Nine Songs: Ryan Tedder

From a childhood obsession with new jack swing to a multi-platinum hit penned with Adele, OneRepublic leader and famed songwriter Ryan Tedder guides Matthew Kent through partying with Oasis and how a beat-up old car helped him to discover some of his favourite songs.

“The prospect of releasing an album in 2021 could not be more different than it was in 2016,” Tedder tells me. He’s right. OneRepublic‘s 2016 album Oh My My earned the band their highest debut on the Billboard 200, but behind the scenes, the roll-out was very different. Talking release strategy, Tedder says “it’s now it’s about how many songs can you get out before your album drops, because once the album drops, the album cycle is kind of over.” Ahead of Human, OneRepublic have shared five of the standard edition’s 12 tracks, with their latest single “Run” clocking up over 130 million streams on Spotify in the few months since its release.

The music industry is constantly changing and Tedder sees this from every angle, especially since he’s starting developing artists like TikTok sensation JESSIA under his label imprint Artist Driven Records. Tedder notes TikTok has been a key driver of change, especially over the last 18 months. He cites the viral success of Conan Gray’s “Heather” – which hits its peak seven months after the release of his album, having never been a single – “if you’ve been signed as long as I have in OneRepublic and doing music as long as I have, it’s scary and intimidating,” he says.

“I’m making seven different artists’ albums right now. And for some of them, it’s all they can think about. It’s kind of disconcerting and depressing. I think, if you’ve been signed for a long time. If you just recently got signed, and you’re a new artist, you’re not thinking twice about it, you’re going ‘Yeah, that’s how it is.'”

On his end, Tedder muses, “I’ve come out the other side and decided that actually, there’s a freedom in it. Everybody knows that no one has control. There’s no more guaranteed hits. Not that you could guarantee a hit record at any point, but I’ll say that in the better part of the last decade, you definitely could have a much greater chance of assuring that the record you were working is a hit. You could make sure that it was, that it could work its way to the top, you can’t do that anymore. Culture has taken hold of the whole music industry and you’re kind of tossing it out into the ocean and saying ‘I hope it floats.'”

Speaking from his home in California, which houses his incredibly prized possessions, like the drum kit Oasis used in the sessions for (What’s The Story) Morning Glory and the handwritten lyrics for The Beatles classic “While My Guitar Gently Sleeps”, Tedder is thankful he’s not having to deal with the humid British summer. Having been fed weather updates from “two or three” British artists he’s working with remotely, he remembers being told about how miserable winter had been by Bastille’s Dan Smith.

Tedder being able to talk extensively about the weather via the medium of his collaborators is impressive, and if Tedder’s or his band aren’t instantly familiar you’ve undoubtedly heard his songs. From the six-piece’s mega-hit “Apologize” to his work with Beyoncé on “Halo”, “I Was Here” and “XO”, he contributed “Turning Tables” and “Rumour Has It” to Adele’s 21 and last year helped out with Lady Gaga and Elton John link-up “Sine From Above”.

Gushing about the forthcoming Jessie J album, which he describes as “a gigantic Donna Summer-inspired disco record. We went full-on and produced the album like it’s 1978 with a live choir, live musicians, instruments and strings.” Tedder is also “really, really excited” about his forthcoming Lil Nas X single and mentions recent sessions with Miley Cyrus have been “phenomenal.”

Despite initially forging a path in a world of ballads Tedder’s songwriting output is now just as diverse as his inspirations.

“Motownphilly” by Boyz II Men

“Hell, man. I was a kid. I remember driving to school on a school bus and I was obsessed with Bell Biv DeVoe. I liked anything that Michael Bivins and Bell Biv DeVoe did and I was a kid, right? I would make mixtapes off the radio stations. I was listening to radio stations constantly, listening to CDs and whatnot and I was obsessed with Bell Biv DeVoe and the new jack swing style music.

