It’s been over five years since American pop-rock band OneRepublic released their last album. However, that will be ending soon. The band is slated to unveil their latest album “Human” on 27th August. For now, they’ve released five tracks from the album which are “Rescue Me”, “Wanted”, “Didn’t I”, “Better Days” and “Run” to hold us over.
OneRepublic has produced countless albums since their hit-single “Apologize” got a Grammy Award nomination in 2007. There may be a gap between their last album and “Human”, but songwriter and lead vocalist Ryan Tedder has stated this album marks the “second chapter” of the band.
We got the opportunity to join Tedder during the OneRepublic Southeast Asia Press Conference where he spoke about the development of “Human”, what makes a OneRepublic song recognisable and why radio is necessary compared to streaming.
1. It’s been five years since your last album. How long has this album “Human” been in the works?
There’s only one song on this album that was written during (the) previous tour. You know, I’m always writing the next album on tour. By the time “Oh My My” came out, I was already completely fried. I almost thought I was done with the band, to be honest. In 2016-2017, the promotion tour schedule that we did for “Oh My My” was so soul destroying. I was on the road for nine months. I was on the road from 1st May to 22nd December of 2016, and by the time I got to October, I’d seen my family, maybe, four days out of four or five months, and I still had three months to go. And I was done.
I remember telling my manager, “I don’t care what happens, I can’t promote any more songs”. By the time (I) got two kids, which was (by) the second single, I was already done. And I didn’t have anything left in me. The first single, “Wherever I Go”, was shot in Korea, and then in Los Angeles, (which was) one of my favourite videos (that) we’ve ever done, (but) I just didn’t have it in me. I had been going nonstop from 2007 to 2017. And so, I walked away in January 2017, and I told the Vandals what’s going to happen to us. We did some Asia tours- the only real tours we did in a three year period- (in) 2017, 2018 and 2019. We did one American tour, and we did two Asia tours, and I didn’t have it in me to do anything else.
I didn’t start writing for this album until- I honestly felt like it was 2019. There might be like one or two songs on this album that were started in like 2018 or something, but it was really the beginning of 2019. I had done an album for the Jonas Brothers and wrote “Sucker” which went on to become a huge hit for them, and that kind of got me re-energised. I was doing Miley Cyrus’s albums, Sam Smith’s, a bunch of different artists, and that got me back in the saddle. Every time I was with an artist, they were like, “What are you doing with OneRepublic? Like why are you not doing more music? What, are you crazy?” And so, I can honestly thank all those artists that I worked with for making me want to do an album again.
I had enough time off, enough time with my family and being home and not touring that I wanted to tour again. I had something to say and I wanted to go back out there and make music again so I see this- the next 9 or 10 years- as the second chapter of this band. I always thought this was a 20-year band from day one. And I told the band in 2019, “I’ve got another 10 years in me”. And then Covid hit and gobbled up 18 months of it, so. But this is the second chapter and I’m excited to start it with this album.
2. Your newest album was intended for release way back in November 2019. But with songs on different hard drives, timing and of course, the dumpster fire that was 2020 that required all of you to be apart from each other, would you say this was your most difficult album to produce and create?
I would say it was the most difficult to produce. I mean, “Oh My My” was tremendously difficult too, because we made it in so many countries (and) in so many places. This one was the most difficult because the plan just kept changing. It’s funny, when we released “Rescue Me”, we thought “Well, we should put an album out after this.” (That) was (at) the end of 2019, and “Rescue Me” had come out, and done really well but we wanted to drop one more song and hopefully do even better. By the time we got around to doing it, Covid hit.
It was like, let’s just move the album by six months, and we were going to time (it) to release for the summer tour in America, (and) the Europe tour in the fall. There’s all these things you have to plan around an album that have nothing to do with the album, and that’s why we moved the album to April-May of 2020. Then Covid-19 (hit), so that’s why it moved. It was hard (because) it just moved around so much. It was a pain in the ass. Frankly, in my mind, “Human” has been out for a year, I’m already on to the next thing.
