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Band embarks on unlikely tour with Taylor Swift

Published: Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Updated: Friday, October 21, 2011 11:10


Big Hassle


For a band that has primarily built its fan base up from the stage and its live shows over the last decade, South Carolina's NEEDTOBREATHE were recently outstretched a hand (and a tour leg) from one of the most influential fans any artist could dream of; princess of pop Taylor Swift. The tour, which was technically supposed to end in early October in Dallas, has since extended into a bow-legged tour across North America, which includes back-to-back nights in Phoenix.

College Times talked to co-founding member and drummer Joe Stillwell about being a Southern rock band opening for stadiums full of Swifties and what went into writing the band's fourth album, The Reckoning, which was released September 20.

College Times: I'm sure you get this question a lot, but how does playing a Taylor Swift show differ from a NEEDTOBREATHE concert?

Joe Stillwell: The scale is much bigger. Obviously, it's arenas and stadiums compared to House of Blues type clubs. I think a lot of the people that show up to these shows are here kind of for the spectacle, which is kind of similar to our shows. We feel like, first of all, we've made fans through the live show because that's just how we always built up our fan base. Her live show is absolutely incredible. It's got aerialists and dancers and fireworks and just people flying around all over the place – it's kind of insane. I think it's a different type of fan, but I think they're looking for the same entertainment value when they come. […] With Taylor it's a lot more about the spectacle, but I'm not saying she's got bad music. She's an amazing musician [and] a really good songwriter. I think that just the culture that surrounds our band is a little more about the music than the branding of NEEDTOBREATHE.

So, why do you think she hand-picked [the band] to tour with her? Did her people just call your people one day or was it more of a personal connection?

At first, they did it through management. We were on our headlining tour last fall, and we knew that she was a fan of the band […] and we just got the call when we were in Washington D.C. and our manager came up and she said, 'This is completely out of left field but Taylor Swift's people just called and she wants to take you out on her tour next year.' Usually on these kind of things it's something worked out between management companies or record companies like, 'Oh, we've got this new band we want to get 'em out on the tour.' But in this case, she just really likes our music and wanted to have us on the tour, so she decided to take us out.


Were you a fan of her music?

I was aware of it. I didn't like sit in my room and listen to it or anything, but we were familiar with her music and we were all impressed by her songwriting and stuff like that but [it's] not exactly my genre.

With this new album, you guys have really been open about wanting to break away from being categorized as a Christian band or the Kings of Leon comparisons. Was this something that's always been talked about or did it just come out when you started writing The Reckoning?

When we sit down and start writing songs, I don't think we have any ulterior motives. I think that's one reason people connect with our music really intensely. It's just honest music. We don't sit down and say, 'Now we've got to write a song that's got to separate us from such-and-such a genre.' […] I think with the whole separation from being called a Christian band or separation from being compared to other bands, you know, we don't want any type of label on our music – anything that limits someone's scope of what our band could be.

This summer, I interviewed the drummer for The Devil Wears Prada [Daniel Williams] and he said he thinks a band finds its sound by the fourth record. Do you think that's the case for The Reckoning?

I think so. I don't know if we've found our sound because I feel the stuff we write is all over the place. We have such varied taste in music and our songs end up sounding very different on the same record, but I think we've definitely hit our stride as far as songwriting and producing in the studio and the craft of making records. […] I think it's the best songs we've had on a record. It's the best-sounding record we've ever had. It's a statement for us. This is us taking the gloves off and saying, 'This is NEEDTOBREATHE, and if you don't like this then you're probably not going to like our band.'

Taylor Swift w/NEEDTOBREATHE, Arena, Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, 7 p.m., $41-$88

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