My top concert of 2010, NEEDTOBREATHE‘s live show is like no other. It only makes sense that Taylor Swift hand selected the South Carolina rock band as an opener to her tour last year.
The group’s latest single “Keep Your Eyes Open” brings their anthemic rock to the forefront with soaring guitar riffs, wavering vocals and heartfelt lyrics. Watch their music video below and catch the band on tour this month.
I witnessed Matthew Mayfield live for the first time last October during CMJ when I stumbled into Rockwood Music Hall in between a few band interviews. Alone on acoustic guitar, his deep, rustic vocals and emotion-fueled lyrics echoed throughout the silent room and blew me away.
After the show, he said his debut solo album would be released in a few months and I scoured the Web to find out more about this artist who I was certain I heard before. His former band, Moses Mayfield, was signed to Epic Records in 2005, released an album and toured with major acts. A few years later, though, they broke up and Mayfield found himself questioning his next steps.
“When the band broke up there was a six month period where I debated whether or not I was going to keep doing it. You have to pick up the pieces and start all over, write all new songs, a new band, a new everything. It’s been a hell of a lot of work, but if I wasn’t doing it I’d be super unhappy,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield’s solo album, Now You’re Free, was released earlier this year and encompasses 11 tracks of impeccable songwriting, standout musical accompaniment, and impressive collaborations. Singing of love and heartache, the listener can relate to every track. Songs like the powerful “Fire Escape,” written with John Paul White of The Civil Wars, and the poignant “Element” showcase his remarkable talent. A track he originally wrote 10 years ago and has appeared on numerous records, at a recent concert at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, Mayfield said, “I put this song out a few times but the best version to date is on this new record.” A longtime fan favorite, the song was received with much excitement at the packed venue.
I chatted with Matthew earlier this month while in California right before his intimate performance at The Hotel Cafe. He filled me in on many of the stories behind his songs as well as the struggles he has faced as a musician and collaborating with friends The Civil Wars and NEEDTOBREATHE. Read the complete interview below and be sure to check him out on tour this August.
Now You’re Free is your first solo LP. Was the recording process any different than with your previous band, Moses Mayfield?
Yeah, it was different. This time around, I think the songs are stronger and the players I was playing with in Nashville were some good friends and also super pro guys. We tried to make it a band thing. We were in a room, in a circle, and we wanted it to feel alive and have that energy that a big, anthemic rock record would have. The process was similar in terms of going through the motions and making a record, but at the same time, we tried so many new things which was cool. I’m excited about people hearing us in a studio where there were bells on a song or there’s cello or weird toy piano. Whatever it is, that kind of stuff is fun for us.
Why did you decide to use Pledge Music to fund your album?
At the time, my manager suggested it to me. It was cool. I looked at it, but I was kind of hesitant because I really didn’t want to ask people for money but then I realized it was a win-win. They get things that they want, whether it was handwritten lyrics or a house party, or we’ll play at the wedding. There were all kinds of weird stuff; microphones and gear. Everybody gets something which is really cool. We raised $14 grand for the record.
“Element” is my favorite track of yours and you wrote it a decade ago. Why did you decide to add it to this album?
We had the album down to 10 songs and I just felt like there was something missing. I feel like it’s one of those songs that I keep wanting to put onto a record because every time you take a step forward, that’s one I want to bring with me. The guy that produced the record and my management said, ‘This song is so strong, I really feel like it should come with you.’ I thought about it for a long time and I thought it was a great idea.
What’s the story behind “Element?”
I wrote that song when I was 18 and I was in this long distance relationship with a girl. I was just a kid. I think it’s very honest. It doesn’t feel particularly young, but it was very honest, from a very honest place. I feel like a song like that, that just comes from the heart, there was nothing about it that was forced. I sat down with a guitar and wrote it. It wasn’t in pieces. It all came at once.
Do you get tired of playing it?
Sometimes. I feel like with anything, sometimes there are songs that are going to be a little bit of a chore to play. It depends. If the crowd is great and they love it and you can see it in their eyes that they’re enjoying you play it, then it’s great.
