Photo Credit: Jesse DeFlorio

Written by Kelly Holm

Wilder Woods may be a new name to you, but the artist himself has a rich and vibrant past in the music industry under the name Bear Rinehart. Bear is the lead singer of the Christian-influenced rock band Needtobreathe. Rinehart, however, evidently needed to breathe, and so he took up a new name and a new sound in an effort to discover himself as a solo artist.

The new moniker is taken from the names of his toddler sons, Wilder and Woods. Bear didn’t actually reveal his identity until a few tracks in, intentionally releasing obscured PR photos of himself, much like Marshmello or Sia did in an effort to attract speculation.

A new stylistic direction helped to conceal Woods’ true identity before the rumors were put to rest with the confirmation that he was, in fact, Bear from Needtobreathe. Much like Jon Foreman’s solo work apart from Switchfoot, Wilder Woods takes a very stripped-down approach compared to Needtobreathe’s rock sound, invoking elements of country and R&B. For this new body of work, it’s no shock that Bear would like to collaborate with the likes of Dolly Parton or Alabama Shakes.

“I don’t know if it really compares [to Needtobreathe’s work], but I think the soul of it is intact,” Woods said of the new material, which will be released in its entirety on a self-titled debut album on August 9th.

Bear’s favorite original song to perform is “Someday Soon” because “it’s a guaranteed feeling,” says Bear. The track was one of the original two released in April, and features a soulful vibe that will inevitably invite Sam Smith comparisons. It’s easy to imagine this song coming fresh out of the songwriting process that Woods describes as a “dreaming, eyes-blurred kind of state where raw ideas are welcome.”

However, many of the same themes present in Needtobreathe’s tunes, such as the need for forgiveness and a reason to continue living, are present within the lyrics of “Someday Soon,” and will be sure to attract the band’s large Christian fanbase. “The groove or vibe is the most important thing with this new stuff,” he says.

“Sure Ain’t,” the other initial song, is Woods’ favorite off of the upcoming record because it inspired the new sound and allowed him to move forward in this new direction. “It was the first song we got that felt like we knew what our sound was going to be,” he says. “Kind of like the first brick we knew we could build a building with.”

Woods’ Southern roots are also an undeniable influence on his rural sound. He and his brother Bo, the guitarist and backing vocalist for Needtobreathe, were raised in Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, at a church camp ran by their minister father. The first live performance he ever gave was at a Greenville, South Carolina coffee shop. “I wanted to throw up, but feel cooler than I actually was,” Woods said.

Whether it is on stage or behind the mic, Woods always remembers the words of wisdom from friend Anderson East, “You’re not gonna die or anything.”

As for the advice he would give up and coming musicians, Woods says, “Just because something sounds like a hit, doesn’t mean people will care. Authenticity always wins… I want to leave all the energy on stage.”

While Needtobreathe hasn’t released a studio album since 2016, the group is still active (EP release ‘Forever on Your Side‘ in 2018), and celebrates its 21st birthday this year. “Keeping a band together is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Woods says. No small feat, even when one of your bandmates is your literal flesh and blood, it can be difficult to make room to pursue the individual goals that can develop over more than two decades, such as raising the two boys that inspired his stage name.

He’s come a long way since his humble beginnings, and reflected on the advice he would give his younger self, knowing what he knows now.

“Don’t do it! Just kidding. Don’t waste time being concerned with the outcome or what others are doing around you,” Woods says.

Between his public and personal life, he still has unfulfilled dreams he has his sights on. “I feel like I’ve already ‘made it,’ but having Springsteen in attendance [at a concert] would be dope,” Woods says.

He did not, however, specify whether he meant “The Boss,” or Alana Springsteen, whom Elicit featured a few weeks ago.

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