Wonderland gets a sneak peek into OneRepublic’s new record with musical power house and frontman, Ryan Tedder.
Shirt by THE KOOPLES.
Ryan Tedder has many strings to his bow. He’s the lead man in wildly successful group OneRepublic – the band behind Timbaland’s heart-string pulling remix of “Apologize” and epic tracks such as “Counting Stars” and “Love Runs Out”. He’s sold out arenas with OneRepublic and created some of the catchiest tracks that have been released in the past decade – you know, the ones that get deliciously caught in your head and make you want to belt them out in the shower. Tedder certainly knows how to make a hit record, but one hit wonder he is not. The musical powerhouse has written for everyone from Adele to Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. He’s also the man responsible for heartbreak classic, Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” – a karaoke fave for the Wonderland team. Tedder has, with the other OneRepublic boys, been working for the past two years on a top-secret new album, set to drop later this year. We were lucky enough to speak with Tedder ahead of the release of the first ‘appetizer’ single from the album, “Wherever I Go”, and got the man behind the music to give us a sneak preview of what’s to come.
Hey Ryan, how’s it going?
Good and well. Got my coffee so life is looking pretty damn good.
What are you up to at the moment? I know you’ve got a new single – tell us everything about it?
So! We have a new single. We just finished the video with Joseph Kahn, and without going into details or giving away the video, it’s a bit of a mad kind of unicorn. It’s so bizarre. A lot of the treatments, a lot of the videos we’ve done, I’ve come up with the treatments. When I’m really lucky or I guess if the song, maybe if the song is good enough, I don’t know how you could phrase it, it instantly gives me a visual. I write visually and I listen to music visually, I’m always having some type of movie playing in my head when I’m listening to music, and some of our best songs in the past, the ones that have connected the most, gave me a visual in my head instantly. “Counting Stars” was actually – I sat with the director James Lees in London at a hotel and the whole treatment came in about sixteen minutes, after a couple drinks we had the whole video.
How did the treatment for your new track Wherever I Go come about?
So in a number of other videos – our first single [from the new record] is called “Wherever I Go”, and the whole thing, the night that we did it I was in my kitchen ‘til probably 2 in the morning practically – I was probably dancing, you can’t listen to this song and not start dancing, and I had the entire visual, the whole treatment for the video in my head, pretty much on the second listen. And so when I pitched the idea to Joseph Kahn and our whole team, I was scared shitless that everyone was going to think it was just weird, but everybody was like ‘Oh my God, that’s it’.
That’s amazing. So any sneak peeks into the next single ‘Wherever I go’?
The one other thing I’d say is about the single, I was just thinking, the one other thing that’s very critical about our first single – it’s that the single itself does not personify the entire album. I think it’s gonna be shocking, kind of the first response anyone has is their eyes are kind of spread open like ‘Oh my god’. It’s not indicative of the entire album but it’s kind of like if you go have dinner, you don’t order steak for an appetizer and steak for dinner, you split it up, and you have different things, so the first single is – it’s definitely an appetizer, I think it’s the best appetizer we could come up with. The other thing I’ll say that’s rather important is that we spent ages making sure that it was actually live. Everything – you could do an entire album on a laptop these days, and some of the biggest records are all electronic laptop driven, and there’s a lot of humanity, I think, missing in radio. And so we wanted to make sure that you could actually hear the human beings and the actual instruments that are in the actual songs, so that’s the last thing I’ll say. It’s new and very modern but there’s still a big dose of humanity in it because you can actually hear the players.
Also, the song is the shortest song we’ve ever put out, it’s not even three minutes long, and it sounds – it’s so hard to explain the sound of it. It’s like – I don’t know, I’ve listened to a lot, in the last ten years – a lot of different music. A lot of what intrigues me the most is some of the weirder stuff so like Sigur Ros and Miike Snow – I mean when you hear it you’ll definitely hear some of that kind of – I’ve been a long time fan of Miike Snow, so you’ll probably hear a little hint of that kind of melody, you know, it’s very different – the highest notes I’ve ever sang in my life are in this record.
Really? How’s that working out?
