OneRepublic goes "Native" making music for the masses - Reverb

OneRepublic goes “Native” making music for the masses

At the moment, Denver-based band OneRepublic’s new record “Native” is slaying charts all over the world.

“Native” is No. 1 in Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines, according to Interscope, the band’s label. It’s also Top 5 in 23 countries including Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It’s Top 20 in the U.K., Ireland, Poland and Russia.

And what about OneRepublic’s home turf? How’s “Native” doing in America? It just came out on Tuesday, so it’s too early to say. But first single “Feel Again” has already topped the 1 million sales mark here, and the current single, “If I Lose Myself,” is climbing pop charts — currently residing at the No. 35 spot.

It’s no secret that European markets catch onto OneRepublic’s crafty pop blend significantly faster than U.S. cities. They’ve long been a band that draws better in Berlin than their hometown of Denver. And so the band brings a curious history to the conceptions behind the title of its third studio album.

“Everywhere we go in the world, our fans would tell us that we were their band, that we felt familiar to them, as if we were writing specifically for them,” OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder said. “As an American band, we aspire to connect with other people outside of our borders.

“And native, the word means familiar and local, and that’s the best answer we can give. We aim to be familiar and local to every country in the world. We want to be local to everybody.”

And in a way, they do feel local to many diffirent cultures. But OneRepublic’s greatest success — that uncanny popularity at seemingly all corners of the Earth — is also its most degrading criticism. Yes, the band has No. 1 hitmaking potential in Thailand and Germany, the U.S. and the U.K., but some will argue that the band’s bombastic pop songs are so “formulaic” or “generic” as to make them widely accepted from culture to culture.

It’s a criticism Tedder has faced throughout his successful career, which includes independent production and songwriting for Adele (“Rumour Has It”), Kelly Clarkson (“Already Gone”), Beyoncé (“Halo”), Leona Lewis (“Bleeding Love”) and many others — work that has nearly eclipsed his day job with his own band. He’s willing to admit his inspirations, from American hip-hop to the across-the-pond EDM stylings of Swedish House Mafia.

But often Tedder is pushing himself and inspiring his music along the way, such as when he produced a song for Swedish House Mafia and later performed with them at 2012’s Coachella Music Festival. During the band’s set, Tedder excitedly texted his OneRepublic bandmate Brent Kutzle, “Dude, I’m at Coachella right now, and I’m having my mind blown by Swedish House Mafia. We need one song that captures this kind of energy but retains the fact that we’re a band.”

That inspiration became the band’s current single, “If I Lose Myself,” a likable pop ballad that morphs into a club anthem.
“We wrote the song on the upright piano in my studio (in Denver), and we finished the version I loved, which the label said, ‘It sounds too live.’ But I loved it, and I want to release it some day. We thought it was beautiful. They said it was too beautiful, and it needed to be more knocking. And in comes (producer) Benny Blanco, a good friend of mine, and he put his touch on it.”

Such is Tedder’s life. While talking about his recent promotional schedule for “Native,” he rattles off city and country names like they’re familiar friends.

Australia for a week, then Stockholm, then five other European cities, then Vienna for “a big TV thing,” then New York on Tuesday for “Good Morning America.” On Thursday, the band was on “Idol” performing “If I Lose Myself” with guest Katherine McPhee. Today the band is on Rachael Ray’s syndicated show.

No wonder “Native” was recorded all over the world.

“It had as much to do with necessity with actual intent,” Tedder said. “Most of the album was recorded in Denver, and the rest of it was all over the world, not because we were trying to globetrot, but because we’d have a gig in Paris, and so we’d record in Paris. We did the iTunes Festival in London, and so we recorded there. We played in Vancouver and recorded there, and then we played the Super Bowl in New Orleans, and we finished the album there.”

Counting on “Counting Stars”

Tedder said he’s most excited for fans to hear the first track on the new record, “Counting Stars,” a song that sounds like OneRepublic’s attempt at indie folk — acoustic guitars, shouted harmonies, Lumineers-inspired “heys” and Mumford-like builds, sure, but the soaring pop melodies, too.

“We put ‘Counting Stars’ first because that was the song that consolidated and explained the eclectic nature of the album,” said Tedder. “Obviously I love big pop melodies, but it’s not that simple. If you don’t like ‘Counting Stars,’ you won’t likely be into the rest of the album. That song is my personal favorite, if not one of my two favorites.”

Sure enough, it’s an extremely effective (and infectious) song — with Tedder’s polished pop hijacking a folk song, and a little R&B attitude in there as well. It’s the new album’s most instantly likable song, besting “If I Lose Myself” and its near-ambient mainstream pop and “Au Revoir” and its Coldplay-familiar piano pop.

“Counting Stars” is also the album’s biggest departure from OneRepublic’s previous work, and when you’re Tedder — writing/producing for your own band and many others in Top 10s all over the world — keeping things somewhat-fresh is essential.

“I don’t want to beat my sound into the ground,” he said. “If you don’t evolve, you’re a couple moments away from dying musically. I’d rather take a big swing and have a big miss rather than somebody saying that it sounds like ‘Secrets’ or ‘Good Life Part 3’ or ‘Apologize Part 2.’ ”

As for Tedder’s independent production, he’s excited about upcoming work for English songstress Birdy and Denver-based indie folkers Churchill. And concerning Adele’s follow-up to her monumental, multi-platinum “21” (which featured Tedder co-writes “Rumour Has It” and “Turning Tables”), he said mum’s the current word.

“The only Adele thing I’ve heard is … nothing, actually,” Tedder said. “From the label, they said, ‘Yeah, we’re not really talking about it right now.’ But when it happens, I can only presume they’ll rally the troops.”

Until then, it looks as if Tedder will be plenty busy with OneRepublic tours. And with all those No. 1s and Top 5s heralding the debut of “Native,” there are plenty of places to still visit — and inspiration to be gained from such travels. Tedder remembers the day “If I Lose Myself” was born. It was 2010 and he (and his fear of flying) was en route from Moscow to Saint Petersburg on a OneRepublic tour. He fell asleep mid-flight but was awoken when the plane malfunctioned and turned into a violent dive.

“It was way more serious than turbulence, and it was right after the Polish prime minister died at same airport,” Tedder said. “We came in at a 70-degree angle. We would have clipped end over end, but at the last minute, the pilot straightened it out. People were screaming in the plane. We slammed on the tarmac, bounced, slammed again, bounced again, and then we took off again before he came around for another landing.

“People were throwing up and getting sick everywhere. I was praying, saying, ‘Please take care of my family, take care of my wife, forgive me for all my sins.’ It was terrifying. I thought those prayers might be the last things I said.”

After that incident, OneRepublic’s Russian tours have been via the Trans-Siberian Railway. And oddly Tedder’s fear of flying has nearly disappeared since writing and releasing “If I Lose Myself.”

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and editor at The Denver Post.

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