To those who do not know the full story on OneRepublic, they may see a talented pop-rock group propelled to “overnight” success after being discovered by one of the world’s most celebrated super-producers. The band’s first single, “Apologize,” which was remixed by Timbaland, has been Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 for ten consecutive weeks, rocketing all the way to 1 on the Pop 100. The song has sold "over" 8 million legal downloads-the most singles sold of any song in the digital era- maintained its 1 position on the Top 40 chart for two months, and entered the history books by shattering the record for the most spins at radio in just one week with over 10,600 spins. All of which adds up to one of the most eagerly-anticipated CDs of the year- Dreaming Out Loud – OneRepublic’s Mosley Music Group/Interscope debut.
However, explaining away the success of this band as an overnight sensation would be short-sighted and inaccurate. The story of the band’s road to success, and how that journey is expressed in the inspiring lyrical content of this album, would be lost, as well. Facing opposition and disappointment, OneRepublic has clung to its dreams – and that tenacity is finally paying off.
While OneRepublic might be the first rock band on Mosley Music group, it isn’t the first time that OneRepublic’s frontman, Ryan Tedder, and Timbaland’s paths have crossed. OneRepublic has had a circuitous journey from then to now. That journey began in 2001. Tedder was living in Nashville and nabbed a record deal for winning a singer-songwriter contest; a validation for someone who strove to be a songwriter who could write ”more than just a catchy tune. There’s nothing like a good pop song, but there’s a fine line between accessibility and credibility,” says Tedder.
Thanks to a mutual friend, Tedder got a call from Timbaland, who wanted him to come work with him. Just like in the movies, 21-year-old Tedder quit his day job, sold his car to buy equipment, and enrolled in “Production 101 at the University of Timbaland.” Taken under the A-list producer’s wing, Tedder was given the opportunity to get behind the boards in state-of-the-art studios from Miami to NY to LA; “It was a dream come true.” Despite the invaluable education, it was clear that while Tedder wanted to become an artist, his mentor wanted to develop Tedder as a producer. After two years, and with Timbaland’s blessing, Tedder moved on and soon became that guy. Working under the nom de plume “Alias,” Tedder racked up production/songwriter credits for artists ranging from techno star Paul Oakenfold, pop/R&B singers Leona Lewis and Natasha Bedingfield, and rapper Bubba Sparxxx. In fact, just this past year, Tedder penned and produced three international 1’s, a top 10, and two top 40’s, including Jennifer Lopez’s Top 20 banger, “Do It Well.”
Yet, Tedder’s desire to be the guy in front of the mic was still burning. In 2002, he returned to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and looked up high school friend, guitarist Zach Filkins, who had spent his childhood studying classical guitar in Barcelona, Spain and then moved to Colorado Springs.
In 2003, Tedder and Filkins moved to Los Angeles to put a band together. They soon found out that doing that is not so easy, and had to figure out how to get by. At points, there was not even enough money to buy groceries. Hard times made it difficult to keep a band together and the membership kept changing- until Tedder and Filkins connected with Drew Brown (guitar), Brent Kutzle (bass, cello), and Eddie Fisher (drums).
Now solidified, OneRepublic got a major label deal, but for various reasons it fell through, and they were left in limbo and demoralized. “After all that time trying to get to where we were, getting dropped took the wind out of my sails,” Tedder says. “We weren’t sure if we wanted to go on (with the band).” At that time, however, their MySpace page started getting thousands of hits, making them the biggest band on the site. “Maybe the music climate changed,” Filkins explains. “All of a sudden, we were getting e-mails from kids saying that because of one of our songs, they didn’t commit suicide or they got through their parents’ divorce. We finally connected with the audience. We said to ourselves, ‘we can’t quit now.’”
Soon enough, the labels came knocking, including Timbaland, with his Mosley Music Group label. Timbaland knew first-hand the depth of Tedder’s talent and OneRepublic’s potential. So everything came full circle when Tim brought OneRepublic into the Mosley Music Group family, making them the first rock band on his label, and executive-producing Dreaming Out Loud.
The success OneRepublic has achieved since then might have taken some by surprise, but not the group’s singer/songwriter. The toughest thing to do is write a hit song,“ says Tedder, “but sometimes you just know when you’ve written something special. ‘Apologize’ gave me goose bumps as soon as I finished it.”