“There was a movie called Jungle Fever, Stevie Wonder did the theme song and I was obsessed with that song and I was obsessed with the soundtrack. On that soundtrack I discovered Bell Biv DeVoe and Michael Bivins. Then I went down a rabbit hole and found out that Michael Bivins of Bell Biv DeVoe had a record label, Biv 10 Productions. They released a compilation CD called the Biv 10 Family or something like that and Janet Jackson was on it. It had Another Bad Creation’s “Iesha” and “Playground”, all these early ‘90s new jack hip hop records. On that compilation CD he had these new artists he’d signed in Philadelphia called Boyz II Men. They were singing part of one song, and I was like, ‘What the fuck is that? like, what is that?’ I tracked down, so I was anticipating their first drop and when they dropped “Motownphilly”, and in my mind, and to this day, it’s one of the top 10 songs of all time from my life.

“It’s everything that I love about vocals and harmonies and arrangement and tempo, the lyrics. There are really three artists that taught me how to sing and Boyz II Men is the first one. I practised every single riff that Wanya, Shawn and all the singers in Boyz II Men did, I learned how to sing because Boyz II Men existed, I would try to sing every song they had, and part of the reason that I can sing crazy riffs, R&B music, gospel and all that is due to Boyz II Men. And you know, I would say Sting and The Police was the other big influence on my voice and then Jeff Buckley too.”

“Champagne Supernova” by Oasis

 

“I was in an acting class in theatre in school and I was a big musical theatre dork. Whenever we’d come into class, my drama teacher always arrived fashionably late, and she would have the radio on playing whatever the most popular music was. I remember walking into class. I don’t remember how old I was, maybe 14. and I hear “Champagne Supernova”. I had heard “Wonderwall” and I was already obsessed. It had taken over America, and I’m from Oklahoma, which is the equivalent of being from like Rugby.”

BEST FIT: Wait, how do you know Rugby?

“Well, James Morrison is from Rugby, and I had a hit with him years ago. We toured with him, so I got to know a lot about Rugby and we realised that we’re from the same part of each other’s country, right? Rugby was the equivalent of Oklahoma, which if you’re from Rugby, it’s kind of like news gets to you last. Whatever the cool new thing in London is, you’re hearing about it six months later. So for all those aspiring British recording artists out there, you haven’t made it in America until you’ve conquered Oklahoma, or Texas. That’s full saturation. You’ve reached critical mass, there is nowhere else to be popular, you’ve officially made it.

“So “Wonderwall” had already blown up and I hadn’t bought the album yet. I tried to sing like Liam Gallagher but I never could because I don’t smoke and I didn’t have that gravelly Mancunian texture and tone. My drama teacher was playing the album and it got to the last track (“Champagne Supernova”) and I was like, ‘Oh my god, what is this song?’ and I drove from school to the mall and bought the (What’s The Story) Morning Glory album that day.

“I actually own the drum kit from that album, it was used to record the entire album, all the famous drum fills on “Champagne Supernova” and “Wonderwall” and “Roll With It.” Everything you hear, I have the drum kit. It’s sitting about 15 feet away from me right now. It was a gift, it went up for auction and my manager bought it for me about two years ago.

“I’m a big Oasis fan and we got to know the bass player really well. I was actually at Liam’s 40th or 41st birthday party. We were touring the UK, we were in London, and Oasis’ longtime bass player was married to our radio plugger at Polydor. We were all hanging out together, he came to our show, and he’s like, ‘it’s Liam’s birthday tonight, we’re going to be at The Met.’ So we ended up at Liam’s birthday and here I am, I worship Oasis, and they haven’t broken up yet.

“This is right before things went really, really bad. I end up having a pint with Noel and Liam, and then Liam goes out to have a cigarette. Some super drunk guy walks up, he’s like, ‘Are you that band Oasis? Are you that singer?’ and Liam ignores them and ignores them and the guy’s eventually like, ‘Well, I think you’re crap,’ and went off, like literally just mouthed off to Liam, and Liam just slugs the guy, and ends up in a fight. The police showed up and the whole thing went sideways in a matter of minutes. I was like, ‘This is classic. The first time I’m hanging out with Oasis, Liam gets in a fistfight with a drunk guy.’ It was the best. The best thing that could have happened to cap off the night.”

