|Adam Young never asked to be a pop star. Oh, he's not complaining. But when the shy kid from Owatonna, Minn., posted a few of his songs on MySpace for friends and family back in 2009, he didn't expect a computerized ditty called "Fireflies" to go viral. Now it's his signature song. And things have only gotten brighter. |
This one-man electronic pop/rock act, better known as Owl City, recently completed another world tour, and even had a song featured over the end credits of the animated Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph. He's also riding high from the success of "Good Time," an infectious Top-10 duet featuring "Call Me Maybe" singer Carly Rae Jepsen. You may have heard it. You also may have heard that Adam Young is a Christian committed to creating music that's upbeat and family-friendly. He discussed that and more when we spoke for The Official Plugged In Podcast.
Has being a Christian in mainstream music given you opportunities to touch lives in ways maybe you couldn't have if you'd been signed to a Christian label?
I believe so. I really do. I think there might be a crowd of folks that are a little bit more open to what I have to say in terms of spiritual things given the fact that I'm not 100 percent based in that scene. It was never something I was very intentional about, as far as where I fell in terms of category or genre. I just prayed, "God wherever You want my music to fall, wherever You want it to reach people where they're at, whatever it is I just leave that up to You." He really has opened a lot of doors in that respect. And the response from non-Christians has been very positive whenever I've spoken about spiritual things.
On your song "Galaxies" you have a line, "Dear God, you're the only north star I would follow this far." So you certainly inject faith in meaningful yet subtle ways sometimes.
I think that's an important thing. I've never set out to inject a definitive amount of that, in terms of my faith and my beliefs, but I've wanted to make sure that I never hid the fact that I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. And I think it would be a crime if I were to leave that out because it's such a part of who I am, and it's such a big reason why I do what I do. At the end of the day, I just want to make sure that I'm giving credit where credit is due and being a good reflection of where all this is coming from. I want to be a good steward of this life I've been given, because it's truly not mine.
Of all the songs you've released to date, which in its own way would you say captures your passion for the Lord best?
I have a song called "Meteor Shower" off an album I put out a couple years ago called Ocean Eyes. It's basically a worship song. We try to play it every tour, because there's something very powerful about it. It's a very simple song that says in just a few words why I'm doing what I'm doing and how dear and near to me the Lord has been over the past couple years: "I can finally see that You're right there beside me. I am not my own for I have been made new. Please don't let me go, I desperately need You." It's just a simple little melody, but there's something about that song. So yeah, I'd say "Meteor Shower."
Is it true that you get a lot of your musical inspiration from listening to movie soundtracks?
It is, yeah. It started early on. I definitely grew up with a lot of the Pixar films—Toy Story and whatnot. There are certain themes throughout these films that are so magical, given the imagery of the film and these other worlds. There are certain threads that spark these kinds of emotions and aesthetics in me, and I just think, "Wow, I've got to go create something that taps into that same emotion." And a lot of times, that's all the inspiration I really need for a given song.
Well, your music is very poetic and very visual. So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that your latest project, The Midsummer Station, has one of the coolest album covers we've seen in a long time. What inspired that artwork?
Thank you very much. I wish I could say I had this album cover all planned out for years and years. But actually, I was just online somewhere and ran across this image basically "as is." I think it was on Tumblr. And I remember thinking, "Is it real? Is it airbrushed? Is it all done in photoshop?" It kind of caught me off guard because it was so beautiful in that first glance. I remember thinking, The way I feel looking at this image is exactly the way I want people to feel when they listen to my music. So I called my manager and said, "We've gotta track down the guy who created this image to get the rights for it." We found him. He's a brilliant artist from Lithuania—very nice guy. Thankfully, it all worked out.
Beyond the eye-catching cover art, The Midsummer Station is a really fun album. Let's talk a minute about your hit duet with Carly Rae Jepsen, "Good Time." Of all the female pop singers out there, why Carly Rae, and how did that come together?
She was the one and only person on my list of folks I wanted to approach for this song. She's got a great spirit to her voice. What she does is very uplifting, fun and innocent, in that respect, of having a good time. It was very easy how it came together. I basically just sent her an email introducing myself and that I've got this great, kind of fun duet called "Good Time" that I would love to get [her] thoughts on. Then she wrote back and said, "I would love to feature on this. Ironically, I can't get into the same studio with you because our schedules are so different. But we live in an age with the Internet, so just send me the files and I'll record them and send them back." That's really a testament to technology these days that we didn't meet face-to-face until the song was finished.
Each of you took the industry by storm with a smash single, yours being "Fireflies," hers "Call Me Maybe." When you finally met to shoot the video, how did being members of that overnight-success club help you relate to one another?
It was very cool. Up until that point, I hadn't really had very many other people I could talk to about what that was like a few years ago for me. That song, "Fireflies," really took me by surprise in terms of how quickly it rose to success. The same thing has happened just this year with Carly Rae. So it was very cool, in-between shots during the music video shoot, I could kind of connect with her on that level. There was this kind of knowing glance that would pass between us.
