Heading a successful rock band can keep you busy over the years. Adding a family into the mix can keep you even busier. What happens when the opportunity arises to combine those two worlds? You take it.
Just a few years ago, Bear Rinehart began shifting his focus from the fast-paced album and touring cycles of his Grammy nominated band, NEEDTOBREATHE, to his wife and growing family. Despite the hectic schedules, he set aside some time to write and record songs that approach the topics of love and family in ways he couldn’t with the band.
Taking on the title Wilder Woods (after his young sons, Wilder and Woods), Rinehart’s new solo project gave him the space to curate a body of work that chronicles this personally significant chapter of his life. The eponymous debut album marks more than just a thematic shift in Rinehart’s songwriting. He experiments with more traditional musical elements as he unpacks the stories and experiences he has collected after putting down roots in Nashville.
Stepping away from the success and recognition of NEEDTOBREATHE, Rinehart decided to put his focus on redefining his sound. He chose a completely new team of collaborators in the studio, preferring to experiment with traditional soul and ’90s rhythm and blues elements. “A big part of doing this was finding a new sound that I felt needed to be completely different,” says Rinehart. “The songs shouldn’t feel like they could be on a NEEDTOBREATHE record.”
Pulling inspiration from the works of Ray Charles and Otis Redding, Wilder Woods is a clear departure from the folk-influenced rock fans know of Rinehart. He says, “It led us down some riskier roads in the studio because it felt like anything could happen.” He wrote many songs that ultimately did not make it onto the record but did help shape the direction of the album overall.
As he was writing, he found the songs naturally separating into two categories that fit the personalities of each of his sons. Initially leaning into that idea, he toyed with the potential of making two individual EPs. “The Wilder songs were the ones that were a little bit more full-band, kind of out there. The Woods songs were the more serious, contemplative stuff,” says Rinehart. “It ended up just feeling like this stuff fits together, and it was going to be one record.” While there was a clear distinction in the His dedication to his family ties the body of work together.
Rinehart’s dedication to his family is palpable through the emotion tinged soul of his vocals. The lead single from the collection, “Supply & Demand,” is a feel good, sweet as honey track that is deeply grounded in the instantly recognizable influences present throughout the album. “Mary, You’re wrong” is a heartfelt tribute of devotion to his wife that would fit on any Valentine’s Day playlist. He also included a song about the Nashville house he plans to raise his family in, “Hillside House.” Allowing himself to be more autobiographical in his work than ever before, Wilder Woods is a project that is defined by Rinehart’s passion for life.
The personal connection to the work transcends the subject matter and is special to Rinehart in more ways than he had anticipated. “I think I have closed my eyes when I’m playing them live and I’m kind of like taken to that spot where I was when I wrote it and the way I felt,” recalls Rinehart. “I can’t say that that’s happened to me a lot in the past.”
The personal quality of the record lends its hand to the more intimate performances Rinehart has been able to give fans on this tour. While he’s playing smaller venues than he has in years, he doesn’t take the experience for granted. “I didn’t think about the consequences,” he says. “I didn’t think about touring, how many records I wanted to sell, it just never entered my mind so in a way there was real freedom in that.” While he’s currently enjoying his time on the road, he has already begun the first steps of planning for the next album cycle as Wilder Woods.
Placing an emphasis on enjoying this period of his career, he’s treasuring every moment and using this record to reflect on this chapter of his life. “There’s a little bit of a balance where it feels like I’m talking to the kids but mostly I’m talking to myself because I feel like they learn from watching me more than they learn from what I say,” says Rinehart. “This record is a reminder to take it easy, enjoy life, and the people around you.”