"I'd rather have a song that peaks at No. 15 that's meaningful and embedded in the cultural framework we live in than a No. 1 song that explodes for five seconds," says the OneRepublic frontman.
Slow and steady has been the approach for all of OneRepublic's singles, ever since Timbaland's remix of "Apologize" catapulted the band to instant fame in 2007. Ryan Tedder's long-running group has now sent its single "Counting Stars" to a new Hot 100 peak (No. 6 on last week's chart), a whopping 22 weeks after it debuted on the tally in July. OneRepublic's latest hit has come at a time in which Tedder is busier than ever with other songwriting projects, which will likely keep him on the charts well into 2014.
Check out Tedder's Q&A with Billboard about the slow-rising success of "Counting Stars," making music with a message, and what we can expect from him in the next 12 months:
Billboard: "Counting Stars" will likely be the biggest global hit in the seven-year history of OneRepublic. How does that make you feel?
Tedder: It's insane. I just hung up with the head of international at our label today -- it's on pace to be bigger than "Apologize" was for us… It's uncanny because you never know which is gonna be "the one." I think as a band we've put out stuff people have connected, but it's still a bit like lightning in a bottle. You don't really know when the world decides, "I have to have this as my theme song," unless you're Max Martin or Dr. Luke.
Given "Counting Stars"' uplifting, faith-based message, it must be gratifying to be connecting with such a meaningful song.
I think it's our responsibility as a band, and what separates us from everyone else. I took that from being a fan of U2 for two decades now, since "Achtung Baby." To this day, they might be the only band on that level who sings about things other than just boy-girl troubles or the kind of selfish, "I'm a badass" stuff. I've spoken with Bono about this when we toured with him, and he said the same thing. I felt a responsibility to actually write and sing about things that have a level of human gravity to them. If everybody else sings about sex and love and lust and money, then somebody's gotta be singing about life and faith and hope and things of that nature. And in the pantheon of their esteemed career, they've had two No. 1 hits, and I think both were 25 years ago. It's not about that -- it's about what songs feel real. I'd rather have a song that peaks at No. 15 that's meaningful and embedded in the cultural framework we live in than a No. 1 song that explodes for five seconds, becomes the dance hit of the summer, then goes away.
You remain active as a songwriter for other artists, too. Who's keeping you busy right now?
I co-produced the new Fray single with Stuart Price, which has just come out, and it looks like I might have another UK No. 1 with James Blunt and his single "Bonfire Heart" soon… I've got something on the next Beyonce that could be the biggest song I've been a part of in recent memory. I can't talk about it, but I can say I did it with The-Dream. And then I've got Birdy, who I think is the artist to watch for the next three to four years. She's un-freaking-believable. And when I'm home I've been focused on Adele big time. She's just chilling for the moment, as she deserves to chill, but I'd love to do a song with [Paul] Epworth and Adele.
With so much blowing up around OneRepublic right now, how are you making time for your other projects?
I've just had a philosophical conversation with my manager because, starting in 2014, we want to cut it down and do a lot less and really only focus on the things that I really think challenge me. I've been motivated by taking on projects outside of my wheelhouse that I don't really do, like really pop or really indie like Churchill. I'll intentionally take projects where there's a snowball's chance in hell I'll have the big hit, but it's gratifying to do something that's really hard for me to do. I wanna focus on things I think I can really excel at moving forward, not wasting anybody's time. So I'm obviously focused with Adele. I also want to go in with Florence [Welch] — she and I have been talking for three years about getting together. I want to go back in with Ellie [Goulding], we just did "Burn," and I'm also talking to Ed Sheeran, talking to the Script.. And then hopefully at some point, another guy we've talked about for years and timing is Timberlake. I'm going to attempt to catch him on tour before he goes in to do another album. I think he and I could do something really, really cool. We've been friends about 10 or 11 years.
How much do you attribute OneRepublic's success to the team around you?
I can't say enough great things about Interscope and Universal Music and Laffitte Management. We share our manager with Pharrell, and as big as Pharrell has been in the last year, you would never know Ron manages anybody but us. He's the guy up at 3 in the morning stressing out, like, "Why hasn't 'Counting Stars' broken in Holland yet? Why are we only in the 40s?" I'm never confused that it's not about numbers. But I've learned with our band that if you have the song that becomes the theme song to somebody's senior year in college, or their best friend passed away and you got them through it, you've created a connection with that person for the rest of their life. And very few people get to do that. For me, that's the coolest gig in the world.