Ten Minutes with...OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder
'Bleeding Love,' 'Battlefield' writer reveals why he wants to make his wife cry
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Who says you can’t have it all? Certainly not Ryan Tedder. The lead singer of OneRepublic not only had one of the biggest songs of the decade with his group’s ever-present hit 2007’s “Apologize,” he is the go-to pop songwriter and producer. Scan the charts and there’s Tedder’s name: as co-writer of Leona Lewis’s massive smash “Bleeding Love,” Beyonce’s “Halo,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone,” and Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield.”
Tedder, 30, has cuts on both Adam Lambert’s and Lewis’s new sets and he’s busy promoting OneRepublic’s new album, “Waking Up,” which came out Nov. 17. In the midst of a crazy schedule, he found time to talk to Hitfix from a pub in Manhattan about the band’s possible demise, trusting your gut and what he really thinks about radio.
Q: What did you want your fans to learn about OneRepublic from this CD that they didn’t learn from 2007’s “Dreaming Out Loud?”
A: The first album, I didn’t produce. The guy who did it is a great producer, but everybody from the label to the producer heard the songs and, “The songs are great, let’s just record them.” So there wasn’t any, literally, no additional thought or effort as put into the songs beyond ‘let’s record them.’ And on this one, I’ve been collecting vintage recording equipment, instruments and stuff for the last four years and II just told the label, “If you guys trust me to produce the album, let me just do what I do.” I don’t really follow any kind of rulebook or anything. I just knew that the sound of the first record wasn’t a sound that gave this band enough room to move around in for the rest of our careers, so it’s a little bit riskier to switch your sound up on your second album, especially if the first album is successful, but I told the band, “We can’t keep putting out ‘Stop and Stare’ and ‘Apologize Part 3, Part 4,’ so it was a conscious effort.
Q: How much when you’re making a record are you thinking about the live presentation of the songs vs. how they’d sound on radio?
A: I’d say it’s an even 50/50 split for me. In terms of what I want, first and foremost, is an album you can take home with you so there is some level of our artistic interpretation you can do live for anything that’s recorded, but an album, it’s forever. Once you make an album, when I’m dead, however many years from now, that thing will still exist in some form.
I’m always trying to create miniature soundtracks. I think in terms of movies and the cinema. A lot of times, I’ll try to be writing a song and if I get stumped, I’ll think, okay if I was writing the theme song for whatever the movie is, “Say Anything,” or “Dead Poet’s Society,” or, you know, “Jumping Jack Flash,” I don’t know, you know, I’ll literally try and create a scene with the songs, try and create something that when I’m picturing people all over the world driving through their home town or jogging or whatever it is they’re doing and I’m picturing them listening to our music. My goal is to create a soundtrack to whatever they’re doing.
Radio is its own beast. Fortunately I’ve had enough experience at radio if I think a song is going there, I will, to the best of my ability, kind of push it or kind of chip away at it until I really think it’s going to connect at radio. Because if it’s going to go to radio as a song, you want to make sure it’s a hit or just don’t go. Either say you don’t care about radio or go all the way. I don’t like being 50 percent or wishy washy with radio. I know that we broke on radio, it still is important to us. Eventually, I’d love it if we didn’t need radio, but we’re not there yet.
Q: How did the success of “Apologize” and “Bleeding Love” change your life?
A: They both started two separate full time careers. It’s funny I just got out of meeting with [Island Def Jam chairman] L.A. Reid about an hour ago and he asked me the same question you just did. I said, well, you know anybody would love to have either of those careers. Only an insane person would choreograph them to launch simultaneously.
Q: I don’t think you choreographed that though, did you?
A: No, but that’s what happened. I didn’t plan it that way. If I could go back, I would change it. I would have them happen at different times, but they happened. So “Apologize” changed my life because I was going to quit pursuing being an artist and quit doing the artist side of things, at least on that level, if “Apologize” had failed. I told the band, I told the label, “Guys, if this isn’t a hit, then I need to pick a new job” because I had that song for five years and I thought that song was a hit the whole time it got passed on and dropped. I kept telling people, “You don’t understand it’s a hit,” and [they] kept ignoring it. And “Bleeding Love” also got passed on by a couple of labels. I had executives tell me it’s not a hit, so really, I guess the word you could use is validation. “Apologize” validated One Republic as an artist and “Bleeding Love” validated me as a writer and a producer and that’s really what they did. They provided, to be honest, much needed validation at that juncture in my life. That was a turning point and I kind of needed it, it was sink or swim so I’m glad they worked.
Q: OneRepublic was signed to Columbia and got dropped. People told you “Apologize” and “Bleeding Love” weren’t hits. What have those collective experiences taught you in terms of trusting your gut?
A: The lesson I learned now is I no longer take anybody’s opinion about the songs that I do, any executive, any president, over my own. It’s not an ego thing; it’s that I’ve only and always gone off my gut. That’s the only way I know if a song is good or not, if it gives me goose bumps. You know that moment in “I Will Always Love You” when [Whitney Houston] jumps up a full key and hits that note? , I get goose bumps every time I hear that song. When it comes to mid tempo and ballads, I go for that moment. I want to make the listener cry, I want to see my wife cry. A dream of mine would be to have a song that I wrote at some point in my career that gets played at weddings for 50 years. I really want the listener to feel something. I go with my gut now.
All the research in the world doesn’t mean a thing. “Bleeding Love” did terrible research. The industry is based on people going off their gut and then the last 15 years, it’s turned into measurements and gauges of research and computers and you know all that stuff is bullshit. At the end of the day it’s going to come down to people’s gut.
Q: Do you know from the start if you’re writing for OneRepublic or whether you’re writing for another artist?
A: I almost never sit down to write accidentally for OneRepublic. When I sit down to write for OneRepublic, I’m in that mindset from that moment. I keep them separate. I look at it this way. Ne-Yo is one of the best songwriters out there. I tell him, “You’re so frigging lucky.” Ne-Yo could just write 20 songs and you could take any Ne-Yo song and give it to another artist and it would also be a hit, you know what I mean? But that’s the nature of our beast, pop/R&B. We’re not a pop/R&B act, we’re a specific band and it is paramount to me to keep those two worlds separates. I don’t ever want anyone to hear a song [from] OneRepublic and go, “Man, he basically took a Beyonce song and flipped it for his band.” I literally put out a lot of effort out of respect to the band, who have been my friends forever and just my own sanity, to have something that is separate an identity. That is the absolute hardest part about being in this band and it was the hardest thing about making this album: to be cognizant of that the whole time and keep the two worlds separate. I promised the band from the get-go there will not be a song on this album that comes out that sounds like it could have been on Kelly Clarkson’s album or it could have been on James Morrison’s album or whoever it might be. It’s a very conscious effort and it’s very difficult. I probably have a few more gray hairs because of it.