What is your typical songwriting process like?
It usually starts with a guitar and a melody and I bring the lyrics in when I feel like I got the vibe down. There are times where the lyric is the inspiration. It changes quite a bit. I’d say 90% of the time it’s me and my guitar singing, humming things. It’s a strange thing, chasing songs.
Do you feel a song comes out better when it actually happened to you? Do you always write from firsthand experience?
Pretty much. I think everything on the record is firsthand. There are a couple that are hypothetical I guess, but I certainly can relate to the things that I’m singing about. “Can’t Change My Mind” is hypothetical in a sense to me. I wrote it from the perspective of that person who’s sold. I know that feeling; to be sold. You write it from the perspective of somebody that’s found something that you want to find.
Are you ever nervous to reveal too much in a song, like “Fire Escape?”
Yeah. Honestly, that’s probably the hardest one. I’m never scared because it’s like therapy for me. I need to do it, to get it out. I don’t know. I feel like there’s a release that you get from putting it on paper and singing it in a song that’s healthy. It’s always been an outlet for me since I was a little kid.
Are there nights you don’t want to play a certain song because it’s too personal and brings back a specific relationship or memory?
It can be. It depends on the night and it depends where my head’s at and if I was thinking about it before a show or not. Sometimes it can sting a little more than others. Sometimes you just do it because it feels good to know that you’re helping somebody else out. I think that’s the reason why the sad songs resonate more with people. I’ve noticed that. People love the upbeat stuff, but when it’s real heartache people are like, ‘Yeah, I know what you mean.’ More so than, ‘I’m really happy, everything’s great.’ That’s pretty rare. It’s good to write a song about it when it happens.
Isn’t that depressing though? When everyone’s like, ‘Yeah! That’s real heartbreak. We love that you’re depressed.’
It’s a weird world. I just write it from wherever I can find it. So if it’s sad, it’s sad. If it’s happy, it’s happy. If it’s confusing, it’s confusing.
Is there a song that means more to you now then when you first wrote it?
Yeah, there are a couple. I really like a song called “Her Name Was December.” That song, we don’t play it a lot live, but when I hear it on the record I’m like, ‘Man, we’ve got to get that one back because I love that song.’ I feel like the lyric and the melody, everything about it is special to me and came from a really real place.
You collaborated with NEEDTOBREATHE and The Civil Wars on a few tracks. How did that come about?
I co-wrote “Fire Escape” with John Paul [White] of The Civil Wars. He’s fantastic. And Joy [Williams] sang on “Can’t Change My Mind.” They’re some of the sweetest people in the world and certainly in this business it’s so hard to come by people who are so kind and just easygoing. There are no egos. They’re just great people and I’m super happy for them that all the stuff’s happening. It’s good to see that happen with good friends. Same thing with NEEDTOBREATHE. Those guys are coming to the show tonight, they’re in town. I’m super happy for them. They’re so good. Their live show is killer. It’s good to see good things happen to good people that you’re friends with.
Is co-writing an entirely different process for you than writing by yourself?
Usually with me, if I co-write it’s like I have a chorus that I love or a verse that I love but I just can’t find a chorus or I can’t find another verse. Or I’ll have a melody that I really like. Usually it has to be someone I really trust like John Paul or Paul Moak, the guy that produced the record. There has to be that feeling of trust where you’re like, ‘I can let you in on this secret.’ “Fire Escape” was a touchy subject, but John Paul was so cool about talking to me and hearing me out; kind of getting inside my head. We wrote the song really quickly, in a couple of hours and it’s one of my favorites on the record.
Your music has been featured on “Teen Mom” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Have you noticed more fans from different music placement?
I have. Those “Grey’s” placements were really big. I feel like I noticed a big spike in sales but also noticed it helped put me on the map which was funny because I made that record for under $1,000 in a basement for myself. I wasn’t doing it in hopes to get a sync or get on TV and it ended up being a huge thing for me. Those little things are special because you have so many slaps in the face as you’re coming up and it’s cool. When you get a win in a world full of losses it’s something to be celebrated.