I’m gonna have to probably sing it a hundred times just to be comfortable enough to do it. I’ve never had to do this with a song – I set aside an entire week for me to literally sing the song – I’m gonna play the music in my studio, and sing it, and record myself singing it for like a week until I’ve absolutely nailed it because it is the hardest song – I’ve done a lot of really difficult songs – “Love Runs Out”, one of the singles off our last album, it’s a very hard song to sing. This song is the hardest damn thing I’ve ever written and as such I have to learn properly! That’s kind of my brief description. Without going into details about what it is, it’s very much about obsession, and almost an unnatural, unhealthy level of obsession, is what the song is about. But it feels very, to me – like we were looking for – whenever you write a first single or an album, specifically singles, you’re always looking for a bit of a unicorn. And on this album, we were looking for a unicorn mating with another unicorn, in a magical forest. We were trying to find something – two unicorns mating in the woods.
Amazing image! How has your sound developed with each record?
With every album, we’ve evolved quite substantially. Our last album three years ago, I was listening to a ton of soul and gospel and Muddy Waters and a little bit of folk music, and that’s what I listened to, and apparently three years ago, the whole world was listening to that. It seemed to be – it’s funny because we put out Counting Stars, and within one month, Avicii put out that folk dance record he did, and then it was like the floodgates opened and then Hozier put out Take Me To Church, and Sam Smith – it was like this gospel/folk revival happened for about two or three years, which was amazing, but now I’m completely off it and it was fun, it really set me for that time, but the way I’m wired, I can’t repeat that, I can’t go back and be like ‘ok, here’s another “Love Runs Out”, here’s another gospel stomper from OneRepublic’ because we listen to so much new music all the time, and I’m working with so many other artists all the time that our music ends up being a reflection of that. And the reality is, people are into playlists. We all listen to playlists now. We’re a playlist generation. I don’t think you could find somebody under the age of 40 right now that if you asked them what kind of music they listen to, they would define themselves by a genre, they’d say ‘oh I mostly listen to alternative’ – nobody says that anymore.
Hoodie by HELMUT LANG.
Before it would be like – ‘I’m quite into emo’, it was quite set, like subculture and specific genres…
Yes! When I moved to LA the first time, it was all Fall Out Boy – and this was a long time ago, it shows you how long ago when Fall Out Boy came out – it was like Fall Out Boy and all the emo bands, people would say ‘Yeah, I’m really into emo’ ‘I’m into hiphop’ ‘I’m into screamcore’, it was like all these subgenres and I never know where we’d sit in any of that, and the irony is that our kind of playlist mentality that we had from day one, the world has now evolved into that by chance, and so I think the timing’s kind of perfect. The reality is, music is evolving so fast, with streaming and the internet and so many new artists popping up left and right, the ability to digest new sounds and new music is limitless, it’s unbelievable, so as much as I love history – I’m a huge history buff – and as much as I love it, I’m not trying to swim in it. You have to jump out of the pool before the water goes stagnant, musically. I admire bands that define their sound and plant their feet in the ground and say ‘no, we are a synth pop band’ or ‘no, we are an indie electronica duo’ and everything they ever do sounds that way. I wouldn’t be able to do that. If I was in, let’s say, a folk band, and then I got tired of folk, I’d quit the band. I wouldn’t try to launch another – I’d be like, ‘we have to end this, and start something new, because that chapter is closed’. It’s difficult. If you’ve defined yourself too much in 2015 or 16, if you’ve planted your foot too firmly in a certain sound, the world almost doesn’t want – you get a lot of pushback if you try to change that sound. It confuses people.
So how do you feel that you’re striking forward with the music you’re doing now?
I’d say it’s hands down the most progressive music I’ve ever been a part of, whether inside this band or outside of this band. I’ve done a lot of solo stuff, collaborations with the French electronica duo, Cassius, who have become two of my closest friends – I’ve never become quicker friends with any guys in my life than Philippe and Hubert, we guess we’re like kindred spirits. So obviously they’re in Paris and I don’t live in Paris so I’ve done a lot of travelling, and a number of songs – I did a collab with Pharrell on Cassius’ new album, and the whole experience working with Cassius – on the last OneRepublic album, right after they finished Phoenix, I reached out to them and I flew out to meet with them. Their energy and sound – they’ve been below the surface for years but they’ve influenced basically everyone – I mean they’ve influenced Justice, they influenced Daft Punk – if there’s an electronic act in the world, they have been in some way, shape or form influenced by Cassius. Spending time with them and their overall vibe really did – I would say that might have been the biggest influence on this upcoming album. We’re not as avant garde, by any means, as Cassius, not as esoteric or French as they are. We didn’t jump off the boat, you know, but we’ve never been a very ‘American’ sounding band to begin with, and I never wanted to be, so we embraced the whole global culture, sound, and we recorded the album in somewhere between 20 and 25 countries…
How did that influence the sound?
