Interview with Adam Young from Owl City: Life Is Beautiful

Owl City’s Adam Young is back in June 2011 with his third studio album, All Things Bright And Beautiful, on Universal Republic Records. This is an album assuring all the dreamers and believers out there that everything has a silver lining. After achieving triple platinum status for the single “Fireflies” from 2009’s Ocean Eyes, the only place for this singer/songwriter to go is still up… and Australia, the U.K. and Canada on the All Things Bright And Beautiful World Tour, from early summer to late winter of this year.

This soft-spoken musician fills us in on his little world of Pixar movies, tinker toys and the majesty of a positive, lighthearted approach to , even if they don’t seem so bright and beautiful.

Where in the world are you?

I’m in a very nice hotel in Memphis, TN.

What are you doing there?

We’re doing a little radio promotion, acoustic tour just to get the ball rolling.

In June you have an album coming All Things Bright And Beautiful, tell me about that.

I would love to. Should I just start?

(Laughs) Yes, start anywhere.

First of all, I think it’s the next notch—the next chapter—in this whole story and it was a fun thing to do and to conceptualize from day one. The last record, I more or less had my entire life to write it, and it connected to so many people; it took everyone by surprise, me most of all. Everyone was saying from management to record labels, let’s do it again. They said go away and do whatever you do and come back with a record. It’s kind of a scary thing at first, but I guess it was just positive pressure to mold the final result into something that it might not have been.

You said you connected with a lot of people through this record. Your leading single “Alligator Sky” features a lesser-known rapper, Shawn Chrystopher. How did you find him?

He’s such a great guy. He was kind of a diamond in the rough. We looked around and spent a long time looking for someone that could really relate to the song. We tried three or four other rappers and they all did great jobs, but something wasn’t exactly working. We found Shawn kind of at the eleventh hour and he did it and was so easy to work with. We did it mostly over the Internet, sending files back and forth. He really got what the music was about.

I’ve seen the video; you guys walking around in astronaut suits in a post-apocalyptic world. What is the song about?

It was almost inspired by that movie Wall-E. It’s about what if this world as we know it was to dry up and we exhausted everything we have here on Earth and had to leave. It’s often portrayed as really dark, more often than not. But what if we go somewhere and find it brighter and more beautiful? That was my mantra and I just ran with it. Shawn chipped in with the lyrics and really summed everything up. It turned out great.

Where does your youthful whimsy come?

I think it’s my imagination more than anything else. I’m an only child. I’m a pretty introverted guy, and I’m from a small town in Minnesota. My parents never did the extravagant vacation thing, so everything for me existed more or less in my imagination. I always write songs from, “If I were here, would I do this?” Everything stems from my imagination. My whimsical approach is inspiring for the lyrics. I just allow my mind to wander.

In your writing process what do you do first? Lyrics? Music?

It’s pretty linear for me. Usually I’ll sit down at my piano or a synth or something and come up with a hooky melody or a vocal melody first. Ironically, the last thing I always do are lyrics. I’ll have the song finished from top to bottom and I’ll come back in arranger/composer mode and be a lyricist and figure out what to plug in to these melodies. More or less that’s how I handle this school of thought.

In addition to piano and vocals, what instruments do you play?

I kind of mess around with a lot of them. Guitar and bass mostly. I’m not particularly good at either one of them but I like having a lot of them around. It’s inspiring and it’s great to layer as an artist. It’s great to spend as much or as little time on something.

So what were you listening to when you wrote the new album?

Not very much. When I’m writing I try to keep out unnecessary influences like that. What I was listening to a lot were film scores and movie soundtracks. I’m really into Pixar. I could listen to that on repeat in the kitchen or a lot of instrumental stuff like that going on in the background. As for things that get too wordy, not as much.

You seem to be really into toys and art. Have you ever considered expanding into graphic arts or design?

I haven’t really. I’m a huge fan but, to be honest, I’m not too good at it. I guess it’s not as inspiring to me as music. It may be something that I do but I like being creative. If I were to do something other than music it would probably be to write a novel. It’s been a dream of mine to branch into publication.

“Fireflies” went triple platinum, congratulations. What was it like to hear yourself everywhere?

It was so surreal for me. I still can’t really come to grips with it. We got on an airplane and took off across the world and showed up in Hong Kong and we were working a sold-out show full of kids and they knew every word to every song. It was huge.

I remember sitting on stage forgetting my place and we were totally messing up; it was a huge reality check. Never ever could I have imagined myself being somewhere doing this—whatever this is—wherever this takes me. It’s humbling in a really healthy way. I’ve got to make sure my priorities are straight, I’ve got to make sure I’m doing this for a reason. People are connecting with it and it’s important to them and I’m one of the people that sends the message, so it’s a lot of responsibility. Down the road I have to make sure I stick to what’s important.

You said you’re from a really small town, who do you what your music to reach? Who’s your target audience?

That’s a great question. I almost prefer to stay out of it and let the music resonate and trickle down to wherever it’s supposed to go. I feel like once I like the record and it’s finished, my piece of the puzzle is done and let the music do its own thing and be accessible to anyone that can get something out of it. I leave it open-ended like that. I’m just so blessed to do what I do.

Speaking of the music getting where it needs to be, you’re going on tour this summer for All Things Bright And Beautiful, where are you heading?

It’s a long one. It kicks off between now and Christmas. June and July is just a big loop of North America and Canada, then we are home for a week. Then we going to Australia and New Zealand for a week or two, then we are home for a week, then we go to Europe and the U.K. for about a month, then we’re home for a week or two. Then we’re going over to Japan, Indonesia, Philippians and maybe Thailand—it’s kind of a whirlwind but I’ve been home for the last seven months working on a record, so I’ve got the itch to get out and start the wheel turning again. I really do enjoy it.

Finally, do you have a message for the fans?

I guess my two cents and message would be, upon listening to this new record, to appreciate the beauty that is around them and even when that beauty is tough to see, it’s important to remember that it’s really there and there is beauty wherever you are, you just have to look at what’s going on. I think an optimistic outlook could really make things that much brighter and that much more beautiful. That’s the goal of this whole record.


Owl City will play Roseland Ballroom in NYC on June 23. All Things Bright And Beautiful is available now. For more info, go to