What has kept you motivated all these years to keep pursuing music?
I don’t know. I think it’s just that underlying passion for writing songs and playing rock & roll. I’ve always just loved it since I was a little kid. When the band broke up there was a six month period where I debated whether or not I was going to keep doing it. You have to pick up the pieces and start all over, write all new songs. A new band, a new everything. It’s been a hell of a lot of work, but if I wasn’t doing it I’d be super unhappy. It isn’t easy. We push ourselves in every aspect so I feel like it’s hard work, but it’s really rewarding. When the rewards come around, which is not that often, they’re sweet when they do.
Do you think a band needs a record label today to survive?
I don’t. There are some labels that are doing some cool things, some indies that are really smart with their money. But no, I don’t think you need the big machine until you are at a certain level. If you can get to a certain level and you need that monster, mainstream push then you get it when the time’s right. Getting a record deal is definitely not what any band’s goal should be, especially with a major. You may be their favorite band one day and literally the next week they don’t remember who you are ’cause they had a change of regime, they fired everybody and brought on new people. I definitely don’t think you need a label in 2011. At the end of the day, you have to do it all yourself.
What’s the best and worst thing about being a musician?
The best thing is seeing people sing your songs at shows, for me. If I see two or three people, or 30 people or 100 people singing the lyrics to a song, that’s as good as it gets. The worst part I think is a lot of times not feeling like your hard work is being rewarded. You really have to keep on even if you’re not getting any affirmation that what you’re doing is working. But, it’s always like that in music. When you do get those placements or whatever it is, your song is on a TV show or commercial, you play a great show and have a big turn out; those little things add up.
Do you have any advice for other singer-songwriters trying to make it in the industry?
One thing I have to say is don’t expect anyone to do anything for you starting out. You have to hustle and do it yourself. I made that record in my basement just because I wanted to for me. I didn’t have a manager or an agent. I just put it up on iTunes and it got a couple lucky moments and placements. It was fresh enough too, where people knew about the band. You just have to be persistent. As lame of a word as it is, you have to persevere. I started doing this when I was 18 and now I’m 28. I’m not some big, famous rock star. You want to play arenas, but you have to start somewhere. Tonight, if I play for 200 people that’s a huge deal. You just can’t expect it to be fast. That would be my advice.
His first full-length album as a solo artist, Matthew Mayfield‘s newest release, Now You’re Free, encompasses 11 standout tracks of raw vocals combined with solid musical interludes and emotional lyrics. His deep, raspy singing style immediately draws the listener in while soaring guitar and percussion round out much of the LP.
No stranger to the music scene, Mayfield released an LP with his former band, Moses Mayfield, in 2007 and recorded eight solo EPs years later. He’s had much success as a solo artist so far, having songs featured on “Grey’s Anatomy” as well as some going to No. 1 on iTunes’ singer/songwriter chart.
“My journey started in 1992 when I fell in love with Guns N’ Roses after seeing Slash get up on the piano for the finale of “November Rain.” When I was 9, I decided I was either going to be a bank robber/surfer or play in a rock ‘n roll band,” he writes on his website. “I’m not brave enough to ride the big waves and not radical enough to rob banks, so here I am with a guitar in my hand. I think my mother is very happy with that call.”
With the help of fans, Mayfield raised $14,000 via Pledge Music by selling handwritten lyrics, living room demos, house parties, guitar tabs, and more. He took to Nashville to record Now You’re Free with producer Paul Moak and writes that the album is everything he wants it to be.
” Honest, anthemic and diverse. The songs are full of hope, which in some ways is very new to me. They are the sound of a fresh start. I’m excited about attempting to change something with this record. It could be someone’s mood for a few minutes, the temperature in their room, or the way they watch the sunset driving down the interstate. Music has changed everything for me. I want to be a part of that for other people.”
And that he is. Now You’re Free kicks things off with “Come Back Home,” an impressive start to the release. With guitar buildup before Mayfield’s wavering vocals enter, it is easy to picture him in an arena setting as each instrument crescendos at the perfect spot. The song fades to a close with Mayfield alone on vocals singing passionately, “Come back, come back, come back, come back please come back, come back home.”
