Aspen Times Weekly: All for OneRepublic
If you go ...
Friday, Aug. 29
5:30 p.m.: Ziggy Marley
7:30 p.m.: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Saturday, Aug. 30
3 p.m.: Moon Taxi
5 p.m.: Earth, Wind & Fire
7:30 p.m.: OneRepublic
Sunday, Aug. 31
3 p.m.: The Revivalists
5 p.m.: Nickel Creek
7:30 p.m.: Carrie Underwood
Fans who see OneRepublic this summer — including a stop at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass this weekend — can expect a concert experience that’s considerably bigger and bolder than the group’s earlier shows.
With its 2013 release “Native” (the group’s third studio album) having given the group a multi-format No. 1 pop single in “Counting Stars” a nd a second single, “Feel Again,” which went Top 10 on “Billboard” magazine’s Adult Top 40 chart, OneRepublic was ready to bring a show that matched the large venues it can now headline.
“The show has definitely changed quite a bit since we released ‘Native,’” guitarist Zach Filkins said in phone interview. “We’ve played so many shows where it was just us on stage and a few lights and maybe a backdrop. We got really tired of that…We decided to spend all of our money and then some to bring out lights and video screens, different things like that to kind of introduce while the show progresses. We loved it. And I think the crowds really loved it and the whole experience was definitely eye opening for us.”
Another thing that figures to be different about OneRepublic’s concerts is the energy level of the music.
The first two OneRepublic albums, “Dreaming Out Loud” (2007) and “Waking Up” (2009), were weighted toward ballads and mid-tempo material. “Native” includes a few such songs (“What You Wanted” and “Au Revoir”), but it’s more defined by its peppier tunes like “Counting Stars,” “Feel Again” and “Light It Up,” which have given the group’s concerts a more upbeat dimension.
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The more uptempo character of “Native,” which was recently re-released in a deluxe “repack” edition that includes the group’s latest single, “Love Runs Out” (currently Top 5 on “Billboard’s” Adult Pop chart), didn’t happen by accident.
“We do a certain thing, and then inevitably, we kind of get a little bit bored with it or we think ‘Well, now we need this’ or ‘Now we need the opposite of that’ or ‘We need a little more of what we don’t have,’” Filkins said. “I think looking back on the songs that we had and how our live shows were, I think we were kind of struck by the fact that we were lacking in a little bit more uptempo (material). I think it’s also just kind of the musical climate right now. I don’t think people want to hear slow, brooding songs that much.”
In whatever musical setting OneRepublic has pursued, the group has obviously done well at connecting with pop radio and its fans. This makes sense considering the band is fronted by Ryan Tedder, who in addition to his role as lead songwriter in OneRepublic, has become one of music’s most in-demand writer/producers for other artists.
His resume reads like a who’s who of the Top 40 charts over the past half-decade. He’s written or co-written hit songs for Adele (“Rumour Has It”), Leona Lewis (“Bleeding Love”), Beyonce (“Halo”), Jennifer Lopez (“Do It Well”), Kelly Clarkson (“Already Gone”), Big Time Rush (“Music Sounds Better With U”) and Gavin DeGraw (“Not Over You”), to name a few.
The connection between Tedder and Filkins, though, pre-dates Tedder’s time as a pop hitmaker. The two met in 1996 while students at Colorado Springs Christian High School, developing a strong enough musical and personal bond to stay in touch as they went to different colleges and Filkens moved to Chicago, where he did some modeling.
Still, the idea of forming a band together remained in the forefront. And in 2003, after Tedder started making inroads with his songwriting and producing, he contacted Filkins about moving to Los Angeles to start OneRepublic.
“We knew that at some point we wanted to try this thing, but we didn’t want to just to move out there blind and try to figure out what to do,” Filkins said. “When he called, I knew that he had some good momentum going and he’d been working on songwriting.”
The pair started writing songs and soon got signed by Columbia Records. That’s when things took a turn for the worse. After working on a debut album targeted for release in summer 2006, the label dropped OneRepublic (according to a Los Angeles Times article, Columbia didn’t like the look of the group’s original drummer and insisted that he be fired — a move the group refused to make).
Filkins said at that point the group, which had settled into a lineup that also included bassist Brent Kutzle, guitarist/keyboardist Drew Brown and drummer Eddie Fisher, thought its career might be over before it really started.
But the group decided to start posting songs on a MySpace website, and quickly, the band’s music started generating hits.
“MySpace gave us our last chance, and I really think it was our last chance,” Filkins said. “I don’t think any of us really had it in us to keep trying over and over again. MySpace was really the last-ditch effort to make something of it. And right when we were at our lowest, MySpace reacting was the only positive thing within the context of OneRepublic.
“I mean, all of the shows we were playing in L.A., the crowds were dwindling,” he said. “We were playing the same venues over and over again. And the only thing that was growing was this sense on MySpace that we had something that people wanted. It’s really a strange paradox to play a show at a venue you’ve played four times already for 20 people, five of which are people you don’t know. The rest are all friends trying to help support you. Then you go home and you get on the computer and you see that people all over the world are writing personal messages to you and you’re getting more and more plays on all of your music. It’s kind of like wow, if MySpace was a venue, we’d be selling out tickets. But for some reason in L.A. we’re not doing anything.”
The plays on MySpace kept on coming as the band promoted itself on the website, eventually topping 20 million. That drew the interest of several labels, including Mosely Music Group, the imprint owned by Timbaland.
The hip-hop star particularly liked the song “Apologize.” Timbaland remixed it, released it as a single off of his “Aftershock” album and watched “Apologize” (which was also featured on OneRepublic’s “Dreaming Out Loud” album) go to No. 1 at adult pop radio.
Things have been rolling ever since, both for OneRepublic and for Tedder’s own career as a songwriter/producer.
With “Native,” OneRepublic continued to craft songs with big, melodic choruses and smooth and soulful vocals (from Tedder) that will be familiar to fans of the first two albums. But in addition to writing more uptempo tunes, the group also shifted its sound away from guitars to create a different instrumental mix.
“I think we got really into kind of like strings and pads and keyboards and all those instruments that kind of bring about this behind-the-scenes kind of feeling,” Filkins said.
The different instrumental mix prompted OneRepublic to add a keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist to its touring lineup. That has allowed the group to make songs from “Native” (as well as the first two CDs) translate well to the concert stage.
“There’s a depth to the third album and a maturity that I really appreciate about it,” Filkins said. “In conjunction with some of the production and lighting that we’re doing, I think the songs are definitely working really well.”
Alan Sculley writes for Last Word Features. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Aspen Filmfest program, which opens Tuesday night with the Jessica Chastain-led drama “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” is a tribute to the founder, Ellen Kohner Hunt. The festival will also recognize the memory of Hunt with “Ellenfest” on Thursday.