It’s about how many places we were in while making the album, and it influences you for sure. If you’re in Sydney, and you’re listening to local Spotify playlists, or iTunes, you’re going to hear different artists than you are in Brazil. You’re going to hear different artists definitely in the UK than you are in France. So we really just opened our ears and we were very intentional about diving into whatever was the hot shit wherever we were. We were trying to find new music and sources of inspiration. The handful of people that we’ve played the album for — we played a number of songs for Zane Lowe the other day, it was the best reaction we could have possibly gotten. He was like, ‘people are not going to believe that this is you guys…In the best way possible’. On the lead single, on “Wherever I Go”, for instance, it was recorded in – there are these claps that come in two thirds of the way through the song, there are these claps that coming in, in the bridge, in the middle eight, they were recorded in the Red Square, in Moscow. So we had our phone out, we were in the middle of the Red Square filming, and I’m like, ‘Let’s record a bunch of shit and see if it finds a home somewhere’. We did a section of a song a couple of weeks ago, and I’m like, ‘God, we need live claps, we need to use the ambience of people and talking, we need that vibe. And I’m going through my iPhone, and I see some labelled ‘Moscow claps’, and I’m like ‘oh my God, this is it’. So I grab those, I throw those in the song and it was perfect. And then the vocals were recorded in Toronto and finished in Denver, so this whole album is kind of patch-worked from all these different places. And we did quite a bit of recording in the UK. And working with other artists is influential, you know?
Jacket by THE KOOPLES.
You’ve worked with an insane number of artists!
I’m lucky that I get to work with the artists I do. I was involved in the Adele’s latest project off and on for two years. I’ve been involved with U2, and I did some stuff with The Killers in the last six months, and Grace Mitchell, this new artist from Portland, Oregon, is kind of blowing my mind right now. I have a conversation going with The Chainsmokers about collaborating, so all these songs that I’ve done with these artists, they play a role. I did some stuff with Ed Sheeran for his next album that plays a role. If you’re in the room with him for three days… He reminded me that it’s lyrics above all – you can have a great melody, you can have a great song, but those lyrics have to hit you in the gut, they have to be the most real, human, visceral thing. To go from Ed to Brandon Flowers in the same week, you get two completely different apertures.
So what I’m wondering is how then you hone in on exactly – I know OneRepublic, it encompasses so many elements, and you’re picking up all these different things from different artists you’re working with – but how do you go ‘that, that’s it, that’s OneRepublic’?
Here’s the best way to put it, I think. If we compare it to fashion: anyone with a reasonable sense of themselves, or their own style, the easiest way to reflect who you are on a daily basis is what you wear. So if you walked into – I’ll just pick the fanciest store – if you walked into Yves Saint Laurent and you have an unlimited budget – I’m making this up – say you’re Beyoncé, I don’t know, or Calvin Harris. You’ve got some money to burn and you walk in. It doesn’t matter how cool all that shit on all those racks is – a person with their own sense of identity can spend five to ten minutes in a store as nice as YSL and you’re going to point to maybe two things and say ‘that’s it’, and if someone asked you ‘how do you know that’s you?’ the answer would be you just know. ‘That’s me, and all this other shit isn’t me’. And that’s the best way for me to put it. And I will say this – I definitely take experimentation – I’m not going to say who the songs have gone to, but there’s at least four songs on our album that I – at any given point we thought were going to be singles, that I’ve now given away to other artists, as singles to cut for their albums. Because, I tried on the suit, and I tried to talk myself into the suit, and I looked in the mirror and I thought ‘yeah, that’s me’, and then I walked outside and then someone was like ‘dude, what are you wearing, that’s not you’, you know what I mean, and that happened at least four or five times on this album. Because I’m a bit of a – what would be the term – I guess chameleon, my trade as a writer and producer, you have to be a chameleon, so I’ve spent so many years jumping in and out of different suits. Like I love the challenge, like again, the Ellie record, “Keep On Dancing”, I’ve never done a trap dance record in my life, but I’ve studied two or three of them and me and Noel, the co-producers, we were like, ‘alright, screw it, we can figure this out, let’s do it’ and yet I know, as much as I like that song, I know that I could in a million years never put that song out.
So you try on the records for size and know that way?