Next track, “Missed Me” quickly picks up the pace with electric guitar and a faster paced singing style from Mayfield. While the more uptempo numbers showcase Mayfield’s rocker side, it is his heartbreaking ballads that leave the greatest impact. The beautifully haunting “Fire Escape” paints the picture of a man waiting around for a former flame. With deep vocals, the listener can feel the pain he feels as he sings each word.
Standout song, “Element” has quickly become my most listened to track. The song begins with Mayfield lightly strumming the acoustic guitar before his slowed, soft vocals enter. “I’ve been waiting/Wish I was watching you/In the daylight/A perfect view/This is always a favorite of mine/Said I don’t want to go/ ‘Cause it means I’d have to throw/This element of mine aside/What if I don’t want to be the lonely one/The truth I know is this/I don’t want to miss you more/Than I already do,” he sings passionately. Written when he was 19, Mayfield has said it’s the one song that’s stuck around so long that he still likes.
“Ghost” follows suit with guest vocals by Bo Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATHE. While the track picks up the pace, it continues to showcase Mayfield’s introspection with light strokes of the piano. Guest vocals continue, this time by The Civil Wars’ Joy Williams on “Can’t Change My Mind,” a moving ballad before the upbeat and hopeful “Grow Old With You” closes the LP on a strong note.
Though his first full-length solo release, it’s hard to tell. Now You’re Free is an adequate introduction to the singer-songwriter’s talent. One can only wonder what the future will bring for Matthew Mayfield. To listen to his newest release and find out when he’s coming on tour near you, visit his Website.
Last week, I named NEEDTOBREATHE as You Sing I Write’s band of the week. Quite possibly my favorite concert of 2010 so far, NEEDTOBREATHE’s phenomenal live set impressed at Irving Plaza. It comes as no surprise then, that I’m not their only fan.
Earlier this year, Taylor Swift tweeted: “Trying to find a @needtobreathe concert close to one of our tour dates– dying to see their show!” Turns out, last week she invited the South Carolina natives to join her during her 2011 US and Canadian tour dates and let her fans know via twitter.
“@needtobreathe is my opening act for the Speak Now Tour. It’ll be a nightly challenge to get ready for my show instead of watching theirs”
From the moment NEEDTOBREATHE took the stage at Irving Plaza November 5, it was evident that this wasn’t just any concert. The South Carolina natives have been honing their live show for the past 10 years and Friday night was no exception. Fans came out in flocks to see them and they didn’t disappoint.
As smoke engulfed the stage and guitar fuzz and percussion were heard in the background, NEEDTOBREATHE took the stage to screams. The band kicked off their set with the energetic “Prisoner.” With an impeccable electric guitar interlude mid-song and frontman Bear Rinehart teetering close to the edge of the stage, the band kept the audience on it’s feet. Not a complete deviation from their album, NEEDTOBREATHE proved their live show is like none other. While “Prisoner” neared eight minutes with instrumental features and improvisation, the band managed to keep things fresh and continually showcased their musicality.
“Thank you all for being here. It means a lot to us. We appreciate it very, very much,” Bear said before they performed “More Time” off their album Heat to excited fans who sang along word for word. With an instrumental breakdown and foot stomping rhythm mid-song the band impressed.
NEEDTOBREATHE has been working on a new record much to their fans delight and they debuted a track off their upcoming release called “Devil’s Been Talking.” With a memorable banjo intro, soaring guitars and powerful percussion, the song is only an introduction of what’s to come. While concertgoers no doubt enjoyed hearing new tracks, it was songs from their most recent album, The Outsiders, that received the loudest screams.
“Girl Named Tennessee” livened up the venue with funky guitar accompaniment and hand clapped rhythms. The floor shook as fans stomped along during the song’s entirety. Showcasing their ability to switch gears, moving ballad “Stones Under Rushing Water” slowed things down with light guitar and percussion combined with Bear’s relentless vocals. As the music lessened to the fadeout of the track, Bear sounded like a gospel singer as his voice reverberated throughout the venue.
