Wilder Woods on going solo, finding peace in family life and the unique sound on his debut album
After being the frontman in grammy-nominated Needtobreathe and already achieved great success with a band playing arenas today, frontman William Stanley “Bear” Rinehart III, known as Bear Rinehart, went solo with his project Wilder Woods, a project named after his children Wilder and Woods. In August last year, he released his self-titled debut album, a combination of modern alt-pop, R&B, and soul and embarked on a worldwide tour including three stops in Germany.
When Rinehart and his band made a stopover in Hamburg to play Häkken we caught him for an interview a few hours ahead of the show and chat about going solo, balancing a time-consuming solo career with family life and creating a unique sound as a solo artist.
From arena band frontman to a solo career
You started Needtobreathe with your brother Bo, right? How does it feel going from a band dynamic to a single person? It feels really uncomfortable in some ways and it feels really great in other ways. I think anybody who’s had a band for a long time probably thinks about doing something on their own and seeing what that’s like, and it has been interesting. The best part about it is being the boss. It’s kind of nice not to run things by everybody inside a democracy and have a vote about it on everything you do.
But it’s a crazy thing having been a band for so long; we develop together, we kind of know what we do on stage, and what we do in interviews, so this is really a crazy learning process but very fun.
The group was more of a democracy, but now it’s like what you want is what goes kind of thing? Is that also a very different mindset now? It forces you to it. I mean, there’s a certain level of ego that you have to have to be a solo artist that I’m sort of trying to develop in a way, I come from that I think.
With a band you can’t have too many idiosyncrasies, you got to go along with the team whatever it is and you have to stand up for yourself a little bit more. If something’s not good enough for whatever reason it may be, you have to be the one to go “Hey!“ and raise your hand every time. That part is different. But at the same time, it’s really rewarding when it’s your vision completely that’s going out there and do a lot of shows. It feels like a different level of ownership.
I bet it does but do you still find yourself having to fight, getting too big of an ego? I know that there’s a balance artists need to find. No, not yet. I’m still working on developing enough of one. First of all, I’m from the South, I’m very Southern with a very southern upbringing, so it’s kind of hard to pick on anything anyway. Most of my struggle is speaking up for myself.
I get that, my grandmother is from Arkansas and my mother from Virginia, so I was raised with very similar ideals. But Needtobreathetoured a lot and now you get to plan all of that stuff. What is it like having to figure everything out yourself? It’s definitely more work in some ways. Touring cost money and everything just goes into the visuals of a show or hiring the band, and all that stuff has been more work than I have to do in a band. But a band is like a big machine, and we’ve played a ton of shows to a lot of people, so there’s something really nice about doing things on your own and not having the same expectation every time. That part has been very freeing to me which just made it a little easier to go out on tour because we don’t have to do exactly what they saw last time.
This is the first tour we’ve ever done and it has been so much fun, it’s something I won’t ever forget. When I first started this thing it just felt like the band in the garage during the band days at home when we played local clubs and sold out the first time, it’s kind of the same experience I have now.
Needtobreathe played Red Rocks Amphitheatre four times, but now as a solo artist, you’re starting out with a European tour instead, which is at the same level if you ask me. We’re still starting out trying to find people that really gravitate towards our music. But it’s definitely different than it was starting out the band because the first thing this band ever played together was playing a TV show (laugh). It’s better than for years and I do feel spoiled in that way a little bit.
Balancing a music career with family
It is believed that life is dual in nature and emphasizes the importance of balancing two opposites but complementary forces like darkness and light, sun and moon, work and rest and many other contradictory forces. The creative lifestyle of a common musician is hard to even call a “balanced life” because it requires a great deal of dedication, hard work, enormous sacrifices, innumerable hours of practice, live performances and traveling. But without the proper life balance, the well of creativity can dry up and with it, a promising career in music.
However, for Bear Rinehart the family is important. Just a few years ago, Rinehart began shifting his focus from the fast-paced album and touring cycles of his Needtobreathe to his wife and growing family, and it all made him less neurotic, less on edge. Above all, he involves his wife and children in his solo career, and he found out that Wilder and Woods have an ear for what’s good music and not.
Not only have you gone solo you also have a family. How do you kind of manage it now being all alone which I guess is more time-consuming? How do you juggle having a family and doing a solo career? Yeah, it’s been interesting. I think that kids make things less serious. In a lot of ways, it’s just hard to take something bad that happens in a show and make it into too big of a deal, they give you a lot of perspective in that way. So to me, the touring is easier in a way because I’m not on edge; I’m usually a pretty neurotic kind of person (laugh), but I take things a lot less seriously on the road now and that makes it go by faster.
And they’re still young, they don’t even stay up late enough to come to the shows or anything so having them out on the road doesn’t help a ton. My wife’s coming out for some of this tour, she’ll be out a week or so which is fun for me. The cool thing about the kids and all of the family stuff is that I can sing about it a little bit more freely now. Naturally, I’ve included them in the process more, like my wife is in a music video we did and things like that. I do feel like they feel they’re part of it.
I saw in another interview that you’re hoping that your children can look back at this album when they’re older and kind of learn from it. I had the privilege of my dad being a musician and I found his record at some point. When I was really young I did not think it was cool at all, it was the lamest ever (laugh), because it was part of the 70’s and The Rolling Stones and that stuff, and I wasn’t really into that (laugh). But when I got older it was really cool, and that time with my dad was really artistically inspiring.
