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 he has just completed another world tour.
At the moment, the one-man electronic pop/rock act known as Owl City is 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. We talked about that recently. Here are just a few excerpts from our conversation on this week’s Official Plugged In Podcast—plus moments from the interview that don’t appear on the show:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Several years ago, your song “Fireflies” went viral and made Owl City an overnight sensation. How has God been challenging you in new ways in light of all 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. 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 has 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.
If you’d like to hear more from Owl City, including how video games inspired his stage name, advice for aspiring young musician or how his music has literally saved lives, check out episode #177 of The Official Plugged In Podcast. And if your family will be pausing tomorrow to celebrate God’s goodness with a feast of turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, have a blessed Thanksgiving!