OneRepublic have never had much trouble with hitmaking. Since slingshotting into the spotlight with the Timbaland-remixed “Apologize” back in 2007, the pop rock stalwarts have unleashed a stable of insta-bops, from the slick-but-jittery “Counting Stars” to arena-sized slow jam “Secrets.” Their third record, 2013’s Native, raked in the largest sales of their career with a whopping 4.5 million copies, but the group has been relatively silent in the three years since.
Now, they return with “Wherever I Go,” a funk-punctuated blast of a track with steam kettle squeals and a come-to-Jesus hook. Frontman Ryan Tedder calls it an “appetizer” for their impending fourth effort, due out later this year. “It’s this short song and this huge burst of energy that you kind of don’t see coming. The biggest thing I’m chasing is that, ‘Wait a minute, what the f— was that?’ reaction,” Tedder tells EW. “With first singles, you’re looking for that unicorn in the woods kind of sound. Just having a hit record doesn’t really shift the needle.”
When it came to crafting a song that packed the shock value Tedder craved, he looked to a legend well versed in revolutionizing the industry. “Part of the reason I sing so high is because of Prince. When ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In the World’ came out, I was so blown away by the range that he sang on that song, so I’ve always wanted to do something that had a crazy range like a Prince record,” he says.
Tedder summoned the same expectation-bashing approach while penning the rest of OneRepublic’s latest tune, aching to crush the mold thrust upon them by their unconventional rise once and for all.
“‘Apologize’ was such a weird remix of a record. If you listen to that and [our 2008 EP] Stop and Stare back to back, they make no sense together, and because ‘Apologize’ was on somebody else’s album, we never experienced the whole benefit of our first single,” Tedder says. “The perception of the band was so skewed. It was like, ‘Oh you guys are just this silly pop whatever,’ and it was so not who we were. We almost broke up because of it…So we spent the last eight years shifting one song at a time, shifting perception, and shifting what we wanted us to be.”
The band began writing the new album while on the road for Native, spending months stuck in a dead-end loop, chasing new sounds only to scrap them. Finally, Tedder decided to step back from his work with outside artists—among his endless stream of production credits are Beyoncé’s “Halo” and Adele’s “Rumour Has It”—devoting the bulk of his time to OneRepublic.
From the way Tedder describes the resulting collection, it sounds like a percussion-heavy, global hodgepodge of a record—not quite the radio standards OneRepublic have made their trademark. The influences he cites crisscross the world, hopping from French DJs Daft Punk and Swedish dance troop Miike Snow to U.S. alt-band LCD Soundsystem.
“It’s a freaking playlist,” Tedder says. “Our success has always been very quiet. And this is the album where I think we decided to be less quiet and a lot bolder. Now that we’ve connected with all these fans all over the world, we wanted to give them something worth waiting for.”
Hear “Wherever I Go” below, and listen to OneRepublic’s hit list on Spotify.