The Idolator Interview: Ryan Tedder
It’s been one hell of a year for Ryan Tedder. In addition to his band OneRepublic releasing sophomore album Waking Up last month, the singer-songwriter is also reveling in the fact that “Halo,” which he co-wrote with Beyonce (as well as co-produced), has been nominated for a Record Of The Year Grammy. Additionally, Beyonce’s full LP containing “Halo,” I Am… Sasha Fierce, is also up for Album Of The Year.
But with “Halo” came controversy after Kelly Clarkson basically accused him of using the same melody for her own Ryan Tedder song, “Already Gone.” And then in the fall, while tackling a break-neck pace of work that saw him crafting music with everyone from Adam Lambert and Natasha Bedingfield to Adele and Leona Lewis, Tedder says he came down with H1N1: “It nearly killed me. I was sick for three weeks.”
But, hey, why not add more work to the schedule—Tedder also says he’s been asked to contribute material to a forthcoming episode of Glee that’s set to contain original music for a change.
Hop below the jump to read our interview with possibly the busiest man in music at the moment, OneRepublic frontman and 2010 Grammy nominee Ryan Tedder.
RD: First off, congratulations on the Grammy nomination for “Halo.” RT: Thank you. I was definitely not counting on it, because the Grammys are notorious for disappointing, but it was exciting. What I didn’t count on was [that Beyonce] also got nominated for Album Of The Year, so I could end up potentially walking away with two that night. If that happened I would probably freak out, or put at least one of them up on eBay.
Did you watch the episode of Glee where the cast sings “Halo” as a mashup with “Walking On Sunshine”? I did! Glee is actually my new addiction. I download every episode. They actually just approached me. Adam Anders, the guy who does all the music, approached me about two weeks ago to do original music for the next season. So I’m gonna be doing at least one song for the next season that’s original.
OneRepublic has had songs in two movies by German filmmaker Til Schweiger, Keinohrhasen and the one currently out now, Zweiohrküken. What’s the history there? Til literally is probably our most vehement fan. He got an early pre-release copy of our first album before it came out and picked “Apologize.” He didn’t think we were going to approve it for the movie originally. German budgets are not the same as an American movie. A guy that works at our label is from Germany and he knew how big of a deal Til Schweiger is. In Germany, Til Schweiger is like Mel Gibson plus Brad Pitt. He produces, directs, writes and stars in the biggest movies in Germany. None of us had any concept of any of that. It really took another German telling us, ‘You really need to take this seriously,’ and [to] do whatever needs to be done with Til Schweiger.
How did the OneRepublic song “Marchin’ On” get selected to be on Timbaland’s Shock Value II—albeit on the “deluxe” edition? That’s really interesting. It was actually not finished. “Marchin’ On” was the last song that made the album, and it came about as an accident. I didn’t know that the album was even being made, and then all of a sudden I find out it’s being made and it’s gotta be finished in three weeks and Timbaland needs a song from you. So we did a song that we really liked that we were considering saving for our next record, and Tim heard it and he liked it but he thought it was too happy. He wanted something a little bit more somber. I just kind of kept beating my head against the wall, and tried four or five different ideas for songs. A few of them were great. I tend to not finish songs if I don’t think that they’re gonna be great. So I had four unfinished song ideas, and on the fifth one I just decided to do something really, really simple. I came up with a verse and chorus to “Marchin’ On,” I think I was in Minneapolis in some studio, and then sent it to Tim and he freaked out on it. He [had] asked me for a “Halo.” He was making all these references. I was like, I’m not gonna do that. I’m not gonna hand in something that sounds like “Apologize, Part II.” I don’t really believe in trying to rip yourself off.
Why go back there, anyway? Yeah, it’s not worth going back. That territory, for better or worse, was conquered. So, nevertheless, I wanted to give him something that had tempo, that was four-on-the-floor, that could almost be a dance song. The funny part is it was only supposed to be on his album. Our album was done. We had ten songs. Originally our album was only gonna be nine songs, and the album title for the longest time was 9. We even had artwork and everything, but we had to scrap that because two different movies and a book and all this crap was coming out called 9. So we literally added a tenth song.
