Songwriter Interviews

Adam Young of Owl City

by Dan MacIntosh

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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

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Comments: 27

  • Phil from AustraliaYou're my favourite song writer by far, your pieces always take me on a mental journey that make me happy.
  • Haley Walker from FloridaOwl City fills me with nostalgia and im not sure why. i kind sort of just float away.
  • Martin from Cordoba, ArgentinaThe most colourful music ever written. And the music I love the most.
  • Chidi from NigeriaOwl city,ever since my best friend introduced me to him, has always been my favourite musician. I love everything about him (but not in the creepy stalker way). I look up to him and sometimes when I feel kinda down I just listen to his music and it cheers me right up. He's so inspirational and I feel like we are alike in a way. I feel like I get him because I dealt with insomnia too. I also love that he's a christian and is so open about it(you don't see that in popular musicians often). I love the lyrics of his songs most. My favourite quote is "if you can fly,don't stop at the sky 'cause there's footprints on the moon". Owl city,you rock! Don't ever forget that!
  • Khaysolo from Abuja, NigeriaLik seriously, ever since my friend introduced me to owl city's music, ma musical life literarily revolves round it's music, from the beats to its lyrics....#i love owl city#
  • Silas Sean Czendlik from Mangatarem Pang. Ph.look i am a big fan of you and i'd like to meet you i also want to become a singer like you and i look up to you
  • Debajit Kr Medhi from Assam, IndiaThe world is a better place and you are a part of it... I LOVE YOU
  • Sandra from Nigeria The world is beautiful,he sees it, he feels it, he says it, and each time I watch his videos or play his music, I get excited because I keep realising how beautiful the world is, and how beautiful every emotion is, how beautiful every moment is,I am always trying to make people listen to his song,he is awesome,the best and my favourite
  • Leah from Kampala , Uganda.Your Comment...Adam is just an amazing artist...big up man!
  • Brittney from Mn Adam's music just seems to shine through me. I like how he reflects on his faith a lot, it makes me like him all the more. I don't know a lot of songs, or songwriters, but Adam is definitely one of my favorite songwriters with some of my favorite songs. I love music and I want to be a singer in the future, but that's only in thanks to Adam his music.
  • Brian Justin from NairobiI really really like adam
    I'm living in my own world where everyone seem not to understand me.sometimes i find myself writing lyrics out anger or depression,it comes out great,but i lack the expertise to fake it till i make it.i like your songs very much.especially Kamikaze.i was wondering maybe if u could make another song like that.but combining the violins from on the wing and turning it into something incredible like you always do..
    And adam,am always behind you like an invisible shadow listening in to your song,and message within.
  • Angelina Sandria from Vacaville, CaI think that Adam Young is a great singer.
  • Greg Wilson from Desoto, TexasLate in life (53) I had given up on pop music having any meaning or value. Then, I found that I enjoyed a song from Wreck It Ralph and began to find more pop songs that I liked - all by Owl City. I have found songs that I can share with my two sons (10 and 13) and enjoy and find meaning. I try not to have favorites, but right now, "Fireflies" is it. I am also greatly inspired by the cover of "In Christ Alone" and Adam's duet with Britt Nicole in "You're Not Alone." Inspiring!
  • Prince Godfrey Adjugah from Delta State, Nigeria.I love Owl City with total passion and as a matter of fact it gives me joy that i and Adam Randal Young born on 1986. I can't stop playing your songs on daily bases. I wish you could come to Nigeria someday.
  • Vanesssa from Brownsville Texasi love owl city with all my heart i have never fangirled this is like the first time i love you adam
  • Aphrodite from Jakarta, Indonesia.amzing interview and such an amazing person. i too wish that someday i could write songs and sing. to put a smile on the world
  • Shanza Ayub Khan from PakistanReally inspritional interview ..we would love to know about his le struggles andis journey to reach his goal (singing ) thankyou for your time god bless everyone irrespective of colour cast or creed or religion .... Stay happy.and serve humanity..... The way adam is sharing his experiences his feelings his heart and soul with his fans ...its what i.call the real meaning of serving humanity... Thank you owl city
  • Shanza Ayub Khan from PakistanThe only thing i would like to share is that life is so full of ups and down...but yes dreams dont turn to dust...some of our dreams remains just a dream but its not the end of world ..something else is panned...and the way adam young shares his feelings his heart his souls with us through music...its really influential...and this the best example of serving humanity.....
  • Mark Cole from Dallas Texas I'm always looking for good music, that is free to express real life struggles that have been overcome by trusting in the leading of God, so I encourage you Adam keep seeking first the kingdom of God. For me meteor shower puts in perspective how true it is that we need Jesus working in us, and that we need to do his word not just hear it have a Blessed day
  • A Person That U Need No Comment from The Galaxiesi love all of adam's songs
  • Riyo David Innocent from Nigeria Owl city rocks....adam young you rock too....I love this interview. Wish I cud get to meet and work with Mr Young!
  • Adams from EnglandWow! The music is just great.
  • Emily from NarniaI love Owl City. The best thing is that he actually is completely and totally himself in his music. We really appreciate that here in Narnia.
  • Lezly from UsThis is why I love Adam Young and his musical project Owl City and his music in general. It's from the heart, what most songs lack today.
  • Daniella from New YorkThis is very helpful, since I'm starting to write songs.
  • Olivia from PennsylaviannaI've always thought that "Deer in the Headlights" was a happy song but I guess it isn't. I don't see how its sad.
  • Brooke from OhioI like how "be yourself" is the best advice he has been given for songwriting. Especially since his style of writing is all about him being himself and writing dreamy/whimsical songs and even though his music style changed in TMS, he's still being himself and writing music that he likes.

    This is one of my favorite interviews of Adam.
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