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Rocky road to the top

OneRepublic's new album is a step forward after the Colorado band lost its footing.

November 20, 2007|August Brown | Times Staff Writer

Ryan TEDDER, the frontman and founding member of the alt-rock band OneRepublic, is first and foremost a writer. He's penned tunes for such pop starlets as Natasha Bedingfield and Hilary Duff, co-wrote with Jesse McCartney a U.K. chart-topping hit ("Bleeding Love") for Leona Lewis, and collaborated with rappers Lil Jon and Bubba Sparxxx. OneRepublic's high-profile cameo on Timbaland's album "Shock Value," a remix of the band's string-soaked lament "Apologize," which has been holding strong on the charts, is a testament to the versatility of Tedder's compositional skills.

In OneRepublic, Tedder uses this talent to fine-tune the traditional ingredients for pop stardom (giant choruses, suave fauxhawks) and snip off anything or anyone that gets in the way. As modern rock becomes harder to sell in huge numbers, and professionalism is quickly overtaking spontaneity, the most popular new bands know that hits don't come accidentally. The potential of OneRepublic's debut album of meticulously earnest ballads, "Dreaming Out Loud" (released today), will depend on the 28-year-old Tedder's ability to single-handedly script his band's rise to fame.

As his story goes, OneRepublic was formed by high school buddies in a bucolic Colorado town and teased with early success upon moving to Los Angeles, only to be shattered by major-label politics. Then the band climbed the My- Space Unsigned charts and scored a life-raft record deal and remix from Tedder's longtime mentor Timbaland.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, November 30, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
OneRepublic: An article and caption in the Nov. 20 Calendar section about the alt-rock band OneRepublic misspelled the last name of bassist-cellist Brent Kutzle as Kutzel.

That story leaves out a few of the realities of how a talented, sharp-dressing and fiercely ambitious songwriter reinvents himself and his band -- a route involving a fundamentalist Christian education, the affirmation of 'N Sync's Lance Bass and booting a longtime friend from the band for crimes of fashion.

"Nowadays, everything I do is very calculated," Tedder said. "Back then, I'd see any opportunity and jump at it. But I swore to myself I wouldn't do anything but music, that until OneRepublic paid my bills, if a director showed me a scene for a movie and asked me to write a song for it, I'd say 'Cut me a check and I'll do it.' "

Tedder seems to have covered all his bases: "Dreaming Out Loud" consistently hits the high points of '90s and '00s dorm-pop groups like Oasis and Coldplay with hints of modern soul and electronica gleaned from Tedder's years writing and producing with Timbaland. But are a photogenic quintet of bandmates, a crafty songwriting and production mind and a thick Rolodex of industry contacts enough to will a rock band into popularity in 2007?

Like most every event in the life of OneRepublic, the friendship between Tedder (whose heavy eyes and sharp jaw evoke a less-creepy version of Spencer Pratt of "The Hills") and co-founding guitarist Zach Filkins at Colorado Springs Christian School in 1996 began auspiciously. "Our senior year, Zach joined the soccer team," Tedder said. "In his first game he gets on the field and scores three goals, and we said 'Yeah, we're going to keep him.' "

Tedder and Filkins parted ways after graduation, but kept in touch while Tedder pursued a solo career and publishing deal in Nashville. In 2000, he auditioned for an MTV-sponsored talent showcase sponsored by 'N Sync's Lance Bass. He played an original song, which won him the competition, a production deal from Bass' Freelance Entertainment and a look from Interscope Records. Bass even extended an invitation for him to open up an 'N Sync stadium tour. But soon everything took a nose dive -- the production deal with Freelance collapsed, Interscope never followed through and the tour didn't happen.

Reversal of fortune

"Two weeks after that deal, I was waiting tables," Tedder said. "Timbaland happened to see the video though, and he signed me to a production deal. I learned a hell of a lot about writing, but I had nothing to show for it."

Tedder credits the Timbaland affiliation for fast-tracking his career, with the MTV showcase and solo contract being two of a few pockmarks. Numerous demos of Tedder singing tracks planned for other artists are floating around the Internet, but after OneRepublic's success, he's reluctant to point them out.

"It's like how David Duchovny popped up in a porno," Tedder said. "It's all stuff I didn't write for any one person, and then it ends up in the hands of the biggest cheeseball. When you're a writer, you live and die by every cut you get. But I just passed on Clay Aiken."

Similarly, Tedder's college education at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma (he graduated as a PR/advertising major in 2001) isn't usually included in the OneRepublic biography.

"I cocooned myself with kids there who had the same pseudo-cynical outlook," Tedder said. "Both of my parents went there, and I grew up super Pentecostal. In Hollywood though, it's actually edgy, like 'You went to NYU? Well, I went to ORU.' "

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