3. Can you describe “Human” in three words?
Love, fear, hope.
4. Any collaborations that we can expect from the album?
No, this is OneRepublic. This is (a) very traditional OneRepublic album. The only collaboration on this album is Kygo for one song.
5. 2020 was all about synth-pop and disco. What do you think about this trend and can we expect these vintage vibe songs in “Human”?
There’s only really one song from “Human”. And it is a song that we did recently, so it’s probably a little bit influenced by what’s happening now. There’s one song in “Human” that I would say has that kind of retro vibe. I wrote and produced the new Bastille single that came out (on 24th June) actually. And it’s very aggressive, 80s synth. A lot of their album is like early 80s. You know, Simon and Garfunkel, Phil Collins, Genesis, and Peter Gabriel- it’s very that. I’m doing the DNC album which is very disco. MGMT and the Jessie J album (are) very disco, 70s and 80s; Donna Summer and Whitney Houston. So, I’m very much a part of that wave of where music is going or where music is, but by the time you chase that stuff, it doesn’t work.
You have to be careful how you ride those waves, and you need to catch it just at the right time. I’ve been a part of a lot of those waves in the last 15, 16 years. When “Counting Stars” came out- People don’t remember that time very well, but in 2013 (or) 2014- and I had no idea that this was happening, I just kind of sensed that this is where music was going- Avicii comes out with “Wake Me Up”. And (it had) that sound, that kind of tempo, you know, folk acoustic guitar sound. Well, Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” was number one everywhere in the world, and the very next song (which was) number one everywhere in the world was “Counting Stars”. And then it was Mumford and Sons, and like, it was this wave of folk-like band music. If we had mistimed that, (if) “Counting Stars” had come six months later, or even six months earlier, then we would have been too far out ahead of the wave, or too far behind it.
So, when you’re releasing music as an artist- I’m writing music in real time. The songs that I have coming (from) other artists, whether it’s Lil Nas X or Miley, I’m very careful that I’m not chasing any current trend. But, I’m making sure that the drums are modern, (that) the drums sound like 2021. And it’s really hard for me to say in an interview, what that means, you just know it when you hear it.
It’s no different than a fashion designer (like), when you watch the documentary on Halston or Balenciaga or Tom Ford, when they’re picking colours in fabrics. They (can’t) explain why they’re picking certain colours and fabrics, (they’re) instinctively picking them because (they) feel that that’s the next thing. So, that’s the long winded answer. This album is not chasing anything that’s currently out musically, but I’m aware of everything that’s out. And so, I tried to make sure that the songs, the production feels modern, but it doesn’t feel like we’re chasing what’s out.
6. What was the most difficult song that you wrote on the album?
The hardest song for me, the hardest one to write or to finish, is a song called “Sunday”. That (has) one of the best lyrics and concepts on the whole album. The lyrics just punch you in the gut, like emotionally. We were working on “Sunday”, up until a week ago, and we’re at our deadline right now because I just couldn’t- I wrote it in Thailand. We actually wrote it in Phuket and in Bangkok and finished (it). And actually, it still sounds very much like how it sounded in Thailand.
Covid gave us another 15 months (and) when you have too much time to mess (and) to think about something, you overthink it. And then you create problems that didn’t exist. So, with “Sunday”; I loved it when we did it in Thailand. I loved the week after we left; it was like done, the song was done. And then we had time to look at it and think about it and listen to it. And then we did 30 versions of it. So now, I’m not even sure the version on the album is the right version, but “Sunday” was easily the hardest song because we worked on it for basically two years.
7. Which is your favourite song from the upcoming album?
For whatever reason, my favourite song- it might not be the biggest song in the album- but my favourite song is a song called, “Take Care of You”. That’s the one that kind of has the cool synth tempo. It’s almost like a Drake record. Yeah, it’s like an emotional Drake record, honestly, and I don’t know, I love the hell out of it.