The piano infused “Washed By the Water” followed suit before Bear once again thanked the audience for attending the show. “We’ve been together for 10 years and it means everything to us that you show up.”
After NEEDTOBREATHE performed for just over an hour they left the stage. But, not for long. As fans chanted “NEEDTOBREATHE,” the quintet came back out for a two-song encore, which included a jaw-dropping acapella version of “Valley of Tomorrow” to the hushed crowd. (Watch below!) NEEDTOBREATHE closed their impressive set with “The Outsiders,” to a sing-along. A testament to how far they’ve come, after 10 years NEEDTOBREATHE show no signs of slowing down.
Watch NEEDTOBREATHE perform “Valley of Tomorrow” acoustic below and for my interview with them, click here.
By far one of the best concerts I’ve been to all year, NEEDTOBREATHE wowed a packed crowd November 5th at Irving Plaza in New York. In addition to performing a full band set of many of the hits off their most recent release, The Outsiders, the band neared the edge of the stage unplugged during fan favorite, “Valley of Tomorrow.” Stay tuned for a complete recap of the show soon!
One of the most talked about bands over the past few months, NEEDTOBREATHE has been gaining attention with their impressive release, The Outsiders, and energetic live show. Even Taylor Swift is a fan, recently tweeting “Trying to find a @needtobreathe concert close to one of our tour dates– dying to see their show!”
Taylor Swift isn’t the only one taking notice. NEEDTOBREATHE earned three Dove Awards last month, winning the most of any artist at the awards show. The band’s wins included group of the year, rock/contemporary album of the year for The Outsiders and rock/contemporary song of the year for “Lay ‘Em Down.”
Set to play Bonnaroo next month, the South Carolina natives don’t show any signs of slowing down as their tour continues throughout the fall and winter. I chatted with drummer Joe Stillwell on the phone before their hometown performance in Clemson, South Carolina, just seven miles from where the band grew up. Stillwell filled me in on the origin of the band, the story behind some of their songs and what has kept the band motivated over the past 11 years.
“If I wasn’t playing music then there would be something missing from my life,” Stillwell said.
Read my exclusive interview below. For more on NEEDTOBREATHE, visit their Web site and watch the band perform their award-winning hit “Lay ‘Em Down” below.
Congratulations on your 3 wins at the Dove Awards! Did you imagine the album would have this much success?
It’s pretty cool. The rewarding thing is that this is based mostly off of people talking about the record. We’ve seen so much growth and people coming out to live shows recently. Ever since the fall tour, right when the record came out and up until now, it’s exploded as far as the number of people that are coming out to shows. It’s not based off of one big single on radio. It really feels like these are people who have heard the record and were told by their friends, “You need to listen to this record.” For us, that’s really rewarding because it says that people really connect with the art that we make and not just hear one song on the radio.
I wanted to ask you about “Lay ‘Em Down.” What was the inspiration behind it? We were working on a different song in the studio when we were getting demos together for this record and it just wasn’t going well. We were hitting a wall working on that other song so we took a bit of a break. Bear and Bo [Rinehart] went into another room and started messing around with guitar parts. I think they had the lyrics written within 10-15 minutes. It was a really quick, organic songwriting process. But then of course, because we’re such studio rats, we spent two days getting the stomps and claps perfect. It was really fun doing that song. It’s got a lot of soul to it.
One of my favorite tracks is “Stones Under Rushing Water” with Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek. How did that collaboration come about?
After we had written “Stones” we knew, after running through it a few times, it needed to be a duet. It needed to have a female voice on there. We had a few different ideas as to who we might want to do it. When we went to record it, turns out [producer] Jim Scott actually worked with Sara Watkins and was good friends with her. He gave her a call she was all about it. She came out to the studio in LA for one day. She came in and laid down some vocals. We almost had her play the fiddle too. She was absolutely amazing, just a beautiful, beautiful voice and she’s such a sweet person. It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album.
