Adam Young has basically become the definition of overnight sensation. Owl City literally blew up in a couple months with the release of "Fireflies" and hasn