Ryan Tedder Interview

Ryan Tedder
Ryan Tedder. Photo by Michael Tran / FilmMagic

Ryan Tedder is one of the top pop music songwriters and producers in the music business. He is also the leader of the band OneRepublic whose career took off with the release of the smash hit single "Apologize". I caught up with him via phone on September 29, 2009 just as OneRepublic was underway with a tour opening for Rob Thomas, and "All the Right Moves," the band's first single from the upcoming album Waking Up, was heading to mainstream pop radio.

Bill: You could be considered one of today's top pop songwriters and producers, so why OneRepublic?

Ryan: The simple answer to that is OneRepublic, actually, for me, started before all this other stuff started. It was both a byproduct and a catalyst for the writing and producing. Truthfully, it was my main pursuit from the beginning, and I've also thought about it as a duality in my head. It's kind of tortuous actually...working as an artist is much harder than writing and producing, but six months go by and I start to miss it, and I truly love it...If we end up becoming one of the bigger bands in the world, really successful beyond our first album, then that's awesome. I wouldn't do it if I didn't think we had a shot at it. I do it surely out of passion, and that would really be the best answer I can give.

Bill: The single "All the Right Moves" goes out to mainstream radio today. I love it, but it doesn't have a conventional sound.

What do you expect the reception might be at radio?

Ryan: Well, so far I can tell you this much. We visited one of the biggest stations, syndicated on 65 other stations, here in Charlotte, and they were going nuts on it. They called us specifically to do the radio show because it's such a standout. We have two songs that were competing for first single, "Secrets" and "All the Right Moves." "Secrets" right now is the single in parts of Europe, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and it's already...it's the fastest climbing song in five years on radio.

It is right now.

There was a battle for first single in the US. So what we did...radio is such a funny thing. They don't like to take a lot of risks at radio, and I knew that "All the Right Moves" was unconventional, but it was just so hook-y...that we had to go with it. We took two songs to the top radio stations in the country, about a half dozen of them, and we said, "So what do you guys think of these two? What do you think as far as a lead off?"...and the response came back that, "We think both songs are hits period...but we think of the two, 'All the Right Moves' is a great look, it's a little more festive, and its uptempo." Right now the whole world is addicted to uptempo records. It's just crazy.

We were definitely on the fence, not with the songs, but which song we should pick. You can hear the other song I'm mentioning, or a sample of it, on our MySpace page. So it's a challenge picking a first single, and the only thing I knew was I didn't want to try to chase "Apologize." Whenever you try to chase former successes, particularly when they are as big as "Apologize," you look silly. You look like you're chasing something. I didn't want to do that. I thought, "I can't follow that record with "Apologize, part 2." It won't work, and it will look ridiculous.

Bill: When I looked at one of your previous interviews, you said you wanted the first OneRepublic album to be accessible and save the weird stuff for albums two and three. Is there weird stuff on Waking Up?

Ryan: (laughs) There is...but it's not on the singles. Honestly, man, I'm kind of resigned to the fact of what I am and what I'm not. One of the best days of my life was when I woke up and realized that I wasn't Radiohead. I realized that we weren't Arcade Fire, and we weren't upholding the cool police faction of the musical minority. So, there's freedom in that...Our goal with this album is to be the first genre-less band. We wanted to find a non-genre. You can kind of call it androgynous if you want to pick a title for what genre we are. I don't know if that makes sense, but that's the only word I can come up with.

This album, some of the songs that aren't going to radio are definitely taking more risks...you know if the song's not going to be a single I don't think it really matters. The difference for was, to be honest, was we were dropped twice by record labels....We were all so paranoid of getting dropped again, of something not working. We had 35 songs to pick from, and we picked the 11 most successful songs. So, there couldn't be an A&R in the room who wouldn't be able to get it. This album we don't have to do that anymore.

I also think it's kind of ridiculous when an artist or band has success on the first album, and they make a conscious decision on the second album to be as weird as possible like they're going to recoil, almost like their mad at how successful they were or the commerciality of it. To me, in terms of commerciality, selling out, any of that stuff, it's nonsense to me. I like to write songs that people can connect with. The more people I connect with...that's kind of been my goal from the beginning. That's my main motivator is getting you singing or...writing the song that completely shifts how you think about your day or a relationship or your life. We've gotten e-mail from people who haven't committed suicide, a dozen like that, because of one of our songs. It adds more gravity to what I do and what we do. To me that's my ultimate motivator.

