NEEDTOBREATHE: Interview with Joe Stillwell

Last Sunday, stellar southern rock band, NEEDTOBREATHE was in town & played a spectacular show at The NorVA with fellow Atlantic Records singer songwriter, Matt Hires, and Will Hoge. The "Won't Turn Back" tour featured new songs from their record The Outsiders & other fan favorites from their previous records, Daylight and The Heat.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Stillwell, drummer of NEEDTOBREATHE, for my college newspaper, The Marlin Chronicle & Examiner.com. Read the full story on the Arts & Entertainment page here: NEEDTOBREATHE: Inside "The Outsiders".

Photo by: Cherylyn Ebertz

Cherylyn: What inspires you to make music?

Joe Stillwell:We're inspired by random events. Our song "Something Beautiful" was written by Bear and Bo when Bo was going through a dry spell. As far as song writing goes, we're moved by inspiring moments, maybe a lyric in a song, something aweinspiring we see driving down the road. We like to write songs that are creative and simple, songs that cut to the core.

I'm inspired by the energy from fans during live shows. It's my favorite part of what we do. Getting that direct connection and seeing the fans reacting to the joy and energy you bring. They give it back to you.

Cherylyn: What is it that makes NEEDTOBREATHE work as a band?

Joe Stillwell: I think what makes us work as a band, is the fact that we've known each other for so many years. I mean Bear and Bo are brothers, so they've known each other their whole lives. I've known the brothers since I was 12 years old. We didn't start the band until Bear and I went off to college & roomed together, but we had a bond from the time we were in highschool.

I think we have an advantage, having been close together before we were in a band together. Other bands have to really get to know each other and learn each other's quirks as they are developing musically. We already knew what we were getting into before we started.

Cherylyn: How would you describe your music if you could put it into words?

Joe Stillwell: I usually say we're a rock and roll band. Of course we have the Southern element too and that plays into the sound. There are so many elements that contribute to our sound and a broad range of influences make their way into our songs. It's hard to put into words what it is, but we just play honest rock and roll.

Cherylyn: What is your ultimate goal as a band? Have you been successful at reaching your goals so far?

Joe Stillwell :For us, making music and being in a band is success. Being able to do what we love and make enough money to put us in the position to keep making music as a band is what makes us happy. We are so blessed with the success that we've had, but we still have to make ends meet. Since we're on the road so much, I decided to move out of my apartment so I don't have to pay rent. I've been crashing at Bo's house. I've never been happier in my life. We love that people have been connecting and responding to the music and that people get what we do. Without this, we wouldn't have the chance to financially keep doing what we're doing.

Cherylyn: Is it easy for you to balance life on the road and life at home?

Joe Stillwell: It gets hard. Especially for the guys who are married. They really miss their wives, but they are lucky to have wives that support them. Bear and Bo have both been married for awhile and their wives understand that if they weren't doing this, something huge would be missing from their lives. If we weren't playing music, I think we'd all just be shadows of ourselves.

Cherylyn: What is the songwriting process like for NEEDTOBREATHE?

Joe Stillwell: Bear and Bo are the songwriters of the band. They write some parts seperately, some together. They'll get a solid idea, a riff, a whole song sometimes and bring it to us. If we're on the road during rehearsals or soundcheck, we'll work through it together until it evolves, takes different shapes and turns into something we can put our stamp on. Because they are brothers, there is a brutal honesty between all of us. There is a certain dynamic, when you're in a band with brothers, and we're not worried about hurting each other's feelings. If we don't like something, we'll tell each other. Sometimes it's frustrating, but that's how the best art is created.

Cherylyn: Do you have a theme, anthem, or one common purpose as a band? Is there one song that you would say sums you up or defines you as a band?

Joe Stillwell: Well, we don't have a mission statement or anything. We do everything together as a band. We don't get together and write a list of specific things that we want to accomplish, that's not what our band is about. It's knowing that we are in this together. It's about relationships. Because we have poured our entire lives into music and this band, there is no way we could ever sum it up. That's not an easy thing to do. That would be like trying to sum up and define your entire life. We are just so blessed to be able to do this together.

Cherylyn: What has been the biggest adventure or challenge for you as a band so far?

Joe Stillwell: Transportation. We've gone through four or five vans during our career so far. We were just able to buy a bus type thing, with bunks and a lounge, but it still breaks down and runs off the road into ditches. Everything else seems to go pretty smoothly, but the one thing we've always struggled with is transportation, which is obviously important to keep getting us where we need to be.

Cherylyn: If you could collaborate or tour with anyone in the world who would it be? Who have been your favorite people to collaborate with so far?

Joe Stillwell: Well, I think we'd definitely all want to collaborate with Tom Petty. We're huge fans, as a band. Bruce Springsteen would also be really cool. I love working with other people. You never know how things are going to work out musically until you actually take a stab at it. Who knows, maybe we'll be collaborating with Kanye or Jay-Z next.