“Last Goodbye” by Jeff Buckley

 

“I moved to Nashville when I was 19 or 20. I’d graduated college and my gift for graduating was this used Toyota 4Runner, which was my dream car and I sold it for the cash to build a studio and buy studio equipment. Then I used what was leftover to buy this crap, beat-to-hell Toyota and the driver had phenomenal taste in music.

“I was one of the last holdouts on Coldplay. As much as I love British music and was an Anglophile, I didn’t like Coldplay when they came out. Then I went from not liking them to loving them. I didn’t like the first album because in 2009, it felt very rainy day, sad, and lonesome in the sound. I loved the melodies, but I was listening to up-tempo, happy music, and I didn’t want to listen to anything that wasn’t feel-good at the time. I was listening to a lot of BB King, Eric Clapton and really fun blues records. I was listening to a lot of Santana and at the time I would have been blasting Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I just wasn’t in the frame of mind for that heavy music.

“Anyway, long story short, I was the only person I knew that didn’t own Coldplay’s album. So I buy this car and there are three albums in there and in the CD player is Coldplay’s album. I figured, ‘Well, it’s free, I’ll listen to it.’ And then over the course of driving around Nashville, listening to this album, I fell in love with it. And I discovered Coldplay on my own three years after everyone else had fallen in love with them.

“The other two albums in the car were The Beatles White Album and Jeff Buckley’s Grace. I got to “Last Goodbye” and I was ‘This is maybe the greatest song that’s ever been written, and I can’t stand how good this guy’s voice is, it’s depressing me. I have to learn this song. I have to sing like him. I have to figure this out.” Honestly, that Buckley album threw me so hard that I thought ‘Maybe I should be a solo artist, because this guy’s doing music that sounds like a band, but he’s a solo artist.’

“It’s like a desert island song. It’s as good as it gets. Ironically, three years later in Los Angeles, I get signed by Jeff Buckley’s A&R Missy Worth, the same woman who discovered Jeff and signed him and A&R-ed Grace, so it was a full-circle moment.”

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

 

“I hadn’t connected the dots on Queen. While I loved British music, I wasn’t listening to old British music. I was the only kid in my school listening to almost exclusively British music, because of my uncle. He lived next door to Tears For Fears’ studio, and he was sending me import CDs from the UK. I thought I was pretty cool, because I had all the shit that no one else could listen to. So in 1992 when Wayne’s World came out, I was listening to whatever was popular in the UK in ‘92, and it wasn’t “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Wayne’s World was a seminal moment in my life. The movie came out and “Bohemian Rhapsody” became number one in the US. I was a big musical theatre geek, so it was everything that I loved about everything. Then I go and I buy Queen’s Greatest Hits. And I was like, ‘I’m a dumb ass. This is the same band that did “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions”.’ I knew all of their songs.

“Queen is in the cultural cerebral cortex, permanently planted in culture. I just hadn’t realised that it was the same band that did “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Suffice to say I would put that in the top three greatest songs ever written of all time for me.”

“Paranoid Android” by Radiohead

 

“Radiohead was like Coldplay for me. I didn’t like Radiohead when they were popular. My kids are the same way, if something is currently number one or if everywhere you turn there’s an inescapable song, I inherently avoid it. I don’t like culture telling me ‘You need to like this.’ I’m the anti-that. Which is ironic, considering the job that I have. I try to write songs that you can’t escape and when in fact, I’m trying to escape those songs. I’m a paradox.

“When The Bends and OK Computer came out I wasn’t into it. It’s what all the cool kids at my high school were all about in ‘97. So in ‘97 when OK Computer drops I’m obsessed with Sublime and I’m listening to 311. Radiohead was very dark and moody. If I’m not in the state of mind to listen to dark and moody music, I don’t care how good it is, I’m not listening to it. And that to me was Radiohead.

