"Walking On Water," the new single by Charleston's NEEDTOBREATHE, is one of the best possible examples of the band's sound. A sweeping, emotional rocker that takes its time, the song rests on arena-sized drums, massive, surging keyboards, and the throat-tearing emotion of singer Bear Rinehart. It's yet another in a long line of heartfelt anthems that the band has created over their near 20-year existence, blending uncertain lyrics like, "Though I falter, you got me walking on water" with go-for-broke passion.
There's even a strikingly cinematic video for the song, shot in just two weeks by director Gus Black. In it, the lifespan of a couple is shuffled into non-linear moments of happiness, uncertainty, and pain, coupled with the occasional surreal image of a man sleeping on a bed surrounded by ocean waves. It's as impressionistic and emotional as the song itself, never telling a completely narrative story but arousing strong feelings all the same.
So how the hell, exactly, does a song this good initially end up as a B-side? Because that's what happened to "Walking On Water," which was recorded during the sessions for the band's most recent full-length album, HARDLOVE, before it was finally given a proper release on the band's new EP, HARD CUTS: Songs from the HARDLOVE Sessions.
Guitarist Bo Rinehart, Bear's brother, isn't quite sure how that happened, either. "It's a crazy process," he says of the band's song selection, "and I'm not sure it's always the best one. But we try to put the record together in the way that best makes sense. And sometimes there are silly reasons why a song doesn't make a record. Maybe it's the same tempo as another song, or maybe there are already too many songs."
After a bit of thought, though, Bo remembers that it might have been the song's very strength that kept it out of the final running order for HARDLOVE. "We take great pride in making full albums, and in making sure the albums make sense," he says. "And we felt like 'Walking On Water' was a better stand-alone song than one that fit the theme of the record. It affected the flow of the record from one song to another. I know we're living in a time when people are just thinking of singles, but we still are very dedicated to the craft of mak ing an album and experience, and sometimes really good songs get the boot."
But as the band prepared to launch their all-acoustic tour, they were looking for some new songs to throw into their set, and they realized they had a handful of perfectly good tracks that hadn't quite fit the bill for their last album.
"We were itching to put those songs out as soon as we could," Rinehart says. "Some of them were from the very beginning of the recording process for HARDLOVE, and in some ways, they're a more raw version of what we ultimately ended up with."
The unreleased songs coming early in the process is an important distinction, because the band was on shaky ground both personally and stylistically as they began making HARDLOVE. Bear and Bo had essentially been at each other's throats about NEEDTOBREATHE's direction after their successful 2014 album Rivers in the Wasteland, and the band nearly broke up because of it.
Even after their decision to continue, the brothers wrote the songs for HARDLOVE more or less separately, working more with synthesizers and electronic percussion than ever before. So perhaps because of that distance and uncertainty, they perceived their early attempts at recording to be more awkward than they actually were.
"Sometimes it's a vulnerable place to be in to have these new ideas that aren't like anything you've done before," Rinehart says, "but over the course of making the record we felt like we were improving on things."
But the regrets set in almost immediately after HARDLOVE was released. "Once we got the record out, we were like, 'We were idiots for not putting this stuff on the record,'" he says with a laugh.
But even if "Walking On Water" wasn't one of the NEEDTOBREATHE's strongest songs, it would be worth picking up for a good cause. As a Charleston group, they've seen firsthand the devastation that violent storms can cause. So when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma wreaked havoc earlier this year, they decided to help out as best they could. From now until the end of 2017, 100 percent of the proceeds from "Walking On Water," including single sales, streaming revenue, and licensing fees, will go to Dream Center Network in partnership with OneWorld Health to benefit victims of the hurricanes.
"We just felt like rather than directing the attention to our music or the video that we'd do something to put a little bit of a spotlight on the victims and make a contribution," Rinehart says. "There are so many trickle-down things you don't think about, like gas stations running out of gas, and people not being able to get clean water. All of that makes life so much harder. Without people chipping in, they have to pick up all the pieces on their own."