The Battle Hymn of OneRepublic
It’s been three years since Denver’s hottest pop band put out a new album. In 2012, OneRepublic finally holed up in a Cherry Creek studio to lay down tracks for its third LP. Will Native, which drops this fall, prove to be the band’s breakout record?
A piece of paper is taped to the wall of the Cherry Creek studio where all the keyboards are stored. The seven-item list printed on it is entitled: “Things 1R Needs.” In order, the list reads:
3) space (see No. 2)
4) singing with soul
5) vulnerable lyrics
7) global but unique chorus/title
I want to ask Tedder if the list is arranged in order of importance, but as I turn to ask him he hits the play button on his Mac. The first notes of “Feel Again,” the group’s first single from Native—which will be released this fall—pump out of the huge speakers and I have my answer.
The toe-tapping, stand-up-and-clap-along hymn is nothing if not up-tempo. It’s the fastest song the band has ever produced. It’s supercatchy—the kind of song you want to crank up and belt out when you’re alone in the car. It’s also got an unmistakable gospel influence that’s noticeable about one minute into the 3:05-minute-long song, when Brown’s, Filkins’, Fisher’s, and Kutzle’s background harmonies become reminiscent of a church choir. Tedder’s voice is characteristically lofty, but it sounds natural—instinctive maybe—as if gospel just feels right to him. And, like many of OneRepublic’s songs, the message is upright—I reach out trying to love but I feel nothing/Yeah, my heart is numb/But with you I feel again/Yeah with you I can feel again—as is the band’s commitment to give part of the song’s proceeds to Save the Children, an organization that helps kids in the United States and around the world. “The world needs a few tunes that aren’t about getting drunk until the sun comes up,” Tedder says unapologetically.
Tedder is also unrepentant about the three months it took him and his bandmates to complete “Feel Again,” as well as “40,000 Ft. (Lose Myself),” a song that initially had single potential. (Tedder says it took only six months to write and record the entirety of Waking Up.) Although OneRepublic is considered a pop act by most people, the band doesn’t churn out music as quickly as, say, Rihanna or Katy Perry or Usher might. “We’ve never taken quite this kind of time before,” Tedder says, “but when you’re attempting a sound that you’ve never attempted there’s a big learning curve. On one of our songs we did five versions until we found the one that felt right.”
On August 10, just weeks after Tedder gave me a preview of “Feel Again,” the band debuted the song on Good Morning America’s Summer Concert Series. More than a week later, at 4:50 p.m. on August 21, OneRepublic tweeted: “The day has come! ‘Feel Again’ has officially shipped to radio in the U.S.—u can now call/email & request it—off we go!” And on August 27, the first single off their third album became available digitally on iTunes in North America. Word from @GavinDeGraw (“YO! u gotta check out @OneRepublic’s brand new single i’m feelin’ ‘Feel Again’ ”), @adamlevine (“Hey guys. Our good buddies in @OneRepublic have a new single out called #feelagain. Check it out!”), and @jtimberlake (“Check out my good friend Ryan and the boys from One Republic’s new single. I dig.”) flooded the Twittersphere.
The scant critical response to “Feel Again” has been mostly positive. A couple of reviews have implied that “Feel Again” feels too much like Florence and the Machine’s hit “Dog Days Are Over.” Others have simply stated that “Feel Again” is one part Killers mixed with a dash of Coldplay. OneRepublic fans seem to be pleased enough. A week after the song hit radio, it went as high as 12 on the iTunes top singles chart. It was at 42 at press time.
The real barometer, and industry-wide judgments, will come when the album—which the guys finished up with recording and production time in London, Greece, Paris, and Denver—drops later this fall. By that time, the guys will have played “Feel Again” on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, on America’s Got Talent, at the iTunes Festival 2012 in London in mid-September, for multiple radio stations, and likely at a few other spots here and there. They’ll have put themselves out there, and they won’t be able to hide any longer. They are, of course, hoping that they won’t want to.