Band has no apologies

November 29, 2007|By August Brown | August Brown,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Ryan Tedder, the front man and founding member of the alt-rock band OneRepublic, is first and foremost a writer. He's penned tunes for such pop starlets as Natasha Bedingfield and Hilary Duff, co-wrote with Jesse McCartney a U.K. chart-topping hit ("Bleeding Love") for Leona Lewis, and collaborated with rappers Lil Jon and Bubba Sparxxx. OneRepublic's high-profile cameo on Timbaland's album Shock Value, a remix of the band's string-soaked lament "Apologize," which has been holding strong on the charts, is a testament to the versatility of Tedder's compositional skills.

In OneRepublic, Tedder uses this talent to fine-tune the traditional ingredients for pop stardom (giant choruses, suave faux hawks) and snip off anything or anyone that gets in the way. As modern rock becomes harder to sell in huge numbers, and professionalism is quickly overtaking spontaneity, the most popular new bands know that hits don't come accidentally. The potential of OneRepublic's debut album of meticulously earnest ballads, Dreaming Out Loud, will depend on 28-year-old Tedder's ability to single-handedly script his band's rise to fame.

As his story goes, OneRepublic was formed by high school buddies in a bucolic Colorado town and teased with early success upon moving to Los Angeles, only to be shattered by major-label politics. Then the band climbed the MySpace Unsigned charts and scored a life-raft record deal and remix from Tedder's longtime mentor, Timbaland.

"Nowadays, everything I do is very calculated," Tedder said. "Back then, I'd see any opportunity and jump at it. But I swore to myself I wouldn't do anything but music, that until OneRepublic paid my bills; if a director showed me a scene for a movie and asked me to write a song for it, I'd say, `Cut me a check and I'll do it.'"

Tedder seems to have covered all his bases: Dreaming Out Loud consistently hits the high points of '90s and '00s dorm-pop groups such as Oasis and Coldplay with hints of modern soul and electronica gleaned from Tedder's years writing and producing with Timbaland. But are a photogenic quintet of bandmates, a crafty songwriting and production mind and a thick Rolodex of industry contacts enough to will a rock band into popularity in 2007?

Like most every event in the life of OneRepublic, the friendship between Tedder and co-founding guitarist Zach Filkins at Colorado Springs Christian School in 1996 began auspiciously. "Our senior year, Zach joined the soccer team," Tedder said. "In his first game he gets on the field and scores three goals, and we said, `Yeah, we're going to keep him.'"

Tedder and Filkins parted ways after graduation, but they kept in touch while Tedder pursued a solo career and publishing deal in Nashville, Tenn. In 2000, he auditioned for an MTV-sponsored talent showcase sponsored by 'NSYNC's Lance Bass. He played an original song, which won him the competition, a production deal from Bass' Freelance Entertainment and a look from Interscope Records. Bass even extended an invitation for him to open an 'NSYNC stadium tour. But soon everything took a nose dive - the production deal with Freelance collapsed, Interscope never followed through, and the tour didn't happen.

"Two weeks after that deal, I was waiting tables," Tedder said. "Timbaland happened to see the video, though, and he signed me to a production deal. I learned a hell of a lot about writing, but I had nothing to show for it."

Tedder credits the Timbaland affiliation for fast-tracking his career.

Tedder and Filkins regrouped in Colorado to write songs, including the band's first single, "Apologize," a swooning, R&B-inflected slow burn that amorous college kids and Timbaland could get behind. The pair moved to Los Angeles in 2003, where they rounded out the OneRepublic lineup and quickly signed with Columbia Records.

The band soon settled on its current lineup, with drummer Eddie Fisher, guitarist Drew Brown and bassist-cellist Brent Kutzel. But its self-titled album's planned release date (June 6, 2006, or 6-6-06) didn't bode well. Sure enough, Columbia got cold feet and dropped the band.

But the band got an unexpected boost from MySpace. Yet again, labels came sniffing.

Timbaland saw an opportunity to add a rock band to the rap-heavy fold of his Universal imprint, Mosely Music Group, and debuted the band with his beat-heavy remix of "Apologize." Although the pairing of one of pop's great sonic innovators with such a straitlaced band as OneRepublic is unexpected, Timbaland saw them as kindred songwriters. "The band's chemistry is amazing, but what is so exceptional about them is how musical they are," Timbaland said. "I was just naturally drawn to `Apologize' and wanted to add my touch."

As the band releases Dreaming Out Loud, the quintet is confident that sticking to its original guns - indelible hooks, vague but enormous emotional crescendos and Tedder's flexibly soulful voice - was the right decision. Songs such as "Stop and Stare" and "All We Are" fully realize this vision of neatly scripted pop.

"We're trying to connect to the largest demographic as humanly possible, and whatever format that is, we'll take it," Fisher said.

Tedder agreed that "if I had to care about one thing, it'd be accessibility."

August Brown writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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