What do artists Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ellie Goulding, Backstreet Boys, Leona Lewis, Jennifer Lopez, Adele, Beyonce, Rihanna, James Blunt, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Lil Nas and Menudo all have in common?
They’ve all worked with the incredibly talented Ryan Tedder, with him either writing, co-writing, or producing one of their works.
You may originally know Tedder from his front man role in the famous pop-rock band OneRepublic. However, Tedder also carries an extensive background as a wildly accomplished songwriter, working on hits like ‘Apologize’, ‘Bleeding Love’, ‘Halo’ and ‘Battlefield’ – some of our generation’s greatest hits you’re likely to recognise just by reading their titles.
It’s time to remove the ‘Undercover’ from the ‘Undercover-King-of-Pop’ nickname he’s upheld in the tabloids, and make his remarkable gift known to all.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Ryan through an early-morning Zoom call last week to ask him a couple of burning questions. I feel it’s only fitting to note, he had all of 15 minutes to chat – given his insanely involved schedule which he later let me in on.
“Anyone who knows me knows that if I’m anything, I’m busy. I’m executive producing a One Republic album at the moment, I was finishing vocals yesterday on one of the songs, as well as producing a lot of other artists’ albums right now. I just wrapped Bastille and Jessie J, and I’m doing Jonas Brothers, DNCE, John Legend, Michael Bublé, Lil Nas X… It’s been a very bizarre two weeks of sessions that have jumped from one genre to another, but all the while I’m having a hell of a lot of fun along the way, so I can’t complain.”
Not up to much then Ryan. It was clear from the sheer opening sentence that this man’s energy is unwavering. Neither the marginal internet connection nor the physical countries between us could take away from this artist’s fiery passion that spilled through the screen. This is a man on a mission to make music for the world.
One of the works on Tedder’s plate at the moment is of course the release of the new One Republic album Human which deserves a huge congratulations for its timely completion. To produce an album in the midst of a pandemic is a feat that takes an enormous amount of dedication. I snuck in the question of when we may be able to expect the new album to hit our eardrums with great success. “We’re looking to launch the week of August 27th, or the first week of September”. Not long folks, about 3 months left!
I wanted to know more about his phenomenal song writing talent which has led him to work with some of the biggest global artists on our radar. I asked what it is that makes a good hook. Ryan treated me to the most beautifully put together answer for a question that was thrown on the fly.
“A good hook is a melody that sounds like it’s always existed. It’s so familiar, that upon first listen, you swear that the song has already been around for 20 years. Sam Smith ‘Stay With Me’ is a perfect example. The first time I heard it, I thought [it was] already a hit, convinced that it was someone covering a Motown smash from years ago. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a handful of those types of songs. You try to swing for that every time you write, but it’s impossible to do it every time. If you could, you’d be the highest paid person alive.”
“You’re chasing a melody that feels inevitable. At the same time, you’re looking for a concept that summarises an experience or an emotion that every human being feels or has felt but hasn’t found the words to express it. Humans are simple. You’re trying to find a poetic way to paraphrase a human collective experience. Heartbreak, love, friendship, doubt loss, faith, fear, all these different emotions. You’re trying to capture the moment in a unique way with a lyric that no one has quite heard before, and I would say that at its base, those two things combined equals a great song. You kind of work backwards from there. The chorus is the plot-twist and the pinnacle of the story and the versus are all there to reinforce whatever the theme of the chorus is. And of course, the whole time you’re doing it, you’re trying to come up with melodies that are sticky and different.”
I laughed at the complexity of it all, and the way he made it sound so simple. “It’s a very abstract profession, you’re not making widgets. It’s not like two plus two equals four” Ryan joked.
He reminisces. “Once I got a text from somebody in Kathmandu in Nepal, [saying] hey they’re playing ‘Apologise’ in our Tuk-Tuk, back in 2008. At that moment I realised who [was listening] – and that was a really cool feeling. Someone in Nepal is listening to us right now.”
I then told Ryan a little about my 1980’s caravan up north of New Zealand. My parents and their friends would all take their kids up there each summer. Us kids would get up to no good, always running around playing spotlight, exploring the neighbouring islands, stealing our parents’ drinks and what not. I let him know ‘Good Life’ was literally the theme song of our summers there. We used to all sit on top of the hill in the evenings and play it as we looked out onto the bay. He was totally wrapped. “That’s what the songs for! That’s what it’s all about. I absolutely love that visual. You know, that would make for a great video,” exclaimed Ryan. I might hold him to that.
“You’re always trying to chase songs that resonate around the world, but the difference is now in 2021, because of Spotify and Apple and all the streaming platforms, every time you release a song, your kind of fighting for a position against the other 62,000 songs that were uploaded that day. The world has gotten a lot smaller as a result of streaming.”
‘Run’ is One Republic’s latest drop, from their forthcoming new album Human. It’s gone incredibly well in the short time it’s been released, the music video stacking up over 5.6 million views in a single month. I asked Ryan how on Earth he was able to survive the choreography, it looked like he nearly got taken out by the set design every 30 seconds.
“I learned the choreography the day before, I practiced with a movement coach who handles me and Billie Eilish and Shawn Mendes. He’s great, he put all these props up in a dance studio and they basically represented what was going to be on set the next day. I had to memorise all these movements to avoid being clobbered by all these things moving around on set. So fortunately, it comes across as authentic. It literally looks like I don’t know where the hell I’m going. It was absolutely sensational, the actual filming of it was so much fun, we were on the set of Seinfeld. It’s definitely one of my favourite videos.”
We finished up with one of the gnarliest questions you could ever ask a lover of music. “You’ve had crazy experiences in a range of different genres over the span of your career. If you could listen to just one genre of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
“That’s a hard one! Probably Motown. I wasn’t even alive then. Since I’ve been alive my favourite era was 2010 – 2014, that’s when Adelle came on the scene, James Morrison, Fleet Foxes, Elbow, Mumford and Sons. Then again, I freaking love the early 2000’s hip-hop. But if I HAD to listen to one genre for the rest of my life, it would be Motown, because they’re always classic songs and they always make you feel good. [It was] just a magical era.”
OneRepublic’s new album ‘Human’ drops later this year.