“Cut to 2001, I’m in London and I’m visiting family and I buy OK Computer on a whim. Granted, I was obsessed with Fat Of The Land and there were acts that were moody, driving and dark that I was into, but I just had to be in the mood for it. So I discovered Radiohead four years after the fact. And then of course, like a dumb ass, I was like, ‘This is the same band that does “High and Dry” and “Creep”.’ Once I bought OK Computer and I was in the right frame of mind, I was ‘This might be the greatest band alive.’ So I feel like I’m late to the party. ”

“Next to “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Paranoid Android” is the single most impressive song that has ever been written. “Paranoid Android” is the alternative version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, they are the same thing to me, but with a completely different tonality. Three songs merged into one, absolute genius. Thom Yorke’s a genius, Jonny Greenwood’s a genius, they’re a genius band and it’s a genius piece of music.

“I saw them at the Roundhouse about three years ago and I was at the second night. They fucking played “Paranoid Android” the first night, but they didn’t play the second night.”

“Grounds for Divorce” by Elbow

 

“What I’ve realised about Manchester bands is that in another life I was supposed to be born and raised in Manchester because of the sound that comes out of Manchester – Doves, Elbow, The 1975, Oasis – there is not a city in the world that has more bands that I love than Manchester, like full stop. To the end that I’m so obsessed with Manchester, every time I’m in Manchester I book out Blueprint Studios, the main Elbow studio, and I work in that studio. I’ve done wonderful stuff up there. I worked on Adele stuff there, you name it. I’ve worked on it in that studio. And when I built my first studio 10 years ago, I copied it after that studio.

“In my opinion, Elbow were a long-overlooked band by the UK, they were not appreciated the way they should have been. “Grace Under Pressure” helped to change that. The world would not have Coldplay’s “Fix You” if it weren’t for “Grace Under Pressure” by Elbow. Chris even said in an interview he was trying to write “Grace Under Pressure” when they wrote “Fix You,” and it’s such a phenomenal song, but “Grounds for Divorce” is a song that I’m just not cool enough to write. And in this lifetime, my band will never be cool enough to release a song that cool.

“Sonically the lyrics, the melody, the chord changes, everything about that record is quintessential badass, all caps. And that is a song that gets me in a mood. It’s the type of song you want to listen to. It gives you confidence. I play that song and then I can walk out on stage or walk into a party or walk on a red carpet or do anything. That song gets me so amped up, feeling like the most confident version of myself, because of what it does to me sonically. We played that song for four years after every concert, that was what we’d play when we walked offstage.”

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles

 

The White Album was my discovery of The Beatles. I knew who the Beatles were. I knew a lot of their music growing up, but I didn’t have one of those cool households. I always hear other artists or people like my wife, for instance, who was raised on Cat Stevens and The Beatles and I was raised on early ‘90s R&B. My family did not play cool music whatsoever. They did not own cool music. They mostly listened to contemporary Christian music as a very, very, church-going family. So I was not exposed to The Beatles other than what was played in movies or grocery stores.

“When I bought that car that I was telling you about earlier, it had The White Album in it. Once again, considering my job it’s embarrassing, but there have been at least 10 times where I have just been ‘How the hell am I so uninformed about the world’s greatest music? How do I even have this job, when I don’t know about some of the best music that there is?’ So I discovered the Beatles. I was probably 20 years old and I then became obsessed and fell in love. I bought every album multiple times, watched every documentary, and everyone knows I’m a Beatles-aholic.

“Then of course, I produced Paul McCartney’s album Egypt Station. I was lucky enough to work with them and hear all the stories about all the songs in first person. I am so obsessed with them, I have a small collection of Beatles memorabilia, and I own the original lyrics to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, handwritten by George and some of some of the words are in Paul’s handwriting. But I have the original lyrics, that’s the level of obsession I have.”

“Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis

 

“I was producing two or three songs for Shane Ward’s album. I was very much a young up and coming writer. I had a JLo single that I wrote called “Do It Well”, and a Natasha Bedingfield single called “Love Like This”, but I hadn’t had any big smashes. I had pretty much given up on OneRepublic because we had been signed by Columbia, we had “Apologize” and “Stop and Stare” and Columbia Records dropped us with both those songs. Which is kind of funny, but it was such a shot to the gut that I was depressed and I thought ‘You know what? It’s not on the cards. I’m not supposed to be an artist. I’ll just be a writer.’ So I was really focusing on writing for other people.

