Since 2007, OneRepbulic's Ryan Tedder has had a huge impact on music charts all over the world as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. There are the OneRepublic hits he's helped pen, including "Apologize," "Stop and Stare," "All The Right Moves," and, most recently, "Feel Again." He's also co-written or produced for others, including Leona Lewis, Gavin Degraw, Colbie Caillat and Beyonce, not to mention his recent Grammy win as one of the producers of Adele's juggernaut album 21. Recently we were able to talk to the prolific artist about his personal journey as a musician who developed into a producer and the perseverance of OneRepublic.
So where did Tedder get his deep passion for music? For one, it's in his blood. "My dad was a gospel songwriter. He was like a published songwriter way back in the day and he turned me onto songs," he said. "My upbringing endowed me with an advantage in melody partly because of my dad's just absolute bombardment of popular music to me at all times." The other half he blames on church. "For singers, that makes sense, right, cause you're in a choir, as I was. But for writing big songs, a spiritual or sacred song, is designed, that by the time you make it to that second chorus it has to be hooky and simple enough that you are part of the worship and not a bystander."
Ryan was quick to emulate his father, jumping on the piano in the basement at the precocious age of 3, but it would take him a while before he was able to find a love for singing solo in front of a crowd. "I'd always had a certain knack for singing … so my choir teachers had said, and my piano teachers … and I quietly sang every single day that I could possibly remember from the time I was 9 or 10. I'd go in my closet and shut the door cause it was sound baffling with all the clothes. I didn't want my mom to know." Though he was only allowed to listen to Christian music at home, he did have a Pet Sounds cassette, and developed a taste for Britpop acts like Doves and Oasis, as well as more established acts like U2 (Tedder respected the fact that Bono was also raised in a Pentacostal Assembly of God) and Peter Gabriel.
His senior year, the family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado where he met OneRepublic bandmate Zach Filkins. "Probably the only thing traditional about this band is how he and I came together. After like the second or third soccer practice, I didn't have a car, and he offered to take me home," he recounted. "I get in the car and he's playing Oasis, I think, and I was like, 'No way, you like Oasis, that's awesome.' And he's like 'Aw man, music's my life.' " A few months later, the two teammates competed in a Battle of the Bands competition with Tedder behind the drums (one of the many instruments he's adept at), and the Barcelona-bred Filkins on guitar. It was shortlived however as they both attended different colleges.
At Oral Roberts University, Tedder, who'd already began writing songs on piano and drums, picked up another habit other than schoolwork. "My freshman year, my roommate had an acoustic guitar, and that was it. I skipped class and played acoustic guitar," he remembered. "I had all these tutorials on how to play guitar and I was at that point going through my Clapton phase, so I'd buy anything Clapton, and I would just study his riffs and would sit there literally and just play til my fingers bled."
He did manage to right the ship and graduated with a degree in PR and Advertising, landing an internship at Dreamworks Publishing in Nashville as a runner. One day he saw a flier for a singer/songwriter competition that included a record deal and appearance on MTV, and decided to audition. He won the Nashville regional, and then it was off to New York where he nervously took the stage on TRL, in front of judges Pink and Brian McKnight, and beat out four others with just an acoustic guitar singing a Babyface-like ballad called "The Look."
The MTV deal didn't amount to much, but it did get him noticed by the hottest producer of the era, Timbaland, who spent a year trying to track the young man down, wanting to add him to his stable of producers and songwriters. It was during the next year and a half, while Timbaland was blowing up artists like Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, and Nelly Furtado, that Ryan would learn many tricks of the trade that have made him successful as a producer and songwriter today. It was also where he crafted what would later become the first of his many hits. He described the moment. "When I did 'Apologize' I didn't have a drummer. It was just me. So I laid the piano down. "I didn't even know how to make a click track, like a tempo to map out to record. The only thing I did know how to do was use an MPC drum machine. So I play it on the piano and the only drums sounds I had were, you know, Timbaland sounds. So it was like (imitates beats). So I'm using what I got. It was super limited, super minimal, but there was this cool honesty to it, and it resonated emotionally."