If you get to that level where you’ve made a record, you really have made some bad choices (laugh), and I feel like that’s something that makes me proud of him. I think with my kids the biggest thing I want them to know is that our family really has built on that idea, that if we feel like we need to go do something completely different tomorrow, we keep that option open.
You say your children have taught you to not be as neurotic and that you take things less seriously. Have they also helped teach you musically? Yeah, in some ways they simplify things. Obviously, there are some elements that they don’t get, but at the same time, musically, they’re very reactive, pretty immediately. If something feels good they start dancing, and that’s kind of an interesting little A&R trick, if kids dig it or not (laugh).
But it’s also fun to kind of get them involved in the songs and hear them say they want to hear it when they get in the car and listen to daddy songs. They want to hear my stuff on the radio which is really cool.
That’s so cool! I saw an interview with Adam Levine the other day and he was talking about how his daughter does not like it when he sings, not at all. Well, I will say that when you write songs they’ll hate it because they don’t know the songs. They just come in there and just yell. All of my voice memos where I record my song ideas, they’re like “Dad, stop!” (laugh).
Hard work to find a unique sound
Rinehart’s self-titled debut album combines modern alt pop, R&B, and soul, completed with smooth tunes that take introspection to a new level, and the solo project gave him the space to curate a body of work that chronicles this personally significant chapter of his life. Each song takes listeners on a journey of introspection and self-reflection that will leave you thinking about life long after the last track ends.
But to get to that point it was hard work and lots of experimenting – “a trippy adventure” – to create a unique sound together with producer Gabe Simon.
You mentioned how your dad has come out with a record and obviously you’ve gotten to that point where you’ve made a record and a lot of those mistakes you mentioned. I guess in the time you were in Needtobreathe you guys have made a lot of mistakes. Are there any mistakes that you’re taking from that experience and kind of putting into this experience? I think probably the biggest is about identity things when you’re in a band. We set out to make it no matter what, and I was like “There’s a chip on our shoulder, and where everybody says we can’t do it, we’re gonna do it” (laugh).
I had to settle that over several years of making mistakes to realize that I’m here to getting this for the right reasons. What I’ve learned from this is that I love making music, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about any of the other things like success or the money or the fame or whatever it is that comes along with it. That’s easy to say, but I feel like experience really taught me that.
Are there any mistakes from this first debut solo album that you’re going to take with you to the next one? I don’t look at it like that, I see it as a process where you put in all the time you could put into making it. There are certain things I’ll do on the second record that I didn’t get a chance to do on this record. We’ve learned a lot from the live shows and kind of figured that out, but I don’t think I could have figured it out any faster than I did, it’s just part of the process. Making a real artist and a sound that’s unique to yourself, it takes a long time, and I feel like I’m pretty new at this and still figuring it out.
Needtobreathe kind of had this reputation as being Christian rock, but what I understand is that it wasn’t necessarily how you would have labeled the music. But I personally found the music through Christian groups as well. Before any labels start popping up, how would you describe your music now? It’s a good question. I don’t have a good term for it, but it’s definitely soul music and it’s kind of falling all over the place. I would say alternative and probably soul music. I like that it’s not a total throwback in that way like it’s not just a soul record. We did something that sounds weirder than that and that has our own take on that, and that’s what I’m trying to explore with it.
I also read that you kind of just took your songs from this album and just made them as weird as you possibly could just to see what would happen. What was that like? That was pretty trippy, to be honest, it was a process of me and the producer Gabe Simon. We just took the whole thing and sent it between us. Sometimes he would take it and just spend the night working on it and I would come back the next day and be like “I like this and this but not this”.
I think we really just tried to make sure we spent the time developing the sound to be something unique. It’s really easy to make things sound like a hit on the radio today, but we were trying to find something a band could play with me. And at that time we didn’t have a live band to put together, so that was a very experimental time.
But was it hard for you to kind of just let go and let someone else put things on your songs? I don’t think that because I’m confident that I kind of know what I like when I hear it, and I like collaboration. I’d say that collaboration is the big reason for doing this record this way, and I was really happy doing that with other people on this record. I like to push on people to see what they do when they get in their space and kind of get in the flow.
Not everything stuck but the ones that did made us grew and both of us got better at it because of that thing. And I would say that about me and Gabe, the producer, that it felt like we have a relationship now where we talk almost every other day about what the next record is going to be, about what influences we have and that whole process.
You’ve obviously accomplished a lot; you have a family, you have children, big goals for most people, and you don’t rely on any type of other jobs really. What are your mini-goals in mind? They’re super many, but things like my kids are important. My oldest son is four and when I get home in a couple of weeks I’m actually going to take him camping for the first time. So, there are things like that. It’s sort of developmental milestones that are parts of my goals now, I want to make sure I do this with them now.
Probably my biggest goal in life with music is just to enjoy it. It can get to be a grind, obviously, and I didn’t do this project, Wilder Woods, for the grind, and I didn’t do it to prove something to someone because I already have plenty of success. Because of that, I have to remind myself, like when we were doing some TV show and it’s like a 5 am call, to enjoy that and don’t resent having to do it. That’s part of my biggest thing, a reminder that I have to tell myself every couple of hours, “Hey, enjoy this thing, don’t put pressure on it, just have fun”.