Adam Young, the man behind Owl City, talks about creating his own scene and getting past shyness
For Adam Young, the singer, keyboardist, drummer and guitarist behind one-man band Owl City, the lack of a music scene in his small, sleepy hometown in southern Minnesota was a blessing in disguise.
"I've always wondered what else is out there," said Young, also songwriter-producer for the electronic pop band. "(`Lord of the Rings' author J.R.R.) Tolkien said something like, `Nobody's writing the comic books I want to read, so I have to.' Similarly, growing up, I couldn't find the music I wanted to devour, which is why I started."
Young and his touring band are in month two of Owl City's second world tour, which opened at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., and coincides with the release of Owl City's second major-label album, "All Things Bright and Beautiful." They play Wednesday at ACL Live.
"I had been home for six or seven months recording the new album, so it feels really good to get back out again," Young said last week by phone. "It's the polar opposite of what life is like at home. I live in a small town on a quiet street. I'm a shy, introverted guy, and at home, it's all about the music. On the road, it's loud, exciting, noisy, crazy and powerful."
Young began producing and recording music from his parents' basement in Owatonna, Minn., in 2007. A Coca-Cola truck loader by day and an insomniac by night, Young started by sharing his music on MySpace and soon developed a following on the social networking site. After gaining attention from a self-released EP and album, Young signed with Universal Republic in 2008.
"If it weren't for this, I'd be stocking shelves or washing dishes," said Young, who blogs, writes lyrics, mixes music and takes photos in his down time on tour. "(Music) is the one thing I've ever been remotely good at."
Owl City's music, which has been described as electropop, synthrock and indietronica, blends bopping synths, Young's clean vocals and simple, innocent lyrics that revel in nature, the universe and the unknown. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the melodies come before the lyrics, Young said.
"My imagination is kind of a wild animal," he said, laughing. "I love the idea of letting it write for me and of songs writing themselves. For the new album, I hid away in my basement studio back home in Minnesota, and I let my imagination go crazy. I love imagining what the unknown is like; it's the main place where I turn to."
Young said he never imagined having records, fans or musical success, and perhaps as a result, he oozes humility and gratitude. His breezy, bouncy hit "Fireflies" reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100, and "Ocean Eyes," his platinum major-label debut album, topped Billboard's Rock, Dance/Electronic and Alternative charts. Young also wrote and recorded the theme song for Warner Bros.' 2010 animated film "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole." But you wouldn't know all this from talking with Young, who for a long time suffered from stage fright and would give only email interviews because of his shyness.
Before his first show, Young said he was backstage shaking like a leaf, unsure whether his voice could last for a 60-minute performance. Forcing himself to keep performing has eased his anxieties and made the process much more fun, he said.
"It's fun to see people learn the newer songs," Young said. "It's really heartening and encouraging. For the sake of what `Fireflies' is and was, (the song) always gets a good cheer, which puts a smile on my face."
Young tours with Breanne Düren (backup vocals, keys), Casey Brown (drums, percussion, keys, bass), Daniel Jorgensen (guitars, drums, percussion, keys, bass), Hannah Schroeder (cello, keys, bass) and Laura Musten (violin, keys). Crooning singer-songwriter Mat Kearney opens for Owl City during the U.S. portion of the tour.
Owl City With Unwed Sailor and Mat Kearney
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: ACL Live, 310 W. Second St.