8. What was the inspiration behind the song “Run”? Was it inspired by any real life experiences?
I mean, a hundred percent it’s about real life experiences. Right before this interview, I just ran 10 kilometres about an hour ago. And I’ll do it again tomorrow and I did (it) yesterday. So, anyone that knows me; I run, that’s what I do, I’m a runner. I love exercising, I do it before concerts, I do it every time before a show. And so, that’s partly why it’s called “Run”. I’m not making this up, this year, not counting treadmills, I run on treadmills all the time. But, let’s see here, I ran 2000 kilometers this year, and you could probably double that, if you add in the treadmill. So, that is what I do.
From a very young age, I’ve (been) very inspired all the time. I’m very curious and creative, and I’m always thinking about; “Where’s the next place we can go? Let’s go there. Let’s do that. Let’s try that.” I’m involved in 30 different businesses, and I’m doing five, six albums at the same time. So, this song is about someone like me who kind of wants everything in life, and wants to see it all, taste (it) all, try it all, travel to all of it. But obviously you can’t; it’s impossible. So, it’s that constant search (for) that high paced energy, which is what I have. And it’s that constant search for something new, exciting and different. “I want to meet that person. I want to try that food. I want to go to that city,”; that’s just how I’m wired.
To me the song is telling you, “Get up, get off your butt. Life is short, you’re not guaranteed another day. Get out there. Run, wake up. Look at the sun, chase it down. Grab life by the horns and own it.” That’s really my philosophy for life. The other thing about running is, when you’re running and you’re moving fast, so much of the negative, depressing, distracting or stupid stuff in life; from social media to the bad news- all news is bad. So, when you’re just like this, focused and going after something, that stuff just goes by you. You don’t see it, you don’t hear it, it’s just gone. So, that’s why I’m always telling people, “Look up, put on horse blinders, don’t worry about all that stupid nonsense, and just run”, and that’s really the thesis behind the song.
9. What’s the significance of shooting the entire “Run” MV (music video) on a Hollywood movie set?
Well, we’ve never done that before. I don’t even know how many music videos I’ve done at this point but probably around 20 to 25. And we’ve shot them all around the world. We’ve shot them in Europe, we’ve shot them in Mexico and all over the United States.
(For) a lot of our videos, I write the video treatment. I come up with the idea of what the video should be. “Rescue me” was a prime example; that was my video treatment. And I didn’t have an idea for “Run” that made sense to me. I just didn’t have an idea, and (when) the director, Tomas, pitched us the idea, (it) was so brilliant that I just instantly said, “Yes, I want to do this”. (Tomas) is a very successful commercial director for television commercials, big companies. And I think Brent, our bass player, helped part of the idea for the video.
(About) shooting it on video set- I was so busy wrapping albums; the OneRepublic album, Bastile’s album, Jessie J’s album and DNCE. So, I was doing four albums at the same time for different projects, and I only had this much time to shoot the video. So, it had to be in Los Angeles and it had to be within like 30 minutes of my studio. So, at the end of the day we just ended up shooting it at the CBS Seinfeld’s big backlot, and it was really cool because that’s where- if you come to Los Angeles, and you do the Hollywood tour, you can tour the famous TV sets and movie sets (of) famous shows, and that’s one of those sets, so it was really special to be on that because those are not cheap to use.
10. The song “Run” seems to give a message of inspiration. What is OneRepublic’s direction to make this a better world?
I think it’s very simple. (“Run”) is a very aspirational (and) inspirational song. I’ve realised that the purpose of this band is to, through music, make our fans and the listeners of our songs feel inspired and feel a sense of connection and emotion that they strive for something they want. Something better for their life, for family, (and) for themselves. And I tried to do that in a way that isn’t cheesy, that isn’t just too obvious.
