- Sat, 2011-09-24 10:27
Adam Young is better known to the world as Owl City, the man who penned the multi-platinum-selling single Fireflies. Since the success of that song he has gone from day-dreaming bedroom producer to day-dreaming bedroom producer with millions of fans worldwide, and recently treated those fans to the release of his new album: All Things Bright And Beautiful.
I Like Music caught up with Owl City to chat about how success has changed his life, songwriting, Mandy Moore, and…day-dreaming.
“I Like Music because…it let’s me go places in my mind I could never go in person.” OWL CITY
ILM: How have things changed for you since you uploaded those first demo songs to the internet several years ago?
Owl City: Ironically at home, when I’m off the road, things haven’t changed that much. I’m from a very, very small town and surrounded by my family. I’m an only child, so when I go home it’s just my parents. The whole crazy world of music goes away and it’s just me and them. It’s very humble. In that sense it hasn’t really changed that much, but outside of my little hometown – Owatonna – it’s very different! Now I’m in England; somewhere I never thought I’d be! If someone had said to me two or three years ago “you’re going to tour outside of Minnesota,” I would have been like “yeah right!” So it’s been a whirlwind, but so cool! Something I never imagined I’d be a part of, because it was so out of my reach. I’m just trying to take every moment and not take it for granted and see this as something I get to do and not something I have to do.
ILM: How does your songwriting process typically go? Has that changed at all over the last few years?
Owl City: Not so much. There is a sort of reoccurring progression; I tend to write the songs that I’m most happy with when I’m not trying to write those songs. If I’m talking on the phone and my left hand is just noodling around on the keyboard I’ll hear something and say “I’ll call you back, I have to get this down!” Saying “I’m going to sit down and write a song and it’s going to be amazing…” never works for me. Generally it’ll start with a little catchy synth melody. Usually something on keys first, then I’ll programme out some drums, which I try to make very rhythmic; I’m really into the whole beat-heavy aspect of electronic music and really enjoy drum loops and samples. That’s probably my favourite part of the process: when the song is starting to form itself, before vocals and lyrics come into play. Ninety-nine percent of the time lyrics come last. The music is what really comes easy, and then once the song is there I have to ask “what do I want to say?” Up until recently I was this kid from Minnesota who had never been anywhere or done anything. All I had to say to the listeners was what-if? Now that I’ve done a few things there’s that much more to draw from.
ILM: What kind of equipment do you use to write and record your music?
Owl City: I’m really into Apple Logic. That’s generally what I start everything in. It’s very popular among a lot of electronic artists and trance DJs. That’s usually where ideas will start. I have a beautiful grand piano in my living room, and I can’t walk by it without playing it, so often things will start there and I’ll write the idea and have to run downstairs to the studio. I do all the vocals in a program called Protools. Those two things are mainly what I use. I use a lot of synthesizers by a company called Nord. That’s really it! I love how electronic music can be so limitless. There don’t have to boundaries if you don’t want there to be.
ILM: That must be a lovely feeling, though sometimes quite daunting too I imagine.
Owl City: The idea that it can be so limitless can kind of be limiting sometimes! Not knowing where to take something because you could go so many places...
ILM: You've spoken about how The Real World (the opening track of All Things Bright and Beautiful) is about escaping into your own personal reality. Could you tell us a bit about that personal reality?
Owl City: There isn’t a specific place that I go to and return from, but it’s like some sort of state of conscious dreaming. As if you’re a film director and you’re directing yourself. You can see yourself going places and doing things that you can’t really do in this world. That was my escape three or four years ago when I was going to school for nothing and working in a job that I didn’t really like and just living a very mundane life. I would check out for a while and in my head I was playing shows in Europe and doing things… I can’t believe that now I’m doing things that a few years ago I was only dreaming about. It’s so weird! For me it’s always been very whimsical; wondering what it’s like to jump on an aeroplane, or scuba dive, or do all these things that I never thought that I could do. Some of them I’m sure I won’t! I just let the imagination run wild, wherever that may take me.
ILM: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?
Owl City: It’s a little bit awkward, but Mandy Moore has always been a huge influence. There are a few songs that she’s done that I’ll probably love until the day I die!
ILM: Which songs?
Owl City: She has a song called Cry that I love to death. There’s a movie called A Walk To Remember that she starred in and did some of the music for, and it’s very, very cool. It just takes you somewhere else. I’m very into film music. There’s a composer called Thomas Numan who’s done a lot of Pixar films. I love how you can turn on one of his tracks and just know it’s him from the first five seconds. There’s something about it that is so him. It’s a good problem to have for an artist; it sounds like nobody other than him. I’m definitely a fan of Taylor Swift as well.
ILM: What are your hopes for the future?
Owl City: This is still so new. The ultimate dream is just to keep it going! If it doesn’t, if it ends tomorrow, I’ll still be very, very thankful for the dream that it’s been. I just want to take things a day at a time. If I can keep creating and making music and performing it, and if those daydreams keep me feeling uplifted I won’t want anything else.