Last summer, few people had heard of Owl City, the one-man synth band masterminded by 23-year-old Adam Young of Owatonna, Minnesota. But when his first label album, Ocean Eyes, went online on July 14, the iTunes music store chose "Fireflies" as its single of the week. The next thing Young knew, he was practically redefining the term "overnight sensation." "Fireflies" had 650,000 downloads that first week, and it wasn't long before it was the No. 1 song in the U.S. (It has been played almost 30 million times at his MySpace page.) Suddenly, everybody knew who Owl City was, and album sales skyrocketed. A star was born.
What many people don't know about the young man behind the irresistibly catchy tunes, the sweet voice, and the silly-fun lyrics ("I'd get a thousand hugs / From ten thousand lightning bugs / As they tried to teach me how to dance") is that he's a devout Christian who takes his faith as seriously as his music. We caught up with Young recently on his U.S. spring tour—via e-mail, because he's too shy to do interviews in person—where he was selling out small theaters across the country. Many of those tickets went to teenage girls, who screamed and squealed nightly as he took the stage. And they sang along. To. Every. Single. Word.
I've read that you're pretty shy, but you put on a dynamic live show. What brings you out of your shell on stage?
I quite like my shell and often prefer it over the bustle of social gatherings, wedding receptions, parties, or any large group of people for that matter. Even Christmas holidays can feel a bit "too close" for me, so it really is ironic that such a reclusive hermit like myself has landed the job of a social butterfly. I don't really have anything else to offer other than pointing out the irony that lies therein, and honestly tell you that when I step onstage in front an audience each night and begin to play, something comes over me and I don't feel a single nervous pang.
Despite being shaky and quite flustered every night before going on, performing is an incredibly comfortable process after the show has started and the wheels are in motion. Sudden notoriety has done nothing to change the shy person I was born as, and though I don't see that trait even changing, I am totally okay with it. I'm the sort of person who enjoys listening a lot more than speaking. I suppose I'm the classic definition of a lone wolf.
Your schedule looks grueling, with tours of the U.S., Asia, and Europe. And you struggle with insomnia. How do you do it?
Sleeping is a challenge for me. Exhaustion is inevitable on tour and the ability to fall asleep is much harder in a tour bus than at home, so I find myself awake most nights, which often results in sickness. The common cold is basically my best friend. I've learned to deal with it, however and I've almost grown used to the rigors of life on the road.
Universal apparently wants you to start working on your next album in May, as soon as you come off tour. Do you need time to unwind before the creative juices start flowing again?
There's nothing I love more than retiring into the comfort of my cozy little house in my hometown and letting the creative juices flow without being bothered. Being on the road is tough and also fulfilling, but I see this coming May and the job of writing and recording the next record a "vacation" of sorts. I'm excited to get to work.
What's the source of your creativity?
Faith and imagination. Faith is the reason I do what I do, imagination is the fuel that keeps the creativity flowing. The Lord Jesus Christ is my reason for creating and I have nothing but thanks and gratitude toward him for being allowed to do what I do, and ultimately, seize my wildest dreams as if they were just there waiting for me.
When did you become a Christian?
I grew up in a Christian home, with the most wonderful parents a kid could ever ask for. I came to know the Lord in middle school after hearing a testimony at church. From then on, I've just wanted to serve Christ in every way I know how, music being the only thing I've ever considered myself any "good" at. I guess my whole message or goal of this whole operation is to bring glory to Jesus Christ by all that I do and say, not just as it relates to Owl City, but in all areas of my life.
Do you want to be thought of as a "Christian musician"?
It's up to you, honestly. It's not my place say what people should think of me as. Actions should speak for that. I follow Jesus Christ wholeheartedly, so any definition that arises from that fact is all right with me. The same goes for Owl City. I am a Christian in a band. Is it a Christian band then? That's up to those who ask that question.
Who are you writing for? Yourself? God? Listeners?
I started writing for myself, wanting to create the kind of music I always wished I could walk into a record store and find on a shelf. That's still what I aim to do, while intending to pay respect and give thanks to the One who has allowed me such talents/privileges along the way.
Tell me about your friendship with Relient K and Matt Thiessen, who shows up quite a bit on your Ocean Eyes album?
Matt was someone I'd always admired growing up, so when I got a chance to send him a few tunes and possibly catch his opinion on them, I was pleasantly surprised when it worked out so that we hung out, did some writing, and ultimately became good friends.
You were a bit wary of signing with a record company. Why did you decide to sign rather than stay indie?
Since the fact that people are somewhere out there listening to an artist's music and appreciating it is absolutely priceless, I answered the question: "Will signing to a major record company allow me to spread my music over a wider range than could ever be done as an independent artist?" with a simple "Yes." That's why I ultimately signed.
Did you set out to write music to appeal to teen girls, or is that just how it turned out?
Haha, I'm afraid I didn't really pay attention. I just write the music I would like to hear as a listener myself, so needless to say I was pretty shocked when teen girls connected with my music so well. Somehow I feel it's a bit too "random" for that age demographic. But I'm certainly not complaining!
The term "overnight sensation" is overused, but it really does describe your journey. What's been the best part of this wild ride so far?
I walked on the Great Wall of China. That was incredible. I think the best part of this whole thing is waking up every day knowing that I don't have to put on my boots and drive to work. I couldn't be more thankful for the chance to do what I love and making a living off of it on the side.
Photos by Pamela Littky
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