(In) a lot of these songs, I’m writing these notes to myself (in) these lyrics that I’m writing. Our lyrics are really so specific to this band; the songs that we put out, other bands could not put out, other artists could not put out. And it’s mostly me thinking about life, thinking about living in this world, being a human and how (I) should approach living.
I think that how to make this world a better place is quite simple. I think that you actually have to care about others, at the very least, as much as you care about yourself. And even better, care about them more than you care about yourself. I think that empathy and kindness are the two most valuable assets in the world.
I mean, look, if the world was full of Mother Teresas, it’d be the nicest place on earth but you also wouldn’t have Elon Musk. You wouldn’t have people inventing spaceships and rocket ships and you wouldn’t have a lot of the industrialists and people that change the world through other ways. So, I don’t think we all have to walk around being Mother Teresa, but I think it’s important to have empathy and show kindness, and those are the two most valuable things. If everyone just dialled that up a lot, I think that it would be a much improved planet.
11. How has the “Human” project evolved in terms of music direction compared to your previous releases?
More than half of the album, I think, will remind people of whatever our sound is. I’ve never been aware of what the OneRepublic sound is, as weird as that sounds to say. I think our sound is me singing and (the) guitar and (the) piano- I don’t really know what the sound is. It’s hard to describe your own sound when you’re in the band. You can’t really define it because you’re making it up as you go. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like, “We’re going to sound like this”. I knew the bands that I liked growing up and the different songs and the artists that I like. And I was really just trying to find something unique that didn’t sound like anybody else.
So, I think “Run” will remind people a little bit of “Native”, which was our 2013 album. I think people that like “Native” will love this album. People that liked “Waking Up” or even “Dreaming Out Loud”- There are songs that all connect to those first three albums. “Oh My My” was our more experimental, vast album. It’s my favourite album musically, but it’s definitely a lot more adventurous and experimental. “Human” is more of a return to those very emotional and heartfelt songs. Yeah, that’s the best way for me to put it. So I think that it’s a return to that sound.
And then I think on album six- we already have enough songs for two albums- but the next album, we’re going to evolve the sound even more. We already know what the direction is for the next album, we already have a few songs. And yeah, we’re excited. This one was supposed to come out a year ago, and then Covid happened, and we didn’t want to release an album that we couldn’t promote. So, here we are a year later and we’ve maybe changed three of the songs on the album, but mostly it’s still the same album.
(You didn’t write a song about Covid, did you?)
No, no, I mean, we have a song called “Better Days” on the album that was finished the week the shutdown happened, so, it’s a little bit about Covid.
12. In your eyes or ears, what makes or defines a OneRepublic song?
I’ve learned this about (the) band because when I tried to do things that don’t fit to our formula, they don’t work. They just don’t connect in the way that I want them to. OneRepublic cannot do super pop relationship songs for instance. I’m friends with this band and the singer so I’m not making fun of them, I’m using him as an example. Anything that Adam Levine sings, I could not get away with singing. I’ve written songs for Maroon 5 and we’ve toured with them, we’re friends with them. They’ve been a band for 10 years, longer than us. I couldn’t sing “Payphone” (or) “Beautiful Mistakes”. “Memories” is maybe the only song they put out in 20 years (that) I could sing, and people would believe it coming from me.
A lot of this super catchy pop stuff (that’s) like super trendy, doesn’t work with us. I’ve tried it, (it) doesn’t work. I wish it did. It’d be so much easier to be in this band, if I could call up 20 other songwriters and say “Write our shit, send me great ideas that are mostly done and I’ll just finish them.” That would be a dream come true, if we could do those. I almost wish we had started doing really pop stuff, a long time ago because then we could just keep doing it. So, the blessing and the curse of OneRepublic is: if I don’t write the lyrics, the songs don’t work. So, my weird angle on life or lyrics or songs is what makes it work. So, I don’t ever get to phone it in and that’s part of why it takes so long, and that’s part of what frustrates me.