“Some years later, Shane Ward’s A&R, Sonny Tecar, who worked for Simon Cowell, said ‘I’ve got this new artist. She’s most likely gonna win X Factor, she’s phenomenal. Her name is Leona Lewis. Do you have any songs for big Whitney Houston type vocalists?’ So I put together like 10 songs. I had no clue which ones would work. The very last song on that demo CD was “Bleeding Love”. Simon Cowell and Clive Davis both called within probably 72 hours, both of them saying ‘This is the first single and we’re going to give you a number one with this.’

“At that time, British artists were not popular in America. There were no UK artists connecting in the States and it was widely known in songwriter circles that British artists were not it. I hate saying this, and it sounds crazy to say, but at the time in 2006, you were not trying to write for British artists, because you just knew you’re not going to have a hit here. Simon called me and said, ‘Ryan, I promise you, this song will be so big. You’re going to have a smash in the US with this.’ I remember hanging up, and kind of laughing, thinking ‘That’s never gonna happen.’ And then 90 days later it was number one in 32 countries. And I was like, ‘Well, I’m an idiot, and a genius’ and that was the end of that.

“I had the chorus and the opening line in about 15 minutes. I was racing off to do a session with another artist and I had 15 minutes left before I had to go. I felt like I hadn’t nailed anything yet, so I sat down and turned on this organ setting on my keyboard. For years, when I sit down to write, I could go through and point it out in different songs, but what you’ll hear in a lot of my more successful songs is me doing my version of what I think Prince would do. And I worship Prince, I love ‘80s and ‘90s R&B and Prince was the king of that. I was a massive Prince fan growing up. His melodies and chord changes specifically are what I love. “Nothing Compares 2 U” in my mind is still one of the all-time great songs.

“I was trying to do a Prince record. If you listen to the verse of “Bleeding Love” and then close your eyes and think of Prince, to me, that is he would do that over those chords. And he would probably use an organ like I did. Imagine Prince singing “Bleeding Love” and you’ll know how that song was written. Every lyric, every note was ‘What would Prince do?’”

“Rumour Has It” by Adele

 

“We’d already done “Turning Tables” in London, in a studio near Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I was staying at The Met and she texted me saying ‘I’m sitting in my apartment crying, listening to this song we just did.’ And I wrote back and said, ‘You know what? I’m getting emotional myself listening to this. We have to do another song.’ And she said, ‘I’ll be in LA in three weeks.’

“Three weeks later, we have maybe two days booked. I didn’t know at the time that she was finishing the album very quickly. She came into the studio and said she was not in a good mood. She walked in very irritated, she’d heard that friends of hers back in Tottenham were spreading rumours, like ‘one friend says this and the other one says that, and rumour has it Adele’s doing this, rumour has it Adele’s doing that.’ She’s telling me this, and she’s in a bit of a huff about it, and I thought ‘This sounds like a song to me.’

“You know, 90% of my job with artists is listening, and it’s not just with artists. I listen to people all of the time in conversations and they just spit out these phrases that they don’t realise I’m writing it down and making them the titles of songs. It happened to me two times yesterday.

“I suggested “Rumour Has It” and she asked ‘What do you think it sounds like?’ I remember saying ‘I don’t know, but all I know is I can’t do another ballad.’ This is 2010. In 2007 I had “Apologize” and “Bleeding Love”, 2008 “Stop and Stare”, then 2009 was “Already Gone” by Kelly Clarkson, Beyoncé’s “Halo”, “Please Don’t Stop The Rain” by James Morrison, everything I was doing was ballads. All anyone called me for was ballads, I was so scared of being pigeon-holed as a songwriter who only does these big emotional ballads. So I said ‘Let’s do something that has tempo and some attitude to it.’

“She was explaining a world sonically between gospel, blues and all this stuff. I grew up in the church playing gospel music and I started playing a guitar riff that was inspired by a Radiohead song. So I’m playing this Radiohead-inspired guitar riff over and over again and asked her ‘What if we did something like this?’ Then I started stomping on the floor and the first thing out of her mouth was the opening line. We wrote the song that day, she recorded it in exactly one take the next day. And the rest is history.”