In some ways, the genesis of OneRepublic's third album dates all the way back to 2010's Rock am Ring festival in Germany. "We were opening for Rage Against the Machine, and there were 150,000 people in the crowd; fortunately, they knew our songs and the event went as well as it could," frontman Ryan Tedder says. "But I just kept kicking myself for not having more uptempo songs in our catalog."
That lament became even more urgent when Tedder attended last year's Coachella festival, where he caught sets by Radiohead and Kasabian but was blown away by Swedish House Mafia, whom he joined onstage at one point to sing his vocal on Sebastian Ingrosso's "Calling (Lose My Mind)." Tedder recalls that he left the stage texting bandmate Brent Kutzle, saying, "Dude, I wish you were at Coachella. I know we're not an electronic act and I don't want us to be, but we have to capture this energy as a band and we have to do it immediately."
That text message helped shape the more rhythmic, adventurous songs on "Native," due March 26 on Mosley Music/Interscope. The set features the tribal-drummed first single "Feel Again" and dance-driven follow-up "If I Lose Myself," each of which boasts brisker BPMs and more stadium-ready choruses than previous OneRepublic hits like "Good Life" and "Secrets" from 2009's "Waking Up."
Tedder's newfound appreciation of EDM helped him develop an easy rapport with David Guetta during Grammy week, where they sat next to each other at Clive Davis' party. While on the phone with Billboard at Los Angeles International Airport, Tedder runs into the superstar DJ. "We're already talking about doing some stuff," he says as Guetta greets him with an "Oh, my God!" in recognition. Tedder is on the way to Dubai for a OneRepublic gig while Guetta is off to London. "I've got five more tracks and 34 hours of airplane to write," Tedder tells him.
"Native"--which features first-time collaborations with of-the-moment hitmakers like Benny Blanco and Jeff Bhasker--is preceded by a long list of high-profile synchs. "Feel Again" was written in part as a theme song for nonprofit Save the Children, which was supported by a public-service campaign last fall that brought the song more than $10 million in free media exposure.
That track and "If I Lose Myself" were tapped for January campaigns from the National Hockey League, while Major League Baseball's MLB Network will make album opener "Counting Stars" a featured opening-week synch starting April 1. ESPN has also named OneRepublic its featured artist for the month of March, and will use three songs ("Light It Up," "Life in Color," "I Lived") across ESPN-branded programming.
"The band lends itself to so many placements on this album because of the depth of the material," Interscope vice chairman Steve Berman says. "The road at radio with OneRepublic is always one that we build and build, so what we try to do is surround it with as many vehicles for exposure as we possibly can. We're dealing with an album that's so strong we can do it both ways."
Nevertheless, OneRepublic's album push coincides with a busy dance card for Tedder's songwriting duties. He's booked studio time recently for season-three winner of "The Voice" Cassadee Pope, No Doubt's upcoming album and Beyonce's fifth set, reuniting with the star singer for the first time since their 2008 smash "Halo." But he saved one of his favorite songs, the James Blake-inspired, Bhasker-produced "Can't Stop," for his day job. "I didn't think of it for OneRepublic at first, but after I started listening to a bunch of James Blake songs I realized it was kind of like that," he says. "I want to reach the people who might be listening to James Blake or Kanye [West]."
And it's hard to imagine someone else performing tracks like "Preacher," which features the band's most personal, overtly spiritual lyrics yet. "When I was a kid my grandfather was a preacher," Tedder sings on the soaring chorus. "He said God only helps those who learn to help themselves."
Not that the Colorado natives are a group of Bible thumpers, per se-at a recent photo shoot for Billboard, the longtime buddies even joked about their faith.
"'Wait, I thought you guys were inspired by gospel?'" Tedder said, impersonating a naive journalist.
"Nah, just Satan," Kutzle replied with a laugh.