Owl City Interview – Flying HighPosted February 9th, 2010 At 10:41 am By MTV ASIA
Text and Interview: Madeleine Chong
Perhaps the most revealing insight into the nature of Adam Young (who records under the moniker Owl City) comes from a line in “Dental Care”, a track taken off his major label debut album, Ocean Eyes (2009). “I’d rather pick flowers, instead of fights,” he sings over a bouncy, upbeat melody. And that pretty much sets the tone for Owl City’s sound – a pure slab of dreamy electro-pop, slathered with an extra helping of rainbow sprinkles.
From tinkering around in his basement to skyrocketing up to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts with single “Fireflies,” self-professed shy guy Adam’s lyrically-constructed dreamscapes and twinkly tunes have been extremely well-received among mainstream audiences.
Ocean Eyes has gone gold in U.S. and will be released in U.K. on February 22. “Fireflies” has made its rounds on international radio and the accompanying music video, when first released, was voted #1 by you guys on our MTV Asia Chart Attack segment. It’s been on the charts for 14 weeks now, and shows no signs of dropping off.
Fantasy and whimsy must clearly be Adam’s forte – “The Technicolor Phase,” a track from his 2008 album Maybe I’m Dreaming – will be featured in Almost Alice, the upcoming companion soundtrack to Tim Burton’s remake of Alice In Wonderland.
With sold-out live gigs across the US, Asia, and more touring on the cards, it’s a far cry from loading trucks in warehouses for Coca-Cola and working the graveyard shift for UPS, all of which Adam has done before. Adam takes time out from daydreaming about beaches, fireflies and hot air balloons to speak with MTV Asia via email on snowy owls, “XXL” gym shorts, and the ocean deep.
You refer to your backing band and yourself as Owl City after your hometown, Owatonna. Is it in acknowledgement of how the city has shaped who you are and how you think?
Yes, Owatonna is widely known for its population of snowy owls in southern Minnesota, thus the band name only made sense having lived and grown up here. From a music standpoint, growing up in a town of this atmosphere has really preserved an innocence that I wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere.
You’re a reclusive sort, and living proof that you don’t need to be an extrovert to make music – do you think you could’ve had this sort of success without the help of the internet?
No way. The viral aspect of social networking sites and things like Youtube are irreplaceable. These (sites) allow artists to reach fans in an incredibly grassroots way. I owe it to the World Wide Web of the Internet.
I’ve read in previous interviews that you’ve had it tough early on, with mostly menial jobs and monotony in your life – how do you keep your music sounding dreamy and optimistic?
The monotony of those jobs is the reason behind why the music itself is so optimistic and dreamy. Being “stuck” in the routine of loading trucks provided an endless amount of time to daydream, imagine, and explore.
On hindsight, did you ever think you’d be as big as you are now?
No. My end goal still remains the same as it was initially, that being to keep creating for all who care to listen.
How have things changed for you since the meteoric success of “Fireflies”?
Not much has changed, although I am now able to afford more pairs of “XXL” gymshorts to sit at home in while watching reruns of Webster and eating epic amounts of Cheetos.
I understand that the inspiration behind the music video for “Fireflies” is your basement studio (the cave). What did your parents think about you recording songs in their basement back then?
My parents were incredibly supportive but were a bit sceptical of what this all could lead to. During the winter months in Minnesota, I had to unplug the furnace while recording so as not to make too much noise. Needless to say, my father was none too pleased when he got up to take a shower for work in the mornings.
Is an official music video for single “Vanilla Twilight” in the works, and if so, what can fans expect?
Vanilla ice-cream. Chocolate sauce. Sprinkles. Yum.
You’ve mentioned on your Twitter that you found high school speech class terrifying – when you go up on stage to perform in front of your fans, do you get nervous? What runs through your mind during these shows?
I still get the occasional pang of butterflies before taking the stage, but it has definitely become easier to embrace the idea of becoming a performer, and each show continues to become more comfortable.
Your songs sound deeply personal, and come across as private insights into someone’s life. Who do you sing for?
I sing with the idea of imagining myself as the audience, and that provides a lot more outlets for me to explore with writing – from an outside perspective.
You’ve recently toured Asia (China, Japan and Hong Kong). Any particular sights that were memorable?
I was really looking forward to seeing the Great Wall, tasting real Chinese and Japanese cuisine, and drinking endless cups of tea until my bladder couldn’t take it anymore.
What are your tour essentials?
My band, instruments, clothes, my toothbrush, a bottle of strawberry milk, Andy Frost, and photos of Shaquille O’ Neil.
On your MySpace page, you’ve written that you prefer daydreams over reality. What’s the strangest daydream you’ve ever had, and will you write a song about it one day?
I daydream a lot about the deepest place in the ocean called “Challenger Deep” in the Mariana Trench. So who knows what kind of a song that might turn into?
What’s one thing you wish people would ask you, but they never do?
How did you learn to play the oboe?