Celebrating the release of his fourth album, The Midsummer Station, Minnesota’s Owl City has become a one-man band synonymous with radio-friendly, ear-pleasing synthpop that the whole family can agree on. With the monster commercial success of 2009’s “Fireflies,” vocalist, songwriter, producer, keyboardist, man-behind-the-curtain Adam Young has come a long way from experimenting in his parents’ basement during sleepless nights. Primarily a solo effort, Young and a group of equally talented live musicians took to the road at the beginning of this year to support The Midsummer Station, and are still on tour. But, that shouldn’t be a surprise from a performer who has been on the road pretty consistently since 2009, and who, before then, reliably delivered the goods online to loyal fans. With a kabillion (just shy!) YouTube views of “Fireflies,” it’s evident that Young has developed a group of followers who can’t get enough of his enduring, likeable music—a sound that is immediately recognizable as 100 percent Owl City, and 100 percent Young. In this email interview, Young answered my questions about his humble beginnings, success, collaboration with “Call Me Maybe” singer Carly Rae Jepsen and, of course, humane treatment of Photuris lucicrescens.
Social media has been responsible for launching quite a few careers. You kept in close contact with your MySpace followers and built a fanbase through social media sites. Has this interaction changed as your popularity has grown and you’ve become more successful?
My interaction with my fanbase through social media has only grown, if anything. Owl City would not be what it is today without those channels. Much in the way my career took off because people stumbled upon my music, I really enjoy putting things online and that’s why social media has been huge for me.
Figuratively speaking, you’re a long way from home. Does life in Owatonna, Minnesota seem a universe away or is home always home, never-changing?
Home is always home. The reason I love Owatonna so much is because there isn’t much to do there and it helps ground me and separate me from all that craziness.
You started dabbling with music in your parents’ basement. In what ways did that environment foster a perfect creative atmosphere for you, at that given time?
I didn’t have a ton of friends growing up and enjoyed being by myself most of the time so in a way I had the perfect environment to experiment at my leisure. I had no idea what I was doing but it went from a hobby to a passion of mine overnight.
Owl City, in the composition and studio phases, is mainly a solo effort. On tour, though, you have a band to support you. How does each approach benefit your growth as a musician?
Both have taught me how to be gracious and appreciative even when I’m having the worst day. It keeps me on my toes in different ways and I like that.
Every performer with a wildly successful song either loves it unconditionally or loves to hate it. How do you approach “Fireflies” and does it influence your new work at all?
“Fireflies” still continues to be one of my favorite songs to play. I never expected the success that song would gain but I certainly don’t look at the song as something I need to try and beat. The second I feel that way, I know I am making music for the wrong reasons.
How have you incorporated your Christian faith into the songwriting process? Do you ever think of playing that hand a bit more and taking Owl City down an overtly religious path?
My faith plays a large role in my life and as a result it affects my music and songs. However, I don’t really view Owl City as a Christian music project because it also incorporates many other elements of my life.
Depending on when you answer these questions, The Midsummer Station will either be nearing release or will be on sale. How would you describe the days prior to a release?
Hectic since I am running around doing promo and interviews but it’s definitely anticipation-filled and exciting!
Congratulations on the success of “Good Time” with Carly Rae Jepsen. How did that collaboration come about and did you draw on your success to give her some tips and pointers since she’s experiencing the same type of notice now?
Our managers just so happened to be childhood friends and so when it came to picking a female voice on the song, I was introduced to her stuff and thought it would be a great fit. The first time we met in person, however, was actually at the video shoot and she was so fun and a great spirit to be around. We definitely bonded over our mutual unexpected overnight success with our singles.
Finally, why are fireflies such amazingly cool creatures? And, in your opinion, is it cruel to capture them in Mason jars?
Fireflies are amazing because to me, on a really dark night, it’s almost as if you are standing amongst the stars. I think it is okay to capture them in Mason jars but only for a little bit. Then you have to let them go.
The Midsummer Station is available now through Universal Republic Records. Owl City will be at NYC’s Irving Plaza on Sept. 11 and Philadelphia’s Theatre Of The Living Arts on Sept. 14. For more information, go to owlcitymusic.com.