Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube might be the denizens of the digital age, but MySpace is still good for one thing: creating frenzied online buzz and rabid fan bases for kids making music in their parents’ basements. Meet Adam Young from Owatonna, Minn., better known as Owl City, the one-man electro-synth, indie-pop sensation who made his major label debut in 2009 with the 12-song Ocean Eyes (Universal). New fans went nuts for the hit track “Fireflies.”
Even though Young’s just starting out, he’s already stirred plenty of controversy, with a sound that owes a major debt to the Postal Service and the strong Christian influence that pervades his sweetly hopeful songs.
In keeping with Young’s internet inclinations, City Paper recently conversed with him about touring, faith, and frozen pizza.
City Paper: Are you still reeling from the rather sudden journey from making music in your parents’ basement to selling out shows all over the world?
Adam Young: It’s all still pretty surreal. The best part has been seeing all the new places I’ve never seen before. Having never seen the ocean before beginning to tour last year … and getting to travel to Japan and China was pretty incredible.
CP: When did you compose your first piece of digital music? What inspired it?
AY: A few years ago, I started making music partly out of boredom, partly for fun, and partly because I once began making a hummus sandwich and realized there wasn’t any Swiss cheese in the fridge. I was furious, so I wrote a song called “Hello Seattle.”
CP: Does your faith inspire you, and if so, in what way?
AY: My faith is a big part of who I am and is the reason I do what I do.
CP: From what I’ve read, your life was a bit more sheltered before, and now you’re traveling all over, dealing with a diverse fan base and diverse group of peers in the music industry. How have those experiences changed you?
AY: I don’t think I’ve changed much, but it does make me smile when I go to the grocery store and buy the more expensive brand of frozen pizza.
CP: What kind of connection were you hoping to make when you put your music online?
AY: I write and record music just for fun. There was never a goal for getting attention; it was merely something I started doing to keep me busy. It makes me smile to know people are willing to listen.
CP: What do you think of the connection between technology and humanity? Does technology get in the way of people building relationships, or can it help foster relationships?
AY: I think it can go both ways. I think the internet has been a way out for a lot of kids — me included. It allows us to avoid awkward situations, life scenarios, etc. … things our parents had to stand up and face. It makes me sad how the internet has, in some respects, stolen a lot of imagination and creativity from kids growing up today. At the same time, things like Facebook can be wonderful things, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without MySpace. The internet has certainly been a wonderful thing for Owl City, and I’m certain the band wouldn’t be nearly as successful without it.
CP: Who are some of your biggest influences musically?
AY: Mostly instrumental ambient music, oddly enough. I don’t listen to much music with lyrics, so a lot of different things come into play when it comes to influence. I really connect with certain moods that I discover in film soundtracks. My two biggest musical influences are Jonathan Ford from Unwed Sailor and composer Thomas Newman.
CP: I can imagine you’re probably sick of comparisons to the Postal Service, but have you met those guys before? Do you know what they think of your stuff?
AY: I haven’t met anyone from The Postal Service, but a lot of people liken Owl City to them. While that was never the intention or the initial concept of the project, I’m totally honored.
CP: Have you been invited to collaborate with other musicians?
AY: I worked with Matt Thiessen from Relient K last year. Matt and I have become great friends working together, and I’m honored to have had the chance to collaborate with one of my favorite artists.
CP: What direction has your writing taken since you’ve started touring and the scope of your influences has changed?
AY: I’ve just learned a lot more this past year, and just like anything, the more you work at something, put your heart and soul into it, the better you get at it. I’m already excited to get to work on the next record.