.”

“We thought it was going to be a pretty easy thing,” Lovelace remembered. “We had the songs. We were going to try to cut them live, just play them. We thought the record might take just two weeks. It ended up taking over a year to make.

“We got to the end of the process but couldn’t finish the record. We didn’t agree on a lot of things, things other than the music. Our relationships with each other and our families were in turmoil. It came to a head. We’re brothers and best friends before we’re bandmates. If we couldn’t make it work, we were going to hang it up.”

In the end, the Rinehart brothers, bassist Seth Bolt and Lovelace realigned.

“We wanted to continue making music for people,” Lovelace said. “So we found a new vision for the band. Everybody came to that same place. We fell in love again with why we do what we do.”

A relatively new member of Needtobreathe, Lovelace has been with the group since the tail end of recording sessions for “The Reckoning.” He also performed with the band when it opened for Taylor Swift during her “Speak Now” stadium tour in 2011.

Lovelace was a Needtobreathe fan before he joined the group.

“I loved their music,” he said. “I thought what they were doing was unique and special. I didn’t know the dynamics of how things worked behind the scenes. So when I came in and saw how they work, I saw the pressure that everybody’s under to be great. Bear and Bo are extremely talented. They come from different directions of the musical spectrum and that makes them great.”

During a recent Needtobreathe show in Knoxville, Tennessee, singer Bear Rinehart announced to Lovelace’s hometown audience that the keyboardist had become an official member of the band.

“It was amazing,” Lovelace said. “My parents were there, my wife and her parents, and a lot of close friends and other family members were there to experience it and celebrate with us. So it was an emotional night for everybody. I feel very blessed.”

Needtobreathe/The Oh Hellos

WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday

WHERE: River Center Theatre, 275 St. Louis St., Baton Rouge

TICKETS: $39.60-$49.80