The tenacious frontman and three-time Grammy winner on 12 years of OneRepublic.
It’s been over 12 years since slow-burning bop “Apologize” dropped on the charts and we were introduced to Colorado-hailed pop-rockers OneRepublic. And the obsession has held steady, as fast-forward and the band are still pumping out impossibly catchy feel-good ear worms (you will have pressed play on “Good Life”, “Secrets” and “Counting Stars”), with collaborations over time with the likes of Timbaland, Peter Gabriel and Santigold to name a few.
And now, after a two-year hiatus, the band are back in a big way, dropping their new single, soaring head-bopper “Rescue Me,” accompanied by a cinematic music video. In the visuals a young boy flees from a group of bullies and is taken over by the compulsion to dance, with every move beating his assailants back. At one point the boy even uses his new dance-fuelled super powers to accidentally blow over a neighbours fence, revealing none other than OneRepublic playing at your local friendly BBQ.
We chatted to frontman, three-time Grammy winner and all-round multitasker Ryan Tedder about the return of OneRepublic…
OneRepublic released their debut album back in 2007 – it’s been 12 years! How has it been?
Long. It’s been a lot of fun. Challenging. Mostly ups, very few downs. I’m just thrilled we’re still together and we still actually love each other. None of us have brothers in real life so we’ve all become each others brothers more or less, and so for me it’s been awesome. And I think it’s crazy we sat down at a kitchen table in Los Angeles in 2003 and wrote down on a back of a napkin what our plan was, and we wanted a platinum album for our first album and obviously a hit record, we wanted our second album to be more adventurous, we wanted to be in arenas by our fifth album, so we got there a little quicker than we thought.
Do you still have that napkin that you wrote all those aspirations on?
Oh my god, I wish that I did. But I don’t.
What do you think the main reasons for your success has been and your longevity?
I think everybody in our band is a pragmatist, and is reasonable and rational. So much of it has to do with your personality and how you’re wired. You can’t really fix a lot of that. It’s a tricky one. There’s a lot of things you can control and there’s a lot you can’t, but we all just get along.
We’ve taken the last two years off and that was largely due in part to me. After we hit the 10th year and our last album, it basically led to my completely unravelling, I think it’s a testimony to the guys in the band that they were totally cool and understanding with me pulling the plug on an album and a tour. I hit a wall. My kids didn’t recognise me at this point. Out of a 10 year period, I think we were physically away for 7 years, and we were touring like a bunch of single guys without families. And yet at this point we were all married at this point with kids on the way. Most bands would break up at this point or go their own separate way, but we wanted to stay together and now it’s time to get back on the saddle.
You’ve got your new single coming out “Rescue Me” – are you excited? What is the track about?
Very excited, we haven’t dropped a new song in a long time, and the song has had a lot of positive feedback from our friends and record label and radio people. I wrote the entire lyrics for the song top down which rarely ever happens, which means it’s a stream of consciousness. I started writing and I started writing the lyrics and it was all less than 5 minutes. It came out in one fail swoop. And that’s kind of the universe telling you that this song needs to exist. For me, it’s thinking about someone that is very dear to you and knowing you would do anything for them, that you’d be there for them come hell or high water, but you’re posing the question, would you do the same for me?
Will we be getting an album any time soon?
I’m focusing on getting some new songs out right now, but I’d like to have an album out in September. And the plan is to do a big tour in 2020.
You’ve produced Grammy-winning albums for Adele and Taylor Swift, and songs for Beyoncé and Ariana Grande – I know it’s hard to summarise, but what do you think is in the formula to a hit song?
I really learned how to write songs in Nashville, which is sort of the song craft capital of the world. There has to be innate sense of melody inside someone to be a great songwriter, that’s the part you can’t teach, in my opinion. It’s in you or it’s not. Move to New York or London or LA, move to Nashville.
You’ve also produced the new Jonas Brothers album – how was that?
It’s challenging in terms of the workload. It’s not challenging in the sense that with the Jonas Brother there’s no drama. There’s no bullshit. Most artists flip-flop 4 or 5 many different times in a week when it comes to picking artwork and singles. And there’s a lot of drama that comes with executive producing an album. The Jonas Brothers are no drama. It’s like having an adult conversation; nobody has an ego, there are no hidden agendas, other than putting out great music and winning and that’s it.
You’ve also produced and are a judge on Songland – do you find it weird being considered an authority on these things?
It’s an honour. I think its the most credible music show that I’ve ever seen or been a part of. It has heart, and really pulls back the curtains on art of songwriting and the craft, and where hit records come from. I always think you can’t help but compare yourself to other people so for me I go, well Quincy Jones is a master, he’s an authority, or Max Martin is the authority so I always think I’m one of many people of my peers who have come close to mastering songwriting. I’m not the world’s foremost authority of it, but one of many.
Had judging on it been an emotional experience?
Oh my god, yeah, there is one episode where I’m straight-up crying. The child was in a cancer ward in a hospital fighting for his life and he had all the lyrics of this guy’s song written on paper covering his room. The lyrics were his inspiration to stay alive. Then the guy got called in to sing at the hospital and he walks in and sees his lyrics all over the walls. He ended up falling in love with the mother of the child. And then the child died. I mean you could have heard a pin drop; I was completely devastated. Songwriters have their stories to tell. They’re not just people on one of the other talent shows standing up and going, ‘I want to be famous and I can out-sing that person’. That’s where music comes from. There’s a lot more gravity to this show than a lot of the other talent shows.
What piece of advice would you give to an emerging songwriter and producer?
If you’re actually serious about it, then you have to move where the music is. It’s extremely rare that I ever end up working with or hearing about a hit record being written in some random far-flung place. If you want to be a songwriter, its not that you can’t write songs in other places, it’s that you’re not gong to be able to get to collaborate with people better with you and that’s the most critical component. You take the risk and pack your bags and that’s honestly the best piece of advice I could give.
What’s next for you? What are you excited about?
I’m doing a few things. There’s new Sam Smith coming, a new Pink single coming – “Can We Pretend”. I’ve got another TV show, all about music, which takes place at a boarding academy, basically based on the Brit school but if you planted it in Southern California. Like up near Malibu. The person writing the show was the lead writer on Scrubs. And then I’m doing a movie with Margot Robbie on Netflix, we start shooting at the top of the year. I’m executive producing the soundtrack with the two very talented writer producers that did “Despacito”. I’m not saying they’re on the soundtrack, but it will feature songs from people like Rosalia, Daddy Yankee. Last but not least, I started a CBD/hemp-extract beverage with Interscope records, that we launched at Coachella. We’re actually coming to the UK this year. It’s called Mad Tasty.