Needtobreathe isn't exactly the first band one would think of as an opening act for country superstar Taylor Swift.
The rising rockers from South Carolina found only moderate success with their albums The Heat (2007) and The Outsiders (2009) but were picked by Swift's camp to join her current sold-out tour.
"It was a bit out of the blue," drummer Joe Stillwell says. "I think the initial reaction was surprise, that it didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. We're not a country band, though we do have that Southern vibe to what we're doing."
Stillwell says the exposure helped them agree to be Swift's opener. The tour comes to Rupp Arena on Saturday.
"It's at least 13,000 a night in arenas and 50,000 in stadiums," he says. "A lot of these people coming to Taylor Swift shows are younger kids. They haven't been to a real full-on concert before. We look at it as the opportunity to be the first real tour they come across, take advantage of that and put on a show that will stick with them."
The reaction has been good — once the fans warm up, Stillwell says.
"They're not quite expecting the whole rock 'n' roll thing, us being loud and energetic," he says. "But after a few songs, they get into it, and we rope them in."
Needtobreathe was headlining a tour when the call came to open for Swift.
"In her show, Taylor says we're one of her favorite bands on the planet," Stillwell says. Last year, "she was on tour and she posted on Twitter she was hoping to find a spot on tour where she could come see one of our shows."
He describes his band's sound as rock with a little "dance-a-billy."
"At its heart, it's just good old- fashioned American rock 'n' roll with a little bit of R&B, a little bit of groove and a little bit of country to it," Stillwell says. "Country is in our veins, and it makes its way into our music."
Needtobreathe's latest album, The Reckoning, came out last month and was recorded in the band's own studio.
"It's the best record we've ever made," Stillwell says. "On the last record, we were trying to prove ourselves, coming into our own and embracing what the band had become. The Reckoning is about living up to that and meeting and exceeding others' expectations."
The first single from The Reckoning was Drive All Night.
"It's one of those summertime, windows-down, crank-up-the-sound songs, and I wanted the lyrics to catch that vibe, getting out there and putting the pedal to the metal and not worrying about anything else," he says. "People have really been responding to it live. At sound check, Taylor Swift's crew comes and checks it out."