Feature

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?

November 2012

For two years after college graduation, Tedder did what he could to work in the music biz. He spent time in New York City and Nashville. He was barely scraping by. He came home to Colorado Springs, where his soccer teammate and guitarist friend Zach Filkins was also living. They thought about starting another band and maybe basing it out of a college town like Fort Collins. Instead, in September 2003, Tedder and Filkins did what they knew they had to do: They moved to L.A.

Within a month, Tedder, Filkins, guitar player Drew Brown, and the band’s original drummer, Jerrod Bettis, formed what was then known as Republic and began doing the L.A. hustle. For more than a year, they paid $400 or more to play at crappy bars in front of disinterested audiences and worked side jobs to cover the bills. They were no different than a thousand other musicians and actors and models looking to make it in L.A.—but the company didn’t make the slog any less miserable. They pounded the Sunset Strip, playing as many venues as they could. They traveled to other cities in California when funds allowed.

Eventually, it began to pay off. A small fan base turned into a medium-size fan base. Republic started booking—and selling out—venues without having to negotiate with the clubs about payment—a sure way to get the attention of record labels. In late 2004, they were signed by Columbia Records as OneRepublic, a moniker that, Tedder says, the band chose because Republic would have had to sell a “kajillion” albums to beat out the People’s Republic of China in a Google search.

They went to work on an album. They let Bettis go because of creative differences and hired drummer Eddie Fisher, a mostly self-taught musician with a knack for feeling the music. They auditioned for a bassist and got a twofer in Brent Kutzle, who played the cello as well. The band was set. It was all happening. They were on the precipice of stardom.

The guys were finishing up their debut album in early 2006 and had a single that was heading to radio when the bad news broke: Along with Katy Perry and the Jonas Brothers, OneRepublic was being dropped by Columbia Records. The label never gave an official reason for letting the band go, but Tedder attributes it to a show OneRepublic played in front of label executives. Tedder had come down with bronchitis—his voice was nearly gone—but they were required to play the show anyway. The performance was a disaster.

Losing the record deal was a devastating blow. Tedder told his wife, Genevieve, whom he had married just months before, that OneRepublic was done; that at 27 years old he was going to have to give up the dream. Instead he would continue producing music for other people, something he’d been doing on the side anyway. That night, Tedder typed Myspace.com/onerepublic into a Web browser to change the band’s status from “signed” to “unsigned.” Then, because he was no longer beholden to the label’s rules not to post songs online, he uploaded “Apologize” and “Stop and Stare.”

For Tedder and Co., social media was a godsend. Within two months, OneRepublic was the number one unsigned act on Myspace, and the band quickly became one of the hottest independent acts in L.A. The guys scored a residency at the Key Club in West Hollywood, and, after three initial shows, the band sold out each subsequent concert. They were running out of T-shirts and CDs. They were signing autographs. They were being courted by promoters to play in Canada and Washington and Florida. But they still didn’t have a record deal.

That’s when Tedder received a call from an old friend. Timbaland, the prominent hip-hop and R&B producer, wanted to sign OneRepublic to Interscope Records, the home of artists like U2, Sting, the Black Eyed Peas, and No Doubt. OneRepublic’s frontman hadn’t spoken to Timbaland since Tedder had worked for him in the wake of the TRL appearance years earlier. Timba- land thought OneRepublic deserved better treatment than what it had received from Columbia. He wanted to sign OneRepublic as the first band on his Interscope Records sub-label, Mosely Music Group.

There was just one catch: Timbaland wanted to remix Tedder’s “Apologize” and put it out on his own DJ album, which would hit the airwaves well before the release of OneRepublic’s first album, Dreaming Out Loud. The song Tedder had written in Colorado Springs before he moved to L.A., the song that was supposed to come out on his own band’s forthcoming album, would be modified with a hip-hop beat and additional vocals and released on Timbaland’s Shock Value in April 2007. Tedder agreed to the remix, unaware of the possible consequences.

Radio stations began spinning the altered version of the cello- and keyboard-heavy ballad. Within weeks you couldn’t turn on an FM channel and not hear Tedder’s soaring vocals backed by Timbaland’s hip-hop drum line and strategically placed “ayy, ayy, ayys.” The song rocketed up the charts. “Apologize” was at one point that year the biggest radio airplay hit in the history of Billboard magazine’s Mainstream Top 40 (Pop Songs) in North America, with 10,394 plays in one week.

Everyone in America knew the lyrics to “Apologize,” but the cruel twist was that no one knew who really sang it. Radio DJs rarely mentioned OneRepublic before pressing play, instead saying the song was from Timbaland’s hit album. It wasn’t until Interscope released Dreaming Out Loud—with Tedder’s original version of “Apologize,” as well as the remixed version—seven months later that folks in America learned who the real musicians behind everyone’s favorite song were. The album sold more than 2.3 million copies worldwide and was certified gold in the Unites States. “Apologize” ultimately went platinum three times over.

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