You said “Marchin’ On” wasn’t finished? What happened was there was a miscommunication and the label thought we were putting “Marchin’ On” on our album as well as Timbaland’s album. And so they printed every single album sleeve with “Marchin’ On.” But the problem was, with the Timbaland version I only did half of a song. I did a verse and a chorus. So I find out literally the evening before the whole album was being mastered, it’s being mastered in 12 hours—and I’d just finished a show—and my manager says, “You’ve got to gotta go into a studio tonight and finish ‘Marchin’ On.'” I was like, hell no! It’s not supposed to be finished. Timbaland finished it. He was like, “No, we need a OneRepublic version now, because wires got crossed and everything’s been printed with ‘Marchin’ On.'” So that’s how that song ended up on the album. That song went from a verse-chorus to a full song literally in an hour and 45 minutes.
It’s got to be wearing on you at this point, trying to balance the songwriting for other artists as well as your own career with OneRepublic. It really is, man. It really is. And that’s kinda the thing I’m trying to figure out. I was just talking to Max Martin the other day—he was an idol of mine, and so now he and I have developed a friendly relationship. The single greatest email I ever got in my life was Max Martin emailed me about a year-and-a-half ago and said, “There are only two songs ever written that I’ve told anybody I wish I’d written.” And he said, “You wrote both of them.” I saved the email! I was like, are you kidding me? I wrote back and said, “You have about five.” He just emailed me yesterday, actually, and was like, “I don’t know how you do it,” because I was just venting to him, saying things are busy, it’s crazy. And I’m the kind of person that, in anything I’m doing—if it’s exercise, if it’s running, if it’s sports, whatever it is—I tend to see how far I can push myself. It’s almost like self-torture. I wanna know what my threshold is. And so this past fall was probably the most intense—we were rehearsing, shooting a video, I was wrapping Adam Lambert’s album, handing in mixes for Leona [Lewis] and writing with Natasha [Bedingfield] while finishing our record, all simultaneously.
Were you trying to set some kind of record? It nearly killed me. I got H1N1. I was sick for three weeks. I was like, okay, that’s my threshold. So now I’ve kind of backed off it a little bit. I have the uber-drive like the Energizer bunny that just makes me just go, go, go. And I wanna do it all. But the problem is, I’m realizing, in trying to do that you can just kill yourself. And it’s like once you reach whatever that level is, the thought of maintaining it is just nauseating. It’s like trying to pull a Madonna or something. I like Lady Gaga, but when I think about her life I literally have to go take a nap. Thinking about her life makes me tired, because I’m thinking, you really should have taken about eight years to get to where you are. I can say this because I’ve done it—not on her level, but I’ve been doing this for a long time. When you start at that velocity—I mean, that’s what happened to Panic! At the Disco, and now, I don’t know if they’re done, but pretty much. When you start at that maximum velocity, crazy level, maintaining it is ten times worse than getting there.
How do you give the brush-off to other artists wanting a Ryan Tedder track on their album? Now I just balance it out. I’m only working on stuff that I absolutely love now. I get hit up for songs every day, probably four or five times a day. And they’re all huge artists, so it’s really hard to pass on a lot of them. But now I say if inspiration hits me and something absolutely magnificent raises its head, then I’ll do something. But what I’m not gonna do is hand in a B+ song just for the sake of handing one in.
So who’s getting your “A” material these days? I’m working with Adele right now, who’s inspiring me like crazy. I hadn’t written a song in about a month, literally, until yesterday. The less I write, the better the songs are. When “Halo” came about, I hadn’t written a song in two months. Then two months after that I wrote “Battlefield,” and two months after that was “Already Gone.” When I don’t do a ton of writing, then typically the quality of the song is a lot better.