I did one song on the album that sounded too much like a – we’re trying to get up to writing something together and I’m a very massive Vampire Weekend fan, they’re pretty much my favourite band, and two songs on our album that for a period of about a month were on the album and going to be singles, and I had to get distance from it and realise that it was basically me doing my best Vampire Weekend impression. And I’m like I can’t use that. That’s not us. We had a Vampire Weekend – we had a season of Vampire Weekend, we had a season of Mamas and Papas and The Beach Boys, where last summer I was obsessed with that sound and I was convinced that’s where we were going, and we did two or three songs, we spent a lot of time and money, recording these songs, and we have these beautiful 1960s-sounding California dreaming records that will not be on the album because the suit didn’t fit. There are another 30 songs that didn’t fit. So that’s how you figure it out. You just know. You’ve done it long enough, you just know. It’s an arduous process.
All clothing Ryan’s own.
On the topic of fashion, how did you find your shoot?
I loved it. I loved all the stuff, I rolled with it, I loved – I honestly genuinely loved everything. I think I only turned down one thing that they brought to me. And I have a pretty – at this point – defined sense of style, so for me to only – but the point of photoshoots and the point of these things is to see how far can we push it before it’s too far, what could you actually pull off in this life, and I – it was absolutely one of my favourite shoots, I had a lot of fun.
I’m so glad! I just wanted to quickly touch upon how you discovered that you could write songs? It kind of blows my mind how much you’ve done and I’m just wondering where it came from…
So it comes from – my dad for a period of time was a gospel songwriter, like a professional songwriter in the 70s. He wrote gospel music, and so when I grew up there was always a piano in the house. My father was an absolute consumer of – basically Top of the Pops, and he could tell you the top records on the chart at any given point in time for basically all the 80s and all the 90s. And the 90s was really when I grew up – I barely remember the 80s, I remember a few of the movies, I kind of remember some of the songs, just young enough to have missed being a character in a John Hughes movie, but the 90s were definitely my jam. Where I’m from the US is the equivalent to well basically it’s smack dab in the middle of the country, in a small, very unpretentious town, like that’s where I’m from in the US, Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s practically in the dead centre of the continental US. And where I grew up, there was – I mean picture the opposite of London, the opposite of the theatre and the arts and the culture, all of that, that’s where I grew up. And so the closest I could get to pop culture and the rest of the world was my local top 40 station. So I made my own playlists and mixtapes for myself that I would record off the radio, all the time – that was one of my favourite pastimes, to make mixtapes for myself. So in doing that I consumed a ton of music, but it was whatever was the biggest stuff in the world for the better part of a decade, so it was Whitney Houston, it was Belle Biv Devoe, Prince, Michael Jackson, U2, The Police – well, The Police were before my time, but so on and so forth. I consumed all of it for years and years and years. And I was so obsessed with music that I used to walk to and from the bus stop and from school with headphones on, usually reading a book, so I was basically begging to get hit by a car. So that’s really what led to it. And I was writing, I was in creative writing classes, my best subject in school was English, reading, literature, writing, creative writing, so it just progressed naturally, it turned into – I’ve played piano since I was 3, and guitar since I was a teenager and I was required to write poetry in school, so for years I wrote poetry, and by 15 I kind of connected the dots and I could combine poetry with music, and it turned into a song.
When did you write your first song?
At 15 I wrote my first song. And then I discovered Diane Warren, and David Foster, and a handful of the biggest producers and songwriters of the 90s, and I found out that there were these people that wrote all these songs, so the same person wrote ten number ones, I couldn’t believe it. So then I started studying their songs in my spare time. I would literally learn them on piano, and then I would change the lyrics, or I would take the chords and I’d change the melody. I’d manipulate the songs until it was something that I had written, and I didn’t know it at the time but I was kind of giving myself a masterclass in songwriting. I was an only child, so I had nothing but time, so I did it for years and years. And that’s really where the whole thing started. Because I worshipped Oasis and Doves and U2, those were like my three favourite bands of middle school/high school, I decided I wanted to be in a band – I thought the idea of being a solo artist was the loneliest thing ever. I still think that – I don’t envy solo artists. But yeah, that’s kind of what led to the whole thing, that’s what led the band, and all of it. Originally we were called Republic, which I still kind of wish we were, but it’s a bit too late to change that at this point, but we changed the name early on because whenever you’d Google ‘Republic’, the Republic of China would pop up, and I had a conversation with our manager, I was like ‘How many records do you have to sell before you out-Google China?’ So we added the ‘One’, and the rest is history.
Coat by FENDI.
Amber Dreadon using BURBERRY BEAUTY for Cloutier Remix