OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder on changing his tune, visiting Ravi's and avoiding pop song 'desperation'

The band returns to the Dubai Jazz Festival this year with a new approach to their craft

Mandatory Credit: Photo by IBL / Rex Features (2215626b)
the band One Republic
One Republic, Stockholm, Sweden - 14 Mar 2013

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If you are a diehard OneRepublic fan in the UAE, here's a tip: when the band returns to headline Dubai Jazz Festival on Friday, try to spend a couple of days before and after the show hanging out at Ravi's in the morning.

As well as the great egg parathas and sublime chai karak (milky tea) on offer, the Satwa culinary institution is a favourite stop of OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, who is known to have made breakfast stops at the low-key Pakistani restaurant during the band's UAE visits in the past six years.

Last November, when the band performed at the Dubai Airshow Gala, Tedder even posted an image of himself in front of Ravi's restaurant on Instagram. While the attached review may have lacked the lyrical flair of the band's hit songs, it remains effective and poster ready: "It's a 10. Get it. Food is good when u eat it."

While Ravi's will be gearing up for another visit from their celebrity admirers this weekend, OneRepublic fans will gather once again at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, when the band will headline the Dubai Jazz Festival for the second time. It may have been about seven years since their previous appearance, but in both instances, their Dubai gig has come amid a musical sea change for the five-piece.

In 2013, they performed one month before releasing their third and most successful album, Native. It remains a memorable piece of work that resulted in the band being taken more seriously, with their songs moving away from sheer pop melodies to explore denser and emotional soundscapes.

This time around, Tedder and co return to the UAE with the music industry going digital – perhaps exemplified by Spotify Middle East's headquarters, a stone's throw from Dubai Media City Amphitheatre.

Not that Tedder minds, as one of the most successful songwriters of his generation (as well as writing all the hits for OneRepublic, he also wrote Adele's Rumour Has It and Beyonce's Halo, among others). He believes the new digital landscape is tailor-made for tunesmiths such as themselves.

"It is more direct now in that I can write a song and drop it immediately and can get immediate feedback," he says. "And if something doesn't work, that is fine and you can always drop another song. The point is that it keeps you working on bettering your craft."

It is this mindset that makes OneRepublic perfectly suited to the streaming era.

Ever since breaking on to the scene in 2007, the band has amassed a catalogue of hits across various genres, including RnB, pop and rock.

And with music now being listened to predominantly online, OneRepublic are sitting pretty with a bunch of their tracks populating dozens of various genre and mood-specific playlists. A quick scan on Spotify finds the US group with songs on more than 100 playlists including Heart Break Hits (their breakout 2007 single Apologise), Uplifting Pop (the ebullient 2009 hit Good Life), Drive Home (2013's marching What You Wanted) and Rainy Days Mood, which has the suitably dreary 2009 track Secrets.

While happy with the streaming income, Tedder says what the new music ecosystem offers bands today is the luxury of time.

Bands are no longer tied to the static formula of physical album sales, he says, in which it required more than a year to promote and release a major new album. Dropping a new project now is much more immediate.

“That was the thing that drove me crazy and we were following that model really until 2017,” he recalls.

"What would happen is that we would be locked into a timeline with the next two years mapped out already. The problem with that is by the time the actual songs come out, they could be old and the music world would have shifted so much by then. Now you can drop a song online at any time and play it by ear."

This is essentially how the group have been operating over the past 12 months.

While fans have been waiting almost four years for the follow-up to 2016's successful Oh My My, the band have been workshopping the new album – tentatively titled Human and set for release this year – in public by releasing a pile of singles over the past few months, including Rescue Me, Somebody to Love and Wanted.

Working under these new conditions, Tedder says, allows the band to regularly satiate their fan base, while using their response to gauge the veracity of their new direction.

When it comes to the latest tunes to be performed on Friday, OneRepublic are not totally abandoning their radio-friendly formula. However, there is an attempt to shake things up a bit. A lot of that is found in the overall darker tone of the songs, which offsets the slickness of the arrangements.

“We have been playing with mood a lot,” Tedder says. “And you know, pop music has changed a lot over the years, so we can’t be doing upbeat, four in the floor, songs 12 years into our career and on our fifth album.

“I have been writing songs for all these years and covering a lot of territory. So I am at a point now where I am creatively asking myself, ‘What have I not said yet?’ That way it keeps it being interesting to me.”

Such constant questioning also acts as a handy safeguard against laziness for the band. It is that aspect, Tedder says, that can ultimately sink a good song.

“When you are trying to squeeze out a pop hit, people can hear that desperation from a mile away,” he says. “And every artist, if you stay around long enough, you can end up in that zone and you have to work hard to stay away from it. It’s about staying genuine and not just grabbing low-hanging fruit.”

Dubai Jazz Festival runs from Wednesday to Friday, February 26 to February 28, at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre; prices begin from Dh350 for a single day ticket and Dh850 for a three-day festival pass;