The first clue that his instincts were right came early in 2007, when Timbaland’s “Apologize” remix (both that and the original version are featured on Dreaming Out Loud) appeared on his platinum plus Timbaland Presents: Shock Value.
“Ryan is a great person, a great songwriter and just so musically talented,” Timbaland says. “OneRepublic bring something out of each other. They work so well together and it’s a very natural chemistry.”
Largely produced by Greg Wells (Rufus Wainwright, Pink, Mika) and with a couple tracks produced by Tedder, that chemistry is evident in the songs, such as the second single, “Stop And Stare,” a fusion of anthemic guitars and insistent vocals, and the hushed ballad “Come Home” (one of three songs on the album produced by Tedder). Dreaming Out Loud introduces a group committed to the idea that people want real songs, with real truths, not marketing strategies.
Folks talk a lot about fate and timing; two things OneRepublic knows quite well. Having ricocheted back-and-forth between near-success, disappointment, and fruition, OneRepublic has stayed true to their dreams - and seen them come true in ways they could never have imagined. Tedder holds that “there are certain things that are within your control and that’s how hard you work, how determined you are, how much you want it, but you can’t control timing. It’s going to happen when it’s meant to happen, and right now, that’s how it is for OneRepublic. It took a long time but all of this has come at the right time.”
The “retro soul” tag is added to almost any contemporary work that sounds like it was originally recorded before 1980, and Mayer Hawthorne is aware of how trends come and go.
But, he says, he’s not interested in taking it back to the “good old days,” as much as he is in creating the “new good days.” And to fans like producer Mark Ronson, who said, “I have no idea what this is, old or new, but it’s fucking good!!!” upon first hearing Hawthorne’s music, age ain’t nothin’ but a number.
On How Do You Do, his first major label effort for Universal Republic Records, Hawthorne proves that he is not part of a trend. The classic Motown sound that provided the blueprint for his self-produced independent debut, A Strange Arrangement, remains, but is joined on How Do You Do by music reminiscent of late 1960s California pop and the best work from the likes of Steely Dan and Chicago.
“Hawthorne emerges with a jaw-dropping collection of classic soul,” RollingStone.com proclaimed upon hearing A Strange Arrangement, but with this latest release, the formula has been updated. The vocals are stronger, the music more varied and vibrant, but it’s still Mayer Hawthorne. And the message is love.
Hawthorne grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, and vividly remembers, as a child, driving with his father and tuning the car radio in to the rich soul and jazz history the region provided. “Most of the best music ever made came out of Detroit,” claims the singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, who counts Smokey Robinson and famed songwriting trio Holland, Dozier, Holland among his influences, but also draws inspiration from Michael McDonald, Juan Atkins and J Dilla.
Hawthorne has produced and played instruments for much of his life, but never intended to become a singer. What he became, however, was a new school soul sensation, touring globally and earning accolades from Playboy, NPR and Entertainment Weekly. “He’s an able singer...an arranger of astonishing precision,” wrote the New York Times when Hawthorne first hit the scene.
On “The Walk,” the first single from How Do You Do, Hawthorne plays a man scorned and content with saying “So long, you did me wrong” to the lady in his life. “A Long Time” is both a brilliant homage to Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” and a storied history of Hawthorne’s beloved Detroit, followed by a duet – yes, duet – with the incomparable Snoop Dogg on “Can’t Stop.”
“It's Snoop like you’ve never heard him before,” Hawthorne told Billboard.com before the two performed together at the South by Southwest music festival in March.
The rest of How Do You Do is a trip through generations and tales of love cherished and love lost. Songs like “Hooked,” “You Called Me” and “You’re Not Ready” are vintage fare, while “The News” and “No Strings” add a modern, 21st century flair to the proceedings. The album culminates in “Henny & Gingerale,” an ode to the signature cocktail complete with the party banter and pulsating dance floor R&B of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.”
Snoop Dogg once heralded Hawthorne as his new favorite artist, praise shared via Twitter by other stars such as Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and John Mayer. With the release of How Do You Do, such sentiment is sure to grow, just as Hawthorne himself continues to grow as an artist and performer. It was soul music from which he came, and those roots will never be left behind. But there is more to this artist than just soul music.
“A lot of my other influences are coming out on this record,” Hawthorne told Billboard.com. “There are a lot of other genres that are blending in now.
“It’s just turning into me.”