You’re very tight with Simon Cowell and you work with all the artists coming out of American Idol. Were you asked to be a replacement judge when Paula left at any point? [Laughs] You know, yeah, as like a joke in a passing conversation with Simon. I was like, “So Paula’s leaving?” He was like, “Yeah, you wanna replace her?” I was like, “Uh, no.” I’ve known Randy Jackson for years. I actually know Paula pretty well. My wife’s best friend was her roommate and personal assistant for the last few years. It’s a really small world in Hollywood, which is partly why I left. But I can’t say that at some point I won’t do something like that, because I love every aspect of music and I love evaluating music. I love listening and just taking stuff apart—not necessarily critically, but from a songwriter-artist perspective. Those shows are amazing. What I like about those shows, X Factor and American Idol, it’s gotten the whole country obsessed with music. That makes me happy. I always loved Star Search. I never understood why that show got taken off the air. I think once X Factor starts [here in the U.S.], Simon’s going to—he’s extremely competitive—and I think he’s going to attempt an overthrow of the American Idol paradigm. He’s gonna shift it to X Factor. I’m pretty sure that’s gonna happen.
One of the best albums you had a hand in was Blake Lewis’ first one, Audio Day Dream. It had to be disappointing that it didn’t take off like it should have. I loved that album. I was actually with Blake about a week-and-a-half ago. He pops up random places. We were in Vegas and Seattle, and somehow he always just manages to pop up. He’s still bummed about it and confused about it. He’s moving forward and doing his own thing, as he should. But something weird happened on that project, and I can’t really go on the record saying exactly what it is. I have my suspicions. I feel like the label was in a transitional period when that album came out. They were switching heads of state, more or less, and that was one of those albums that had singles, I think, for days. I know it did. I know for a fact, because they researched the crap out of that album, and there were five songs that tested Top 10—which is astronomical, as far as research goes. His album was maybe a little too eclectic. And frankly, when the first single didn’t just explode, they shifted their attention to Jordin and thought, well, let’s work Jordin’s record. And that’s really what happened.
The year’s almost over. Have you made amends with Kelly Clarkson after the whole “Halo”/”Already Gone” drama? Man, I haven’t talked to her, to be honest, since that went down. She has my email. Her attorney or somebody from her camp told somebody from my camp that she’s willing to work with me again. I was like, oh, thank you. I mean, I’m looking at your song right now and it’s #1 for the fourth week on Hot AC, so I’m sorry that I helped with that. I was absolutely livid when that whole thing came out because she had no idea what she was talking about when she said that. Somebody got up in her ear, and she got a bug in her ear. It was how she said it and how she worded it. If I was going around and selling the same track to the biggest artists in the world, how long would my career last? It’s ludicrous. And she knows me well enough to know I’m not an idiot. I’m not the kinda guy who’s gonna bust my ass for ten years to try and pull a fast one on Beyonce or Kelly. I’m no longer mad about the situation at all. “Already Gone” has just about done as well in America as “Halo” did. She literally wanted to sabotage the song. I’m happy that it saw the light of day, because I actually liked “Already Gone” more than “Halo.” I connect with it more. It gave me goose bumps. I’ve watched girls I’ve played the song for cry. It’s just an emotional, heartbreaking breakup song. I always liked it more than “Halo.”
Would you consider working with her again, then? As far as working with her in the future, I would—but I don’t know, man. It really is tough to say. I like Kelly a lot. I have nothing but amazing stuff to say about her. Her album just got nominated for Pop Album Of The Year, and I like to think I contributed somewhat with that. She’s the easiest person to work with in the studio, and all these other great superlatives. But having said that, it’s like, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. And I just don’t know that I wanna venture—I don’t wanna get some crazy-ass backlash or get my head snapped off for writing a hit song. I do wish her the best, and if we work together in the future, then I will be a happy camper about it and let bygones be bygones.