You all grew up in South Carolina and there really wasn’t much of a music scene there. What sparked the decision to start a band?
Bear and I roomed together when we went to college at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. We just started playing music in our dorm room and around campus and got the band together. Because there aren’t a whole lot of places to play close, you just start traveling and play anywhere that will have you. College weekends consisted of driving several hours to play a show somewhere in the southeast instead of hanging out and fooling around on campus with our friends on the weekends. Instead, we were driving around in borrowed cars and playing rock shows. And it’s paid off now.
NEEDTOBREATHE has been together the past 11 years. What has kept you motivated?
I think it’s the fact that we know this is absolutely what we’re supposed to be doing. For us, people ask us the question of what you’d be doing if you weren’t in a band and we’re just like, “I haven’t even thought about that.” I would be a completely different person. If I wasn’t playing music then there would be something missing from my life. It’s that kind of knowledge that we feel like we’re supposed to be doing it and the drive to make it happen.
I heard Taylor Swift is a fan and even tweeted that she wants to catch a show. Has she made it out yet?
Not yet. We’re still waiting to get that call to tell us that we to need to add extra security because Taylor’s coming to the show. It’s pretty cool especially since she has like three million followers on Twitter. A ton of new people got turned onto us from that so it’s pretty awesome. We saw Twitter comments after she did that from her fans saying, “I love this band now” and then we also saw some Twitter comments from our fans saying, “Well I guess it’s cool to like Taylor Swift now.”
You’ll be playing Bonnaroo in June. Is that the first big festival for you?
It’s not our first festival. It’s our first time at Bonnaroo. We’ve done festivals before, but this is definitely the biggest we’ve done so far. We’re pretty excited about it.
Do you prepare any differently for a festival?
A little bit. The show that we do in clubs, it’s a lot easier to get quiet and be a little more subtle with the show. With a festival, there are so many people and its outdoors. Everything is so huge you have to play the bigger songs and you can’t really do the more intimate type of things that we do in a club setting. It becomes a little bit more of a high energy show. Our normal show is already high energy, but you’ve gotta do bigger movements and bigger songs in order to get people to see you all the way in the back.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
When somebody asks me how I describe the sound of NEEDTOBREATHE I typically say its good rock & roll. Rootsy rock & roll with a lot of soul to it. That’s the only real genre I can put our music in. It’s just rock & roll. You can’t pigeon hole it much more specific than that because it does cover such a broad range. I always say rock & roll and let them make their own decisions.
What are you thinking about while onstage performing?
I typically focus on what I’m doing whenever we play. I’m behind the drum kit and at the back of the stage [so] I can’t see as much of the crowd as the guys up front can. I just try and interact with the guys as much as I can and get into my own little world. They play off the crowd a bit more because they’re right there and can get that energy from them.
I react more to what the other guys are doing rather than what the crowd is doing. You can still feel the energy from the audience back there, but I’ve closed myself off behind the drum set. I tend to zone out every now and then.
Is there a song that means more to you now than when first written?
I think for me, a song that I’ve always loved is “Don’t Leave Just Yet” off of Daylight. I’m trying to convince everybody that we need to bring that one back and start playing it live again because it has such a great groove to it. I think “Haley” is a really good song. It stands the test of time.
For more on NEEDTOBREATHE visit their Web site or purchase a copy of their album.
Over the past month, I’ve been all over New York and New Jersey meeting bands and various people in the music scene. Happy to report, you’ll be able to watch many of my interviews in the upcoming weeks!
For this week’s poll I want to know which interview you’d like to see featured on You Sing, I Write first. Feel free to leave additional bands you’d like me to cover in the comments!
I received an email about NeedToBreathe a few weeks ago and instantly fell in love with their music. Reminiscent to Kings of Leon, the band blends emotional acoustic folk rock with a hint of country.
NeedToBreathe will be hitting the road next week for The Won’t Turn Back Tour so be sure to visit MySpace for tour dates and watch their latest video for “Hurricane” below. I’d love to know what you think!
Watch an acoustic performance of “The Outsiders” below.