Wilder Woods marks the beginning of a new era for seasoned folk-rocker Bear Rinehart. Rinehart has had a long and illustrious career as a founding member and lead singer of the band NEEDTOBREATHE, having racked up six full-length albums (including RIAA-certified gold The Outsiders) and a Grammy nomination since the group's formation in 2001. Nearly two decades later, the singer begins his journey as a solo artist under the moniker Wilder Woods.
Our first look at Rinehart's new project came in the form of a two-song release titled Introducing Wilder Woods, which contained the singles "Sure Ain't" and "Someday Soon," followed shortly by a third single titled "Supply & Demand." While each track maintains elements of the singer's folk-rock and soul familiar to us via Rinehart's work with NEEDTOBREATHE, the Carolinian presents three vastly different approaches to songwriting and performance with each of the songs. For example, while "Sure Ain't" is a defiant declaration featuring raspy vocals and soulful horns, "Supply & Demand" is a laid-back pop tune that feels drinking lemonade on your porch in the summertime.
To celebrate the emergence of the entity that is Wilder Woods, we sat down with Bear Rinehart to discuss his decision to start a solo project, the role of family in his music, and more.
OTW: What made you want to pursue a solo project in addition to a successful career with NEEDTOBREATHE? Who should we know Wilder Woods to be?
BR: Yeah, man. I mean, a lot of reasons. I've always wanted to do it. Everybody always wonders what it would be like on the other side. Probably it was prompted by some of the songs that I started to write for the band that weren't right for the group, but I still really wanted to do. Collaborating with other people was a big factor, too. Spending more time with other people I hadn't worked with before. It inspires fun artistic processes. I wanted to be scared to death. Wilder Woods wasn't really a means to an end; there was no particular end in mind. So it's been a wild ride. It's something I set up to make sure I wouldn't be my old self, to challenge myself to keep growing as a person. Not for any sort of marketing.
OTW: You've released three singles so far in the lead up to your debut LP - of all the songs on the album, what made you choose these three as the world's first look at Wilder Woods?
BR: Hmm. There are a lot of factors that go into that choice. I definitely was trying to share a broad scope of what's on the record. Some of them are just favorites. "Sure Ain't" is a song I really like. When we were recording that it really felt like a moment when we found the sound of Wilder Woods. "Someday Soon" is probably the heaviest lyric on the record. It's definitely a side I wanted to expose, something I could make to teach my kids about feelings like guilt and duty. We picked "Supply & Demand" because it just feels like a single. I remember coming home from recording it and listening back and thinking, "Wow. This could be something you hear on the radio."
OTW: You've mentioned that your family has had a profound effect on your work - hence your moniker, a combination of your sons' names. Are there specific memories or experiences with your family that you connect with specific songs on your album?
BR: I think everybody questions everything again when they have kids. For me, it makes me think about what's important. Like, what do you want to leave with these people when they turn 20, when they don't think your music is cool anymore. Who do you want them to see you as when they read through your liner notes? The experience of having kids changes everything.
OTW: How does the concept of "home" fit into your songwriting style?
BR: That's interesting. One of the songs on the record is called "Hillside House." I wrote it the day I moved to Nashville. I was shopping for a home, and I found one I loved and knew that one was the one I was going to buy. I wrote the song about how I loved this house but how empty and pointless it would feel without a family in it. There's always a little gravitas when you look at things through that lens. It's also a reminder to keep my family included - something that is really difficult to do when you're on the road with your band. This project allows me to keep my family included more directly, like how my wife is in the music video for "Sure Ain't."
OTW: Clearly, Wilder Woods is the beginning of a deeper journey into Bear Rinehart as an individual. With this in mind, how did you go about choosing your collaborators during the album creation process?
BR: You know, I asked my team to find people that were completely foreign to me. I wanted people who do something completely different than I do, to be in there with pop track guys and people who make dance records and that sort of thing. It was kind of exploratory, but I wanted to be scared out of my comfort zone. The guy who produced this record, I'd never met him before. Our teams were worried about us meeting, they didn't think we would get along. But we hit it off and made something incredible. It would have been impossible to do without people pushing back a lot.
OTW: You're kicking off your first tour as Wilder Woods this September. Are you particularly excited for any dates? Why?
BR: The first one. It's the first time I've done it with these guys. What we're planning for the tour is really coming together now. I know who the band is gonna be and all that. I think we're gonna blow people away. It's gonna be nerve racking in all the best ways. I think it's gonna be great. It's been a while since I've had that nervousness, it's exhilarating.
OTW: You've toured all over the world with NEEDTOBREATHE. Are there any locations you haven't played that are on your performance bucket list as an artist?
BR: There are definitely some things in Europe I'd like to do. We've done a little bit, but not as much as I'd like to. But really, no. It feels like the vibe of these Wilder Woods shows is going to be a lot of different. I think that venues I've played before will feel totally different with this project. It's definitely going to scratch an itch I've had for a while now.
OTW: If you could form a supergroup made up of you and any three other musicians, living or dead, who would they be?
BR: Oh, man. I'd make a man band I think, of all singers. Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, and Otis Redding. And we'd just do three songs a piece or something like that. I'd probably just stand there while they sing, to be honest.
OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?
BR: Some of them are starting to be known pretty well, but I'd say Foy Vance. I like him a lot. And Rainbow Kitten Surprise. People are figuring that one out, but their stuff is amazing.
Photo: Jesse DeFlorio
Wilder Woods embarks on his inaugural tour this September. Grab your tickets for one of the dates below, and be on the lookout for his full-length debut later this year.
Sept. 5 - Toronto, ON, CA - The Mod Club
Sept. 7 - Philadelphia, PA - World Cafe Live
Sept. 8 - Cambridge, MA - The Sinclair
Sept. 9 - Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg
Sept. 11 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
Sept. 13 - Raleigh, NC - Lincoln Theatre
Sept. 14 - Charlotte, NC - The Underground
Sept. 15 - Birmingham, AL - WorkPlay Theatre
Sept. 18 - Atlanta, GA - Terminal West
Sept. 19 - Nashville, TN - The Basement East
Sept. 23 - Chicago, IL - Metro
Sept. 24 - Minneapolis, MN - Fine Line Music Cafe
Sept. 25 - Madison, WI - Majestic Theatre
Sept. 27 - Lawrence, KS - Granada Theatre
Sept. 28 - Omaha, NE - Slowdown
Sept. 30 - Denver, CO - Bluebird Theater
Oct. 2 - Salt Lake City, UT - Metro Bar
Oct. 4 - Portland, OR - Hawthorne Theatre
Oct. 6 - San Francisco, CA - The Independent
Oct. 7 - Los Angeles, CA - Troubadour
Oct. 20 - Hamberg, DE - HÄKKEN
Oct. 21 - Cologne, DE - Helios 37
Oct. 23 - Paris, FR - 1999 Club
Oct. 24 - Amsterdam, NL - Paradiso
Oct. 25 - Glasgow, UK - King Tuts Wah Wah Hut
Oct. 27 - Manchester, UK - The Deaf Institute
Oct. 28 - London, UK - The Camden Assembly