Going back a few years, you broke through at a time when aspiring singers were all consumed with getting on reality shows like American Idol. But that's not how you got noticed. For folks who may not be familiar with your story, how does a talented young guy get discovered in Owatonna, Minnesota?
Yeah, it really is kind of a surprising story. And I even think, "Is this really me? Do they even have the right guy?" given where I grew up and whatnot. It really all comes down to the Internet and social networking. I'm from a small town. I'm an only child. And I'm a pretty reserved, shy person, so the Internet—especially MySpace at the time—was my way of being a little bit anonymous and promoting what I do without even really knowing I was promoting it, you know? I was just creating songs, putting them up on MySpace for some of my friends. I was gonna send some links around for my friends and family. And for whatever reason, people started to connect with what I'd done. And this whole fan base has started to build behind the scenes without me really even knowing it. So praise the Lord for being in the right place at the right time. It was certainly His plan.
Yeah. In its first week, "Fireflies" had an amazing 650,000 downloads on iTunes. Any advice for other young musicians who are writing music in, at least for now, relative obscurity?
I would say my biggest piece of advice is just to truly be yourself and make sure you're not giving in to the temptation to create music purely for the radio or for iTunes or whatever. So long as you have a very pure intention as far as that you want to create music that makes you feel something. I think sometimes in this industry it can get a little bit skewed as far as what's cool, what's popular and what there's a call out to do. So if your motives are pure and heartfelt from the start, I think that's what you've gotta hold onto.
In terms of the creative process, you've said that a record is never truly finished; it's abandoned. What exactly do you mean by that?
For a perfectionist such as myself, I'm always fussing around with these little ideas until the end deadline. I always see a given song or project as never really being finished because, even as the years go by and I go back and listen to older work that I've done, I always wish I could change a level on this track or retune some part. It's kind of a blessing and a curse.
When you look at the pop music landscape these days, are you noticing any interesting trends?
Yeah, it's an interesting thing to see how pop music, especially on Top-40 radio right now, is so influenced by European dance music. There's lots of these four-on-the-floor, kick-drum, club-sensibility songs. It's cool for me to hear that, because I've been a big fan of Dutch, trans-DJ music for a long time. So it's been interesting to see that transition and how that trend has influenced popular music today. It's a fun thing to try to second-guess what's going to be the next movement and try to stay on top of that.
Especially with the power of music to touch people's lives. I sense that's something we both appreciate. How have you observed or experienced that, personally?
Oh, in a lot of different ways. Almost on a nightly basis when I'm out on the road on tour, somebody will come up to me and say, "Your music has changed my life, and here's why." And it can be a whole range of reasons. There's been a handful of folks who have said that my music has actually saved their lives and been the determining factor to keep them from committing suicide. How do you even respond to that? It's such an overwhelming feeling for me to know that maybe my music has been used to save somebody's life. That's truly what it's all about. If there's ever a moment when I'm starting to get used to being in the spotlight, or I'm starting to get comfortable, or I'm starting to appreciate that just a little too much, I remind myself that's not what this is about. The fame and the fortune is not gonna last forever. Changing lives and moving hearts is really what it's all about.
As a father of a fan myself, I appreciate your desire to be true to yourself and to your calling, because your songwriting typically lands in a place that parents can feel good about. Are you pretty intentional about that?
Yeah, I've always felt the most inspired as a listener to other bands and other artists when I feel the most uplifted versus being dragged down. I guess if I did have a message that I'm trying to send into the world it's that sense of optimism and hope. So yeah, I want to leave a positive mark on this world.
Well, in interviews, you've been very comfortable talking about your faith in Jesus Christ. Can you tell us a little about your spiritual roots and how you came to know the Lord? You grew up in a Christian home, right?
Correct. My parents and I were very involved in the church, growing up, in southern Minnesota. A very small town. Pretty much whenever the doors were open, we were basically there. So I definitely spent a lot of time there, playing guitar on the worship team, which was some of my early exposure to playing music. Although, like a lot of stories, Christianity and the gospel in general didn't really quite connect and hit home with me until right after high school. I think a lot of it has to do with [the fact that] you're finally moving out on your own and making your own decisions. The world feels a little closer and more real to you, which is when the Lord used that to pull me back into focus and speak to me.
How has God been challenging you in new ways in light of the success you've experienced?
It has actually drawn me nearer to the Lord. A lot of it has to do with spiritual stamina out on the road. When you're touring six months of the year, there's lots of ways you can be dragged down or fall into temptation. He's really taught me integrity and what that means to be surrounded by the right kind of people out on the road. I've got about twelve other folks out here with me [who are] solid believers. It's a good support structure. He's just taught me how to go with the flow but stay grounded, stay in the Word, remain steadfast, run the good race. And that's what it's all about.
It's one thing for pop stars to wear a cross on stage or thank Jesus in their liner notes. It's another to eschew the trappings of celebrity and surround yourself with Bible-believing accountability partners. Adam seems to have his priorities straight. And I for one will be praying that God continues to bless his career and expand his opportunities to live for Jesus, wherever that takes him.
Published November 2012
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