Within that, obviously, my personal goals are basically trying to push the envelope. I know that we're a radio band. Ok, then how interesting can we be at radio. You know I'm one of the guys that for better or worse is someone who controls what's happening at radio on a number of different artists. So for OneRepublic my goal is honestly, and this is the hardest part, to not sound like anybody else that I've written for and produced. That was the one promise I made to the band. If any of these singles sound like another song from another person I've worked with then, so help me God. That's kind of been the challenge of it.

Bill: If you were going to pick a personal favorite OneRepublic song, what would you pick?

Ryan: A favorite OneRepublic song...I would say "Everybody Loves Me" off our new album. Man, I just never did anything like it, and I don't know if we ever will again, but...you just have to hear it. We did it in South Africa when we were on tour, and...yeah, I'd say that's my favorite. If you ask me two or three days from now I might give you a different answer.

Bill: What about a favorite song for another artist?

Ryan: I've gotta be honest, man, "Already Gone" (for Kelly Clarkson) still gives me goosebumps. I love the crap out of "Already Gone." I love that one and for the first time ever, last week in Orlando I heard "Happy," the Leona (Lewis) song, on the radio, and that might be my new favorite. That's one of my favorite songs of all time I think that I've written or had any part of. I can say honestly that what I was tallking about a minute ago about writing the kind of songs that people can actually, that can change people's lives and actually affect people, that's one of those songs. Those are the kind of songs that when I'm old and gray and not writing anymore, "Happy" is the kind of song I want to be known for. Those kind of songs.

Bill: In the current tour, is there anything in particular fans should look for from OneRepublic?

Ryan: A lot more energy, I can tell you that much.

I really do love our first album. I don't have any complaints about it. Once we started touring on it, I realized, "Oh crap, I just put together an album of 11 midtempos." You don't realize that until you start touring. You realize, "Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to write a bunch of ballads." So this album has a lot more energy to it.

The first single is an indicator. There's a lot more energy. We still have ballads and midtempos. I'm not an idiot. I know kind of what we've built. I know the sound that we've garnered fans for. We definitely made sure we weren't going to leave the fans that we do have high and dry on this record. I can say 100% that people that were fans of the first album will, I think, absolutely be fans of this album and will connect with it.

As far as live, 50% of our live show is the first album, and right around 50% is things off the new album, and then we do a couple cover songs. We try to keep it interesting, particularly when you're opening. Our goal opening for Rob Thomas, Lenny Kravitz, or whoever it is...you've got 30 to 45 minutes, and my goal at the end of 45 minutes is, 5,000 or 10,000 or however many people are in the crowd, that we've won them over by the last song. That's really the goal. So our shows are another level of excitement compared to what it was.

Bill: Is there anything in particular we should watch for from your outside projects this fall?

Ryan: Yeah, you should look out for Adam Lambert. I've done, as of now, and it could change, but as of now, four songs for his album.

I've never watched American Idol until this year. Ironically, I've worked with enough of them you think I would have, but I never had. But this year I saw that guy and thought, "Man this guy's out of his mind, it's amazing." Finally something different. This guy doesn't care. I love it, and so I did four songs with him. I'm not going to say what the single is. I'm actually trying to find out what the first single is right now. I'll just say I've got these two now that are in contention. I would love, of course, to have the single.

I'm working with Adele. I'm really excited about it. She's one of my favorite artists in the world.

As far as things coming up, I've got another single on Leona Lewis called "You Don't Care" that is one of my favorite songs. I pushed her vocally more on this song than any song she's ever done.

I mean, she did some stuff on "Happy" that's awesome, but this other song she takes it to another level.

That's pretty much...there's other stuff coming out on other artists. You know, I'm working on Rihanna and some other stuff, but I try to be calculated in terms of how I spend my time. I don't have the luxury of sitting around 24 hours a day writing like some other writers do, so I really have to focus on connecting the right song with the right artist...I'm not trying to cash out and I never got into this for the money, and so for me it's just more about quality...my goal in modern music is to remind people about real songs, to try to write songs in the traditional sense and still connect with people.