When it comes to producing and writing pop hits, Ryan Tedder has “All the Right Moves.”
But the Oklahoma native, 37, admits some of his songs’ success has caught him off-guard. In 2006, OneRepublic released a stripped-down version of their tune “Apologize” on MySpace, and it became a hit online. But it didn’t break big until the following year, when they teamed up with producer Timbaland to released a synthy version of the track.
“I didn’t think that remix was a hit,” Tedder recalls. “When I heard the remix, I was like, ‘I don’t think this is gonna work.'”
PEOPLE caught up with the musician — who with OneRepublic recently released their new album Oh My My — about his hit-making process, which of his band’s new songs he hopes tops the charts and why he thinks his songs translate better overseas.
Tedder and the British chanteuse teamed up for two tracks, co-writing and producing “Rumour Has It” on 21 (2011) then “Remedy” from 25 (2015).
“Adele is just a singular talent; she’s a unicorn amongst a sea of people that want to be unicorns,” he says of Adele. “She’s a true original, and I think part of her success lies in the fact that she sounds like nothing else on radio. Eight out of 10 records right now are dance records. The thing that every manager is scrambling around to do if they’re managing an artist is: ‘What DJ can we get you to feature on?’ She’s the answer to all of that. She’s like, ‘Watch: I’m going to read the phonebook, and you’re going to cry.'”
Additionally, Tedder says Adele’s success lies in her extraordinary vocal capabilities and relatable, human songwriting.
“When you have a voice that good, and you’re that honest and down-to-earth and you get your heart broken and you mend it back together — everybody can relate to that — she sings and writes from a human place,” he adds. “She has a once-every-couple-decades voice.”
Tedder wrote Queen Bey’s 2009 hit “Halo” before he even met her. But “I had talked to her people, and I got to know her as time moved on; I would run into her at events,” he says.
Their past hit together and that rapport they’d established secured Tedder a spot at the Hamptons writing camp where “XO,” the first single off her 2013 self-titled visual album, came together.
“She was so down to earth, walking around in Uggs, just as chill as you can be,” he recalls of writing with the Lemonade singer. “Her personality just blew my mind. She’s chill and super calming. She and Alicia Keys are very similar: They are just so peaceful. Pharrell is like that, too — they have an almost zen-like quality. It’s very, very attractive.”
Swift enlisted Tedder to collaborate on her Album of the Year Grammy Award-winning pop crossover 1989, co-writing and co-producing album opener “Welcome to New York” as well as “I Know Places.”
“Taylor is more high-energy, more intense and active, like I am,” Tedder says. “Taylor is texting you the day before: ‘Here are the lyrics, here’s a line, here’s a melody. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Let’s get in, let’s do this.’ You walk in, and she starts the moment you get in, and you’re halfway done with the song by lunch; you’re done with it by the end of the day. You’re in, out, and done with the record on the same day, which is super, super rare. Most artists are not that way. The process is different with each of them.”
The producer says he has nothing but respect for the superstar.
“She’s probably the most talented writer I’ve been in the room with,” Tedder adds. “Taylor’s constantly switching between left brain and right brain. A lot of artists I work with are very right-brain, just artistic — it’s hard for them to think any more like cerebral fashion, they’re just purely artistic right brain. Some of the most successful people you’ll find are equal left and right brain. Beyoncé is super, super artistic, but man, if you start talking business or executing ideas, she’s just as good; she’s just as smart. Same with Taylor.”
An affinity for British divas
“‘Bleeding Love’ surprised me,” Tedder says of the breakout 2007 hit he co-wrote and -produced for Leona Lewis. “That was one of the first big hits I had. In 2007, 2008, British artists weren’t really working in the U.S., it was just not a thing. I thought, ‘It’ll be a hit in the U.K.; it’ll never work in America.’ And I was wrong.”
The same thing happened with “Burn,” the 2013 hit he co-wrote for Ellie Goulding.
“I didn’t think it would do as well as it did. It felt like it might be a hit, but again, I thought that it would be a hit in the U.K.,” Tedder says. “I always have my doubts about what will work in America.”
And Tedder attributes his success across the pond and around the world to the tunes he listened to when he was young.
“I grew up listening to British music: All my favorite artists and bands were British and Irish: Doves, the Laces, U2, Cranberries, Sinead O’Connor, Blur, the Prodigy, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Genesis,” he ponders. “I had an uncle who lived in London, and he would send me import CDs all the time, so I listened to a lot of British music for being a kid living in Oklahoma. I think that by the time I became a professional songwriter, maybe that’s why a lot of the music I do favors the U.K.”
Indeed, pop radio is a complicated landscape.
“We’re the worst at picking our singles. I’ve basically told the label, my manager: ‘From now on, I’m gonna ask you, I’m gonna ask my wife, I’m gonna ask a couple good buddies of mine who have really good ears, and that’s it,'” Tedder says. “I’m not even gonna have a vote anymore because I have no idea. It is frustrating when you have a song that’s a hit everywhere else but your home country — it almost feels like a slap in the face.”
Still, Tedder is hopeful that OneRepublic’s new song “Let’s Hurt Tonight” will — knock on wood — gain some stateside traction. The track will likely become a single, and it appears in Collateral Beauty, the new drama starring an all-star cast including Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren.
OneRepublic’s Oh My My is out now; the band is expected to go on tour in 2017 to promote the record.