That’s the secret; number one is the lyrics have to come from me through my very, very specific lens. The way I turn phrases and use certain phrases and words is very specific to me, and the songs can’t be about hooking up in a club like, you know, “Shape of You”, by Ed Sheeran. (It’s) amazing, I had a song on his last album “Happier”. The moment he played me “Shape of You”, I was like “That’s a number one record, that’s a smash.” And he was like, “Oh, mate, it’s too pop. I don’t know, I think it might be too pop.” I was like, “Dude, you’re overthinking it. It’s a hit.” If I sing “Shape of You”, as big (of) a song as that is, 4 billion streams later, it would have flopped because people would have been like “Oh no, that’s OneRepublic. They can’t do that.” I can’t get away (with) singing about (something) like, the club is the place to find something.
I can’t get away with that stuff, so, that’s the formula for OneRepublic. The lyrics have to mean something on a deeper level, than other pop songs. And I have to do the lyrics, and they have to be soulful. The music has to be soulful, there has to be an emotional quality to it. A lot of the best OneRepublic songs, people say (the songs) make them feel happy and sad at the same time, or inspirational like “Counting Stars” (and) “I Lived”- those are inspirational songs.
13. Juggling between producing for others and being a singer-songwriter yourself, how do you ensure to not mix up between the two when you’re producing for others and OneRepublic?
I don’t really mix up between the two. It’s rare that (that) ever happens. “Counting Stars”; I came up with that idea initially while I was writing for Beyonce. And, I had the idea maybe a couple months before I wrote “Excel” for the album. I was writing for her, and then I stumbled across something that inspired “Counting Stars” and I remember coming up with the chorus melody and the idea (and) the phrase “counting stars”. And then (I was) just thinking, “This feels like a huge song, but I don’t think she can sing this.” Like, it didn’t make sense for her and I thought, “Well, I’ll just keep that.”
So, that’s maybe the only time in history that I’ve ever done that simultaneously. It’s really simple to separate because when I’m writing for an artist, 90% of the time, I’m writing with that artist. So, if I’m writing for Ariana Grande, which I just did a few weeks ago and I’m doing off and on right now, or for Miley, there really aren’t any songs that Miley Cyrus is going to sing that I would sing. Like I said, OneRepublic, the stuff that I can say is so little. Like, there’s only 5% of topics that I can sing about that people believe coming from me. And so many of the artists I work with are big female artists anyway, so it’s extremely rare that I would ever want to keep a song for OneRepublic. Like “Sucker” (by) Jonas Brothers, I had that song for a year. I’m singing the demo. In theory, I could have finished it and branded it as a OneRepublic song, but I don’t think people would have believed that song coming from me.
14. You revealed on “The Ellen Show” recently that you’re producing seven major albums right now, from Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Lomax, and others. Would you ever think of maybe working with these artists on your albums or upcoming albums?
I think (I would) where it makes sense. You know, I’m actually on Jessie J’s upcoming album. We did a song together that I’m singing on- it’s crazy. And I just wrote a song with Marshmallow that I love. That would be amazing if that came up because it’s really, really good. Trying to think who else I would collaborate with… You know, for our last album “Oh My My” we had Santigold, Peter Gabriel, Cassius- we had a lot of my favourite artists on there, not the big obvious pop artists. I think Miley would be incredible. She’s got such a great voice. We’re writing a lot together so she’d be amazing. I’m singing the background vocals on an upcoming Lil Nas X record that I’m excited about. So, you’re gonna hear a lot of me on that.
I don’t know, in terms of features… My voice tends to lend itself to electronic musicians and DJs a lot. So, for whatever reason, I’m sure you’re gonna see me doing some more work with future dance records and DJs and things like that just because I love that music. The last record, the single (we did) with Kygo, “Lose Somebody”, did really well internationally and so- I don’t know. I like working with DJs a lot.
15. You have an ongoing songwriting masterclass. What are some of the most important things that you want your students to learn from when writing songs?