In 2002, armed with "Apologize" and a few other ideas, he headed out west to Los Angeles where he was able to convince his old classmate to rejoin him in the pursuit of fame and fortune. They rounded out the band (at the time Republic) with another guitarist, Drew Brown, Brent Kutzle on bass and cello, and Eddie Fisher on drums/percussion. In the course of 3 months they played 2 gigs, made a 5-song demo recorded in Tedder's bedroom. The demo landed them a meeting with A&R rep Wendy Goldstein of Capitol Records. He described it as "the craziest, wackiest meeting. I mean we talked about Radiohead cause that was one of our other favorite bands. And she said, 'Well I'm not signing you, but I wanted to meet you. Go out and book every possible show you can book and play your asses off and I'll see you in a year.'"
The band was completely deflated, thinking they had a record deal, but they went out and took her advice. They became regulars in the lineups of all the Sunset Strip clubs, and by May of 2004, they finally had enough of a following to sellout a show at the Roxy. They ended up doing a few more showcase performances, and signed later that year to Velvet Hammer, a Columbia Records subsidiary. They recorded an album that included what would eventually become their 2nd hit "Stop and Stare", with producer Greg Wells (who'd worked with Deftones). The record release date was set for 6/6/6 which Tedder thought was somewhat ominous considering his background. "My mom was like 'It's the mark of the beast," he said. "You want me to tell me friends to buy my son's record on the mark of the beast?' I'm not joking."
They were both right to be apprehensive. The band was dropped from Columbia two months before the album came out. Frustrated, Tedder uploaded "Apologize" and "Stop and Stare" on the band's MySpace page that night and switched their status to unsigned. They quickly became the number one unsigned act on the then popular social media site. It didn't take long before an old friend reached out to the band, Timbaland. He said he wanted to sign them immediately and have the album come out on Interscope. While things were looking up, Tedder says the band was skeptical. He explained, "Timbaland took 'Apologize,' remixed it, and Interscope said 'We're going to put it on his album for exposure. We're going to bury it. It's going to be track 10 or 11. It's not going to be a single.'"
The band freaked out thinking that having your first single be a remix on someone else's album was a recipe for disaster. It had quite the opposite effect, and by the time they released Dreaming Out Loud, the public was ready for more OneRepublic. Though they had had dreams of originally being alternative rock stars, the popularity of "Apologize" made them genreless, allowing them to evolve and have fun making whatever kind of music they wanted. The success of the follow-up single "Stop and Stare" meant they weren't one-hit wonders. The success of their sophomore effort, Waking Up, with singles "All the Right Moves," "Secrets," and "Good Life" confirmed they were legit. As a bonus to their newfound success, Tedder was able to live out a dream opening up for his Pentacostal brother Bono on U2's 360 Stadium Tour.
Meanwhile he's continued to pad his resume by working with a wide variety of artists, including Cobra Starship, The Wanted, Carrie Underwood, Maroon 5, J.Lo, James Blunt, Gym Class Heroes, Natasha Bedingfield, Far East Movement, B.o.B., Chris Cornell, Backstreet Boys, Jordin Sparks, James Morrison, and many others.
The cover of OneRepublic's latest album, Native, is a collage of five animals, a reflection of how each member of the band is completely different from each other. It's no coincidence that the animal representing Tedder is a fox. In most cultures the fox symbolizes cunning, cleverness, adaptability, wisdom, determination, and focus. The red in the fur of a fox is believed to be a solar emblem that depicts passion, desire, intensity and expression. Then there's the phrase "crazy like a fox" which in some circles means unpredictable. All of these describe the 33-year old Oklahoma native's career to a tee.
As Tedder put it, "There's no rules. You don't get to choose. You can pick the path that you want to go down, but you have no idea if it that path forks or goes left or right around that bend. You just pick the path. Once you commit to it, you're on it and you think "Oh, it's going over here," but really it's going over here. So you take it and really do the best you can with it." In other words, if you really want to get into the henhouse, you've got to think like a fox.
Pick up OneRepublic's new album, Native, wherever great music is sold.