Owl City, the name under which synth pop singer/songwriter Adam Young performs, broke out to the mainstream big time with the single "Fireflies" in 2010. "Fireflies" is a frothy pop hit. However, Young is more than just a frothy singer/songwriter. He worked with rapper Shawn Chrystopher on "Alligator Sky," for instance, which reveals his deep and sincere respect for hip-hop music. He also draws upon his Christian faith and his fascination with the space program for lyrical inspiration. Heck, he even has a healthy sense of humor, best exemplified by "Rugs from Me to You," among other songs.
Young is a skilled songwriter, which means he is about more than just creating beats and rhymes. This makes Owl City's lone resident one intriguing citizen, indeed.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): My favorite song of yours is "Hospital Flowers." Is it based on a real experience? Were you really in a severe accident? Also, why does it take such disasters to make humans appreciate what they have?
Adam Young: I had a friend who was in an accident and I watched his recovery change his outlook on life. I feel like we could all use a disaster here and there to wake us up.
Songfacts: All Things Bright and Beautiful is taken from a book title. Have any other specific books inspired songs, and if so, which books for which songs?
Young: It was actually inspired by the Anglican hymn. I grew up singing it and wanted to pay my respect to it.
Songfacts: Whatever became of the relationship described in "Deer in the Headlights"?
Young: It was a huge bummer and it ended up ruining both lives that were involved. One of those "never make the same mistake twice" kind of things. It's funny how people think of it as a happy song but it's really completely depressing.
Songfacts: Regarding "Angels," have you ever had what you believe was an encounter with an angel, and do you believe they're truly "out there"?
Young: I've never had a Lifetime movie encounter with an angel but I definitely do believe they exist and I wanted to write a song to touch on that belief.
Songfacts: Tell me what Relient K's Matt Thiessen contributed to "Fireflies." If this turns out to be the signature song of your career, are you happy with that? Do you think it represents you well? Also, you two (you and Matt) seem to have similar voices/vocal styles. Is this intentional/coincidental? Please explain this unique vocal likeness.
Young: Matt and I worked on "Fireflies" and he sort of co-produced it with me. He has a brilliant mind and that guy should have way more credit to his name than he's been given over the years. I don't really care if people only know me for "Fireflies," I just do my own thing. It's funny how Matt and I sound really similar, sometimes I can't even tell us apart when he's singing harmony on the record. He's an amazing guy and I'm lucky to know him.
Songfacts: Some would suggest that Christians don't live in the real world, so why name a song "The Real World" and include a line like, "Reality is a lovely place but I wouldn't want to live there"? Aren't you just asking for trouble with it?
Young: Trouble isn't my forte but I like to stay off the radar and do my own thing to keep myself happy. That's what I've always done and the song isn't really meant to be taken literally. It's just a fun song with a quip in it. I like the idea of staying in my own reality and coming out only when I need to.
Songfacts: "Dreams Don't Turn to Dust" plays off of a A Tribe Called Quest track; what is it that you like about that particular act?
Young: I like the programming angle of hip hop. I like what the producer's role is, or at least used to be regarding hip hop… the guy who makes beats. That's totally me. I grew up listening to Tribe and I had to pay dues to their influence on my music.
Songfacts: With regard to "Hello Seattle," what was it about that city that lived up to you expectations, and in what way was it a letdown?
Young: It really wasn't anything like the place in my head, it was just different. It totally wasn't better or worse, it was just way different. The gum wall and the coffee were just a bonus.
Songfacts: "Galaxies" and "January 28, 1986" each reference space and/or space travel. Have you always been fascinated by space? Also, what's your favorite space fun fact?
Young: Space has always been inspiring to me and I've always liked reading about it because we know so little about it. I like the great unknowns, the unexplored - that stuff has always been fun to think about. I was bummed when Pluto got crossed off the cool planet list.
Songfacts: Why do you think "Meteor Shower" sums up your faith so well?
Young: It's simple but it's profound. There's not a lot to say about it, but what is said is really heavy.
Songfacts: You've said that "Rugs from Me to You" is a silly song. Is it tough to write fun songs? Explain the pressure, if there is any, in always trying to say something significant and important through your songs.
Young: I don't really feel pressure to write songs. I just write them and they turn out the way they do, either for better or worse.
Songfacts: You said, "I tend not to be the most eloquent guy when I'm around pretty girls, and it's sort of a comment on that," when asked about "The Yacht Club." What are some of the least eloquent things you've said in the presence of girls?
Young: I never know how to begin a conversation so nothing gets said at all and we just walk away. That's pretty ineloquent.
Songfacts: What's been the hardest song for you to write?
Young: They're all in the same ballpark.
Songfacts: Do you write songs all the time, or do you need a deadline?
Young: I just write without restriction and save the ones I like the most for whenever I need to turn them in.
Songfacts: What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given about songwriting?
Young: Be yourself.
Songfacts: What are a few songs that you like so much, you wish you would have written them yourself?
Young: "No Scrubs" by TLC.
Songfacts: Lastly, what's the one question you've always wished a journalist would have asked? With that said, please ask the question and answer it here.
Young: Unfortunately they've asked it all and more.
June 6, 2012
For more Owl City, Adam's website is owlcitymusic.com