Owl City's Adam Young Staying Grounded
Best known as the artist behind the one-man band Owl City, a mere five years ago, Adam Young was just a shy, soft-spoken 21-year-old guy, making music in the basement of his parent’s home in Owatonna, Minnesota. He might have stayed there had he not posted his contagious electro-pop tunes on MySpace and other social networking portals, instantly catapulting the singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist into the spotlight and forever changing the course of his life in a matter of months.
A major record deal with Universal Republic came first, followed by Owl City’s 2009 national debut Ocean Eyes, which moved more than a million copies thanks in part to the Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper “Fireflies.” A sold-out tour soon followed, both as a solo headliner and opening for John Mayer and Maroon 5, while additional attention came from soundtrack slots for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and the remake of 90210.
“It’s certainly been a roller coaster,” says Young, “but for me, I have two areas of my life: one of them is at home and one of them is on the road. At home, life is very much like it’s always been. I’m still surrounded by the same people that I feel like keep me very grounded and I have that sort of security net. If ever I’m feeling bummed out or worn down or whatever, I have friends and family, who’ve always been there and been my refuge. On the other hand, when I’m on the road things are so different. I had never toured before this whole career laid its path out for me, so it’s certainly been a crazy thing. I’m playing Madison Square Garden one year and the next year I’m supporting John Mayer and there’s all these different things going on that I can’t even figure out what they mean! So yeah, having that home life helps me escape from the noise and temptations of the industry. I really need that to stay pure and to stay grounded.”
Even though he’s just a few years into a burgeoning career, Young seems to have his personal and professional rhythm down pat, maintaining those aforementioned relationships, while continuing a feverish recording and touring pace. After dropping 2011’s sophomore album All Things Bright and Beautiful, he quickly followed up with this year’s Shooting Star EP, which marked the precursor to the new long player The Midsummer Station, yet another sure fire collection to ensure Owl City’s momentum rolls right along.
“This full-length is a bit of a departure from a sound and I wanted to give people the heads up for that,” explains Young. “Sometimes when my favorite bands take a left turn and they don’t tell anybody, you’re kind of left to piece it all together and figure it out for yourself, whether you like it or don’t. I wanted to say ‘here’s where my mind’s going.’ This is not the record label putting pressure on me to write songs that sound more commercial. This isn’t from anyone else except me. It’s still very much 'me,' but it’s a little different and it might take some people some time to get used to and kind of warm up to it.”
Tag-teaming with famous faces
Though Owl City’s insanely catchy ethos remains at an all-time high, the project takes an increasingly noticeable Top-40 feel, dabbling in everything from four-on-the-floor dance beats to pop/punk to straight up commercial confections. All the while, Young stays committed to uplifting lyrics that are the most overtly personal of his three records thus far. “Silhouette” is an encouraging anthem of affirmation for anyone who’s ever questioned a past decision, “Shooting Star” is hands-down the album’s seize-the-day song (with some co-writing help from Relient K’s Matt Thiessen), while “Dementia” is an explosive ode to moving on (featuring blink-182’s Mark Hoppus as a duet partner).
“Up until now I hadn’t really collaborated with anybody,” he shares. “I’d sort of done it all on my own, which is a big job for one guy. While it’s very exciting and very inspiring to have kind of the final say and have that broad scope of creative insight, there’s something really valuable about having people in the same room and working out the same problems and the same equation.”
Young continues: “I definitely grew up listening to Relient K and have always looked up to Matt. I bought all their records, and when I bought my first guitar, I started learning their songs! Who would’ve thought that years later I would get to become friends with him and do all this collaborating, to the point where he can kind of finish my sentences for me in that creative way. I feel so lucky to know him! I feel the same way about blink-182 and Mark was gracious enough to fly from London to New York to record ‘Dementia.’ Again I feel like I’ve known Mark forever because I’m such a fan of his music and know the tone of his voice so well, from inflection to the way he pronounces words. And he’s very much like I thought he would be – just very down-to-earth, grounded, sweet and an all-around awesome guy.”
Though there’s certainly tons of anticipation building for those tunes, the new album’s skyrocket single is surely “Good Time,” which finds Young swapping vocals with pop princess Carly Rae Jepsen (of “Call Me Maybe” fame). Believe it or not, that relative newcomer was just gaining ground at the time the track was initially recorded, though she was already familiar with Owl City after attending a couple of concerts.
“Last February or March before ‘Call Me Maybe’ had gone to number-one everywhere, I was looking for a female lead to sing on ‘Good Time’ and my manager popped in and said he grew up with a mutual manager friend that works with Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen. He said ‘she’s kind of brand new and she’s your age. Check out her music, see what you think, and if you like her, just send her an email.’ So I basically did just that! I love her music and I love the spirit she embraces. I said ‘hey, do you want to sing on this track?’ and she said ‘yeah, I’m a fan of what you do. Send it over and I’ll send it back.’ We were done before we knew it! We actually sat down and met on the music video shoot and got to talk a lot about sharing the same kind of story. It was cool to connect with her in that way because there’s no one else I know that I can really talk to and somebody who understands that kind of rise to success in a way that was never anticipated. She never expected this to happen the same way that I never did, so it was really cool to connect with her on that.”
Faith comes first
Aside from a strong network of supporters back home, Young credits an unashamed Christian faith as the primary force that’s helped him steer clear of fame’s typical pitfalls.
“It definitely goes back to having those folks that really surround me and support me, regardless of my scenario,” he asserts. “But I think having this amount of success that I certainly never planned on has very much drawn me closer to God. I firmly believe that and it’s been an amazing thing to be called to this career. I feel so undeserving and I feel like ‘why me of all people?’ I feel so lucky to be able to do the one thing I’ve always been passionate about, so yeah, it’s so much about staying humble and about not forgetting where all of these blessings have come from because He gives and He takes away. Regardless of what happens, I’m just thankful for where I’m at right now."
Copyright 2012, watchgmctv.com. For permission to repost or reprint, click here.
About the Writer
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, IllinoisEntertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).
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