It was amazing working with Jim Scott, one of our engineers on The Outsiders. He's been around forever. He worked on Tom Petty's album, Wildflowers and on Sting's first solo record. He's worked with so many great people. We went about recording in a really old school way. Usually we'd say, "Let's record vocals, okay let's record guitar next, and then drums," but with Jim, we all gathered in one room and played together at the same time. It was different, but it was like we were capturing our live sound, and like I said, that's what it's about to me, playing live shows is my favorite part.

Cherylyn: What is something that most people don't know about you? Do you have interesting hobbies or passions besides music?

Joe Stillwell: We're all sports nuts. Everyone in the band, except for me, is really into golf, they're all huge golfers. We're huge fans of the Atlanta Braves and apparently some of them are fans of our band. They came out to see a show when we were at the House of Blues in Orlando. They were doing spring training and came to see us so we all got to hang out backstage after the show. Rock stars want to be athletes and athletes want to be rock stars, I guess!

When we're at home, we usually use the time to just relax and reconnect with our families. Seth has his own studio so he records other bands there. Some of the guys work on home improvement when we're off the road and we all just spend time with our loved ones.

Cherylyn: When did you realize music was your passion? Did you know then that you wanted to play music for a living?

Joe Stillwell: Always. I've kind of always had a passion for music. I started playing drums when I was 12 and it just felt right. I've had the passion and a natural talent since I was a kid, but it wasn't until college that I realized that I could actually play music as a career. It was when I was a sophomore in college and passion met reality, that I knew being in a band was something I could do for the rest of my life.

Cherylyn: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? If you had to change everything about yourself, but could keep one quality... what would it be?

Joe Stillwell: I think I would want to be more athletically coordinated. The other guys are amazed at how coordinated I am when I'm playing the drums. All my limbs work together and do so many different things at once, but I'm awful at basketball. I'm just a rock star wanting to be athletically talented, I guess!
If I could keep one quality about myself, it would be my natural talent and love for music. Music is the most fulfilling thing in my life. That's why I was created and put on the earth, to make music. I literally can't imagine not playing.

Cherylyn: Who are your musical influences? Who are your favorite bands & musicians to listen to?

Joe Stillwell: There are too many to name. But as a whole, we all really love Tom Petty. Pearl Jam is another big influence. We all grew up singing in church, so Gospel music is a deeply ingrained element in our music. For me, I was really into a lot of the Grunge bands when I was younger. There was a band from South Carolina that I really loved, Jump Little Children. I listened to them throughout high school and college. Peter Gabriel and ZZ Top. There are so many different bands and musicians that have influenced me, even if it was just for a moment. We really try to remain open to different things and so many different things influence us at different moments.

Cherylyn: Your music videos are very innovative and creative. Have you had a role in coming up with music video concepts? I know you made one of your videos, "Washed By the Water", here in Virginia. How was that experience?

Joe Stillwell: Yes! For "Washed By The Water".

It was interesting! And cold! It was colder than we thought it was going to be in Virginia. There is a part where we were drenched with water so I definitely left that video shoot with a cough, but it was great and lots of fun. We had someone helping us out, which was really nice, but we're all so hands on it's really hard for us to relinquish all control to someone else. We had to turn the reins over. We do most of the planning when it comes to concepts and themes for our videos, and really anything visually, album covers, photo shoots. For out latest video, "Hurricane", Bear and Bo directed the video and edited the footage. We built a set in this big, open garage, and hung these red movie theater curtains up and made the video!

Cherylyn: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?

Joe Stillwell: I don't want to sound discouraging, but unless music is something you HAVE to do, if you wouldn't be the same person without music and without performing, than I would discourage it. It's just not what you expect. The music industry is so hard to break into. I mean, I've had friends that have made it and then their label drops them. There is so much hard work and heart break in the industry. If you are going to pursue a career in music, put everything you've got into it. Play as many shows as you can. No show is too small. Get in front of people so they can hear you and build your art.

Cherylyn: I met David at when you played here in Virginia with Lifehouse last year. How has he influenced and shaped the chemistry and dynamics of the band so far?

Joe Stillwell: It's been GREAT! David is an amazing, amazing singer. He has made all the harmonies we sing live sound so awesome. He's such a good singer. He has this energy on stage. He's always moving, even though he's shielded by his organ, he's dancing and moving the whole time. He fits in perfectly. Sometimes we'll be mad after a show because we over analyze everything. The crowd might think it's the greatest show ever, and we think it was the worst, and we nit pick all of our little mistakes, and he's just been great about it. He's acclimating well and is just part of the family now.

Cherylyn: Any last words? Or anything you want to tell the world? What's next for Needtobreathe?

Touring! Lots of touring! The show at the Norva is going to be awesome. This tour has absolutely been surpassing our expectations! The reactions and interaction has been amazing. I can't wait to keep sharing the music and see how much it grows!






Follow me on twitter: @Electro_CEE


rachel said...

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