Ruby Davies reports on hit-making band ONEREPUBLIC and their Christian leader Ryan Tedder
On 26th June Colorado's hit-making band OneRepublic released the single "Connection". In the 15 years of existence OneRepublic have been making a connection with a vast international audience. OneRepublic - lead vocalist Ryan Tedder, guitarist Zach Filkins, guitarist Drew Brown, bassist and cellist Brent Kutzle and drummer Eddie Fisher - aren't of course a Christian music band, but they are one whose skilfully crafted pop rock has made a creative and at times spiritual connection with a mass audience similar to other mainstream acts like U2, Johnny Cash and Twenty One Pilots. Despite a Christian base, right from the beginning OneRepublic decided not to follow the path of Christian music ministry. Tedder told the Houston Chronicle, in 2008, about his decision to turn down a Christian record deal, "I was in Nashville for two years (and) I quickly became friends with probably half a dozen of some of the biggest Christian recording artists. Every single one of them was absolutely miserable with the fact they were 'Christian' recording artists. I saw some stuff in Nashville that turned my stomach. Some of the most pretentious, insecure people I ever met were Christian recording artists."
Ryan Benjamin Tedder was born on 26th June 1979 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was raised by an extended family of missionaries and pastors, and his uncle Mark Tedder is a prominent worship leader. His early interest in music was inspired by his musician father, who encouraged him to practice piano. Tedder then started singing at the age of seven, imitating his favourite artists such as The Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Sting. Tedder told The Hub in 2013, "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 nine 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 mum to know." Tedder continued to sing during his adolescence in church and school.
In his senior year, the family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1996, where he met OneRepublic band mate Zach Filkins on the soccer team at Colorado Springs Christian School. Talking of how they met, Tedder told The Hub, "Probably the only traditional thing about this band is how he and I came together. After like the second or third soccer practise, I didn't have a car, and he offered to take me home. 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 teammates formed a band called This Beautiful Mess and competed in a Battle Of The Bands competition with Tedder behind the drums and Filkins on guitar. It was the first incarnation of what would become OneRepublic. However, this was short-lived as they both attended different colleges.
Tedder enrolled at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, where he began to showcase his own material. As he told The Hub, "My freshman year, my roommate had an acoustic guitar, and that was it. I skipped class and played acoustic guitar. 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 till my fingers bled." Despite this, Tedder completed his college education and graduated in 2001 with a degree in Public Relations and Advertising.
For a couple of years Tedder's dreams of gaining a living in music didn't seem to be going anywhere and he earned a living as a waiter and other jobs. A breakthrough came when he secured an internship at DreamWorks in Nashville, where he would sing on demos to try and break into the music scene. Aged 21, Tedder saw a flier for a singer/songwriter competition that included a record deal and an appearance on MTV. He entered, and it was his performance of "The Look" which won the competition. However, no contract with a recording label was finalised and no album was released.
One year after winning the competition, Tedder caught the attention of one of the hottest record producers, Timbaland, who worked with him from 2002-2004 to develop as an artist. This was also when Tedder wrote what would later become his first hit with OneRepublic, "Apologize". Tedder told The Hub about the process, "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 sound I had were, you know, Timbaland sounds. 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."
Armed with "Apologize", in 2002, Tedder headed to Los Angeles where he managed to convince his old teammate, Filkins, to re-join him. Another guitarist, Drew Brown, also joined along with Jerrod Bettis and Tim Myers and OneRepublic were formed. The band began to perform on the social networking site, Myspace. In 2005 drummer Jerrod Bettis left the band and Eddie Fisher joined on guitar. But, it didn't take long before Tedder's old friend, Timbaland, reached out to the band. He remixed their single "Apologize" and released it on his compilation album 'Timbaland Presents Shock Value'. The remix became an international chart hit in autumn 2007 and OneRepublic signed to Timbaland's label, Interscope Records. Tedder told Digital Spy, in 2007, how the band had been initially sceptical about the remix, "We were very reluctant at first to the idea of a remix because we are a rock band. We're not hard rock but we are a rock band. So to have our song remixed and made so much more pop, we were very reluctant. But then we were like, 'If this opens the door and allows more people to hear our album, it gives us the opportunity to let them hear our other songs. I think we can win them over.' Sometimes in life when good things happen you have got to just shut up and go with it. So that's what we did."
