Owl City on God, Pixar and More


AdamYoungOwlCity.jpgAdam 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!

Who wrote this?

Senior Editor for PLUGGEDIN.COM. In addition to hosting the weekly "Official Plugged In Podcast," Bob also writes reviews, articles and Movie Nights discussion guides, and manages areas of this website. He has served at Focus on the Family for more than 20 years. Since 1995, Bob has penned "High Voltage," a monthly column that answers children's entertainment questions in Clubhouse magazine. He has co-authored several books, including Chart Watch, Movie Nights, Movie Nights for Teens and, most recently, The One Year Father-Daughter Devotions. Bob is also co-host of "The Official Adventures in Odyssey Podcast."

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  natinhawaii:

Umm actually katy was a christian singer, she sang under the name of Katy Hudson.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

I don't think your Katy Perry analogy holds. She left the CCM industry completely and moved to the mainstream. She never claimed to be a Christian artist, or to be making Christian music.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  monica:

Adam young is doing okay so far.  Fame hasn't gotten to his head.  I think that if he's made it this far-with Aperger's Syndrome and such, he's going to be fine.  I understand your cynicism though-especially after watching Katy Hudson, now Katy Perry where she's at now.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  tammi :

I am praying for you, Adam, so that your faith will remain strong, and that you will continue to inspire us as Christians, and also lead others to you through your great creativity that God has truly blessed you with. May the Lord continue to bless your imagination!

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Jim:

The only time a popstar should disappoint us is when we put too much hope and faith in them. The reason that it seems that they always disappoint us is because they--just like us--are human. We need to put our faith in God and pray that He gives folks like Adam the strength to stand up in adversity and peace to handle all the tough expectations that are sure to come his way. Our goal as Christians--popstars or not--should be to have God's Will be done and His glory shining, not ours or anyone else's. That's why, even having never heard one of his songs, I have even more respect for Adam than I do for some of the other "stars" on today's mainstream. He subtely reminds us where we need to redirect our focus: on Jesus.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Lioness:

I know that not every Christian is happy and not every non-Christian is unhappy; what I mean is that it's difficult for non-Christians to convey that sort of happiness through art, since it's not ultimately grounded in anything enduring or universal, or if it is, then they don't know where it comes from.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Hithwenur:

I was loving your comment right up until the last two lines... I have met very happy, cheerful, creative, confident people who do not share my faith, and I have met very confused, depressed, frustrated people (sometimes including myself) who are Christians. Making happiness the measure of faith or lack thereof seems... like a difficult to hold standard.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Lioness:

I love Owl City! I like to say that he found a way to bottle happiness and put it into music xD A lot of the songs are pretty nonsense, but somehow they manage to be happy without being annoyingly cheerful. It's kind of like fantasy music - it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it's very vivid. Personally, I think it would be very difficult for a non-Christian to make music like that. Without God, happiness is a vain and fleeting thing.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Lisbeth:

I fell in love with Owl City from the moment I first heard "Fireflies" on the radio back in 2009, as did a lot of people that I went to high school with at the time.  A few classmates of mine even went to see Adam perform that year at Austin City Limits (I think that was the venue, I'm not sure).  For me, Adam's music has always been very uplifting, emotional, and magical.  I listen to a variety of musical genres and have my music for different moods that I am in and Adam's music is one of the ones that I play when I need an emotional lift in life.  There are times in my life where things are so chaotic that I feel like I need some of that childlike wonder and magic back and Adam's music is one way I find it.  I recently heard his song "When Can I See You Again" from Wreck It Ralph and it absolutely made my day.  I felt so happy and energetic after hearing it.  Plus, it was the perfect song to end that movie.  I really hope that the song gets nominated for Best Original Song this awards season.  Adam Young has a gift and I'd love to see what more he does with it.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Josh:

Let him who is without sin throw the first stone!

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  godsgrl:

I think it's rather unfair for you to be cynical. He's human, even if he is a celebrity. In our culture, we revere celebrities, then we destroy them, and then we resurrect them to make them saints. He is not someone to be revere, destoryed or santified. He is human, and we should treat him as we would treat any other fellow believer. That means if he screws up, we should remember that Jesus died for him too and therefore he is forgiven.

However, he hasn't screwed up yet. In fact, I rather admire him as another young person who wants have a job in the entertainment industry.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Hithwenur:

I don't expect him to be perfect, but I trust him, at least to the extent that I trust many people in my church.Do "Christian" entertainers let folks down? Sure... but so have my pastors.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  The Doctor :

While I understand your doubts, If you knew much abour Adam you would know that he is not that normal type of person.

He is VERY rooted in God's word and his christianity. Proof of this comes from his personal blog. I was once reading a post on there that pertained to his thoughts on a book by well known thelogian.

Many people have claimed to follow Christian beleifs in Film/Music and end up looking like liars...to me, Adam isn't one of them though.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

I understand your cynicism; but, being a famous/successful entertainer isn't incompatible with being a Christian. Yes, history suggests that Adam has an uphill battle in the music industry, but I won't rule him out just yet. He seems like a solid guy and the fact that he's not part of the CCM industry makes his career even more interesting to watch.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Rachel:

What a fantastic interview!  Adam Young and his music have been such an inspiration and blessing to me that I can't even put it into words.  I'm so happy that he is such a bright light for Christ in this dark, dark world, and his music has inspired me to be the same. 

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Jeff:

You can call me a bit of a cynic, and I know I am, but I don't really expect much from someone who says he or she is a Christian and is in the showbiz career. We've seen it time and time again, people rise to stardom, say, even with voices of sincerity, that they are committed believers, and then they fall and fall hard. Do I hope it happens? Certainly not. Do I expect it? I certainly do. Now, I can't judge Adam Young's spiritual condition. That's between him and God. But is one pop star really any different from another? They start out well, and then they fall.