Well, I think the most important thing to learn when you’re writing songs. First up is, nobody starts out as a great songwriter. Some people are naturally gifted early on, with melody or lyric. I think if you’re naturally a poet or really good with words; that helps. I was a big reader growing up, so that helped me a lot because my vocabulary was big by the time I started writing songs. And I think you don’t have to be great at an instrument or even know how to play an instrument. If you just want to do lyrics and melody, then you need to find someone who’s really good at an instrument.
I was forced to take piano since I was three. And then I fell in love with piano when I was like 13. (I) taught myself guitar (and) drums, so by the time I started writing songs, I was 15, and I had already learned so many popular songs and hit songs that I kind of knew how they sounded so I was really good at imitating what I thought sounded like something that I wanted to hear on the radio or whatever.
You really have to put in the time and not be too hard on yourself, in the beginning because you will be terrible. When you start, and then eventually you suck less and less and. And then one day, you write something amazing and impress everybody.
16. In this time of the pandemic, do you think the music business has turned a corner? There’s a real need to adapt to this climate of change in order for artists to earn a living. If so, how? Or do you think it would just all go back to the way it was in a year or two?
I think touring will go back to the way it was. I’m a little nervous currently, if I’m being honest. Not to get off on Covid, but just when I thought it was done- because in America for the most part, it’s done now. In our country, as of one week ago, exactly last Tuesday, all the Covid restrictions were lifted. So, the only place in the country where you’re required to wear masks is if you’re in a hospital or in a school with little kids. Everywhere else- it’s just open, there’s no masks. The reality is: there should be.
I’ve been going to Asia for 13 years. The first time I saw masks in my life (was)- it would have been in Kuala Lumpur or possibly Singapore. We didn’t know at the time that the person wearing that mask (means) they’re sick with a cold. And they don’t want to get us sick, so out of respect (they took) to wearing a mask. No one explained that to us, so we just thought “Oh, Asians like to wear masks.” We just made this general assumption because no one (told us) what it was. Now I get it, and- I actually got a little sick. I got an actual cold or whatever the other day and I threw a mask on, because I didn’t want someone to get a cold.
I think we’re out of the woods. But I know that like Israel, I think, it’s shutting down because of the Delta Covid variant. There’s a lot of countries now that are shutting down again because of this new variant. So, who knows if it’s going to 100% go back to normal? I want to be optimistic and say that by 2022, it will be, as long as this weird variant doesn’t cause health (issues), then I think we’re going to be fine. And I think that touring will be turned back on. I think the bigger issue at hand is that songwriters and artists are still not fairly compensated for streams. Streaming is where everybody is going now. Radio, obviously, is still impactful and valuable as well. But, you know, if people aren’t listening to radio, they’re streaming. (For) songwriters or artists who write their songs, the only real way that we get paid is from radio, so thank you radio for playing our stuff!
That’s how we get paid. I’m sitting in my recording studio now, (and) I didn’t pay for the studio with streams, I paid for (it) with radio. And so, until streaming pays writers and artists (fairly)- I’m not even asking for like the majority, I’m just saying, just even a fair amount- I don’t think artists will be happy. I think that we are still a ways off from writers and artists being compensated fairly for streams, so I think that has to change. I think it will change- very confident- I have reason to believe it will change in the coming years because we’re in an age of transparency and fairness. We’re entering into that time where the blockchain is coming for everybody. (It’s) that age of transparency, when everyone can see how everything is operating and where all the money goes for everything. People start to go, “Wait a minute. Well, that doesn’t make any sense. Why is the artist doing this? They don’t own anything, like what’s happening?” And I think that all these things will naturally evolve.
I think that touring is turning on in America, like, really heavily right now. But, starting in September, it’s really turning on and it’s going to be a big test to see how many people actually come out. We’ll see what happens.
While we eagerly wait for OneRepublic to drop their album, check out their other songs, “Didn’t I”, “Rescue Me” and “Wanted” in the meantime.