The huge international success of their haunting followup single "Stop And Stare", helped by a particularly memorable video, skyrocketed their career ensuring OneRepublic would be around for the long haul. Their debut album 'Dreaming Out Loud' then cemented their fame. On the liner notes of the album each band member thanks God or Jesus Christ for their success.
Bass guitarist Tim Myers left the band in 2007 and Brent Kutzle joined on piano. OneRepublic finished working on their second album, 'Waking Up', in August 2009, releasing singles "All The Right Moves", "Secrets" and "Good Life". Discussing the album in 2010 with the Huffington Post, Tedder said, "We can move around within this sound. There was no room to move on the first album. It did well but it was a bit homogenius. This album is more exciting and we took some necessary risks to grow." As a consequence of their success, Tedder was able to live his dream supporting fellow Christian Bono on U2's 360 Stadium Tour, who he has often cited as a major influence and inspiration. As he told PureVolume, "You go to a U2 concert and it's like church. I'd love to make people feel like that. I don't want someone to just say, 'Oh, nice voice, nice song.' I want that person to walk away and feel like he or she has had a religious experience; we want them to feel moved."
Meanwhile, Tedder's production and songwriting career was blossoming. He was able to work with a wide variety of artists including Carrie Underwood, Maroon 5, Jennifer Lopez, James Blunt, Natasha Bedingfield, Far East Movement, B.o.B, Jordin Sparks, James Morrison, Demi Lovato and others. Ryan won a Grammy for Adele's album '21' in 2012.
Also in 2012 OneRepublic began working on their third studio album, 'Native', which was released in March 2013. It became the band's highest charting album to date, as well as their first top 10 album, debuting at number four on the Billboard 200. The album cover is a collage of five animals, reflecting how each member of the band is completely different to each other. The animal representing Tedder is a fox, symbolising cunningness, cleverness, adaptability, wisdom, determination and focus. The most successful single off the album was "Counting Stars", peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. In an interview with Billboard in 2013 Tedder discussed its uplifting, faith-based message, "I felt a responsibility to actually write and sing about things that have a level of human gravity to them. If everybody sings about sex and love and lust and money, then somebody's gotta be singing about life and faith and hope and things of that nature." The album also featured the track "Preacher" which was written about Tedder's grandfather.
'Oh My My' was the band's fourth album issued in October 2016. In an interview with British GQ in 2016 Tedder discussed the reason behind the album's title. "I played many of the songs to a friend of mine, a British guy, and his response, because it's such an eclectic album, was, 'oh my my!' So we loved how 'oh my my' is such an old phrase. I feel that people said that 50 or 60 years ago and that's part of why we liked it. It was just something different. Some people will say it's a terrible album title or a great album title, but we'd rather have people love it and hate it instead of just being flat. Flat is the response I don't want." The album featured the single "Kids", which was written about Tedder's experience backpacking in Europe as a 20-year-old and making sure you don't peak at 20. The track "Human" was also written about having a conversation with God, who wonders what it feels like to be human and what it's like to "dance till the sun comes up".
Juggling the success of OneRepublic and his songwriting career almost became too much for Tedder, as he told fans in a Facebook post in April 2017. He wrote, "About three to four weeks into the promo for the second single 'Kids' I hit a physical, emotional, psychological wall. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, not sleeping, on meds, not happy, anxiety on a crippling level and it was triggered from sheer exhaustion."
OneRepublic were forced to hit the 'reset button' before commencing their Honda Civic Tour. Tedder told Billboard in 2017, "For the first time ever we feel like we have long-term fans, and you just have no idea until you've been around long enough. I think this tour so far has been my favourite - and now we're more excited than ever to put out new music."
On 26th June 2018 OneRepublic released the single "Connection", the first single off their fifth album. Tedder told Billboard about the single, "The hardest thing in the world after a decade of writing is trying to avoid narcissism when possible, and being an artist is incredibly narcissistic. Everyone's world revolves around you, they operate on your timetable, and the bigger the artist, oftentimes the bigger the narcissism. I started thinking about it, and I was like, 'Everybody is so distracted all the time, including myself. Everybody is so plugged into other people's lives, and real time updating our own lives so that the rest of the world can see your life, in whatever glorious edited [form].' It's [about] trying to connect with somebody in a real sense. One of my favourite lines is, 'If there's so many people here, then why am I so lonely?' That's really, for me, the human condition and human experience, and that's everything I'm writing about. The whole album is steering towards connection. It's about wanting real human connection in a meaningful way, because that's really all that matters at the end of the day."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.