Zack Filkins of chart toppers OneRepublic chats to Alison Lee about ups and downs and some serious U2 appreciation
Although Zack Filkins studied aeronautical engineering in college, he somehow wound up as guitarist of current pop sensation OneRepublic – after enjoying a brief (harhar) stint as a male underwear model along the way. otwo asks Filkins why he forswore the chance of a stable career to the winds to chase a dream that may never have come true. “I wasn’t prepared to settle down and do a fifty-hour a week desk job,” he admits. “I didn’t study, I just played guitar.”
Although dropping out of college worked out pretty well for Zach, initially things didn’t go smoothly for fledgling OneRepublic. Filkins (along with Brent Kutzle, Drew Brown, Eddie Fisher and acclaimed songwriter Ryan Tedder) were originally signed to Columbia Records, a professional relationship that soon turned sour.
“We were just finished playing Coachella [a major American music festival], we were thinking we’re on our way, everything is gonna work, we had all these huge dreams… and on our drive back to LA we got the call from our management saying they wanted nothing to do with us,” recounts Filkins. “That was a bitter moment – it made us cautious and jaded.”
Thus when legendary pop producer Timbaland approached the group, they accepted his offer of a record deal.
“A lot of bands that are rock/alternative would not want a pop producer,” says Filkins diplomatically. “But because of everything we had been through we were open to trying something very different.”
They made the right choice – since joining forces with Timbaland, OneRepublic’s popularity has soared, with the group attaining a coveted Top 3 spot in the Billboard Hot 100 charts with the ubiquitous ‘Apologize’. But does Filkins feel the group’s musical integrity was compromised when they signed to a pop/hip-hop record label? Not at all. “No matter what rules we broke, we always have to be authentic,” he says, “it’s never contrived.”
Some may feel sceptical at this considering Tedder, the group’s songwriter, has penned club chart toppers for the likes of Beyoncé and Leona Lewis, and OneRepublic’s material is no stranger to the charts. But Filkins feels OneRepublic isn’t about manufactured pop.
“We want the music to be deeper, we want the lyrics to mean something and hopefully grab people’s attention form the inside,” he says earnestly, citing U2 as another band whose work has “…an emotional undercurrent, there’s a purpose behind the music… We really respect that and we really look up to it.”
Despite the group’s popularity, one can’t accuse them of being publicity-hungry – you won’t be seeing them on the cover of a tabloid anytime soon.
“I’m a private person,” says Filkins. “The important thing is to spend time alone to recharge, because if not you burn out, you end up in rehab or stuck in your house for a year”. He also mentions the potential dangers of Twitter and Myspace: “With all this technology you can very easily bring people into every second of your life.”
Not another stereotypical attention-seeking rock star so – and Filkins’ upbringing was equally unconventional. Although American, he spent his childhood in Spain where he studied classical guitar. So did he grow up listening to different music to the rest of his band mates?
“You know the cheesy eighties pop? I missed some of that,” he says wistfully. “But I got into U2 and Nirvana – I got dark sort of quickly.”
Another mention of U2, for whom OneRepublic will open at upcoming shows in Munich, Zurich and Vienna. They’re also stopping by Dublin to showcase their new album Waking Up, which Filkins describes as being “more up-tempo, more exciting and maybe not so brooding,” when compared to their first record Dreaming Out Loud.
“It represents more our current state of mind and where we are musically,” he says. “The first album was written mainly because we were stuck in LA and we were unhappy where we were.”
When it comes to songwriting, who rules the roost considering Ryan Tedder is the seasoned pop composer of the group?
“Lyrics we leave up to Ryan – we’re glad we do it because he’s a lyrical assassin!” laughs Zach. “Aside from that musically we all have the same input; we all put it in there.”
He is quick to reassure otwo that OneRepublic like to keep things democratic – “It’s very much a collaborative team effort. So far there’s been no fighting, kicking, punching, or screaming.”
The guys are quick to stress how they enjoyed their previous Dublin gigs: “We found some pubs and we walked around and we made sure we drove passed U2’s office so we could look at it and go “wow”!” With any luck their upcoming show should see them in just as enthusiastic a mood.
OneRepublic play the Academy on 14th April