With OneRepublic’s new album, Native (out today), leader Ryan Tedder wanted to show a more personal side of the band. He wanted each song to sound like it was straight from the heart, but written specifically for the fans. It’s a songwriting outline Tedder says he stole from U2.
While opening for the Irish band last summer, Tedder got a chance to see Bono and the guys perform in front of 80,000 people every night for three months. He told Radio.com that he watched as fans sang every word to every one of their songs. “These lyrics are so from his gut and so like honest, but poetic,” Tedder explained. “They’re not trying to be ambiguous or trying to be cool.”
Tedder admitted that his biggest pet peeve is when a band is just too cool for its own good. Writing songs that sound pretty, but have no heart behind them.
“[That's] one thing that always irks me about a lot of bands,” he said. “You look at their lyrics and I can quickly tell, because I’ve been writing my whole life, like those are like a string of non sequiturs that sound cool. It means absolutely nothing.”
But artists like Bono and The Beatles, Tedder said, are different. The Beattles were, and in the case of U2, still are, able to write massive hits that actually had a deeper meaning, something that Tedder wanted to do with his own music. He decided with Native he was going to step up his game and stop putting up walls. He realized if he was going to write a song people could relate to he would have to share a little bit of himself. But only a little.
“It needs to be literal and done artistically, and of course, you don’t want to get so up inside your head,” Tedder explained. “I’m not narcissistic enough to that think that people just want to read my poetry.”
Instead he tried to put his feelings into a universal context so he would be able to reach a bigger audience. Though OneRepublic are known for their massive radio hits like their first single “Apologize” and “Good Life,” which thanks to Disney was stuck in your head for all of 2012, Tedder said with this one, he didn’t worry about writing a radio-friendly pop song.
“I wasn’t sitting around writing thinking, ‘You know, I wonder how this will sound on radio? I wonder if this chorus is going to work on Top 40?’” he said. “That wasn’t crossing my mind. I was thinking, ‘Could I sing this every night, could I believe this?’”
In the end, Tedder says nothing on this album is a work of fiction. The new dad, whose son, Copeland Cruz was born in 2010, wrote the song “I Lived” as a love letter to his little boy. While the song “Preacher” is an autobiographical tale of his grandfather who was part of the church and is now a counselor.
Even though Native took longer to make then the band expected, Tedder said the decision to take from his own experiences made writing this record much easier. In fact, he wrote “Preacher” in less than 15 minutes while on a plane.
“[Bassist] Brent [Kutzie] did the music on that, and every now and then he’ll send me something…in ten minutes I wrote him back and said, ‘I’ve already written it,’ he said. “That was one of the last songs we finished for the album in New Orleans and we brought a four-person choir from the French Quarter.”