Adam Young talks dream collaborations, touring and why he decided to break out of his comfort zone on his latest album.
Posted in , Jul 8, 2015
Just six years ago, Owl City front man Adam Young was living in his parent’s basement questioning whether his musical talent would ever translate into more than just fiddling around in a homemade studio late at night when his insomnia kicked in. That was before “Fireflies,” Young’s hit single off of his debut album that became one of the most downloaded songs of 2009; before duets with Carly Rae Jepsen; before he played to sold out shows in places like Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.
“I didn’t have any direction in my life,” Young told Guideposts.org of those early years in his career. “Music was so new for me.”
Without any lessons or the ability to read and write music, Young began tinkering on his guitar, writing lyrics and drumming up melodies which he then honed on his computer. He uploaded a song – “Fireflies” – online, hoping a few people might appreciate it’s catchy hook and electro-pop sound.
“I had created this thing that yeah, I was proud of, but it wasn’t like ‘Oh wait until the world hears this,’” Young said of the smash that snagged him his first record deal. “The response that I got back was amazing and it kept growing and snowballing. Record labels got involved and suddenly I’d turn the radio on in my car and I’d hear myself singing.”
With overnight success came unexpected pressure. Owl City became a household name, artists wanted to collaborate, music videos needed to be made, tours needed to be planned and Young was completely unprepared.
“I didn’t know how to deal with it so I just kept everything a safe distance away from me. I didn’t jump into this idea that ‘Oh, I can be this celebrity now and I can have paparazzi chasing me.’ None of that was appealing at all in any way. It still isn’t.”
Fast forward a few years and Young is still living in his hometown, still making music in his own studio and getting ready to drop his third album, the highly anticipated Mobile Orchestra, due out July 10th. A mix of dance EDM, acoustic ballads, rock, jazz and everything in between, the new record is a marked departure for the singer in a few different ways. Preferring to create and produce solo, Orchestra sees Young breaking out of his comfort zone to collaborate with some of the industry’s biggest names. Everyone from Aloe Blacc to Hanson to country singer Jake Owen – an idol of Young’s – and Christian artist Britt Nicole is featured on the album.
“It was so much fun to bring in these amazing musicians and singers and have them feature and ultimately make what I do way better than it would’ve been,” Young said of working with some of his musical peers. “I’m a huge fan of Jake Owen and there’s a song [on the album] called ‘Back Home.’ I’m not really the kind of guy who gets star struck too much but I listen to the song now and his part comes on and I’m like ‘That’s Jake Owen! He’s on my song!’ It’s just really surreal. It was a dream come true.”
Orchestra also features Young delving into his faith.
“I definitely wanted to write in a way that pointed more directly to my faith and how important it is to me. I wanted to write a couple of songs that were really vulnerable and honest. I just imagined if I was feeling really lonely or down in the dumps, what’s the kind of song that I could really use? Something that would encourage me or lift me up a little bit. I was in that mindset. There’s a song called ‘You’re Not Alone’ and another song called ‘My Everything.’ They’re both really simple but there’s just this idea that hopefully they can be useable in terms of being encouragement for somebody else who needs to hear those messages.”
Young’s songs certainly resonate overseas. The singer has a large fan base in Asia and makes a point of touring and playing there as much as he can. It was in a city near Hong Kong about a month ago that the artist met a fan who gave him a very memorable gift.
“I did a meet and greet and this young girl comes up to me and gives me a little bag. She didn’t speak much English so I signed her CD, took a photo with her, thanked her for coming and later in my hotel room I opened the bag and there was this Bible in English and Chinese. I don’t know a great deal about what is good and bad about being a Christian in China but I’ve heard it can be oppressive and not necessarily safe so to get that gift was an amazing thing. People living their faith and staying true to who there are isn’t just an American thing, it’s alive and well and it’s happening all over the planet. For a kid from a small town in Minnesota who never goes anywhere, it was really cool to see that.”
When he isn’t touring the world or working on new music, Young likes to spend time on his own.
“When I’m home and I’m not on tour, I can go days without hanging out with anybody,” the self-described introvert said. “I have this paved driveway and the first thing I do when I get home is jump on my skateboard. Just messing around in the driveway, trying to learn tricks; it’s so not work. It’s not exercising any creative muscles; it’s not exhausting in that way. It’s a just a cool hobby.”
Still, even amidst an exhausting schedule and some of the more unwelcome pressures of fame, Young is grateful that he gets to do what he loves and share it with his fans.
“I’m just a guy who’s honest and open about what’s important to me. I feel like I’ve done so much more than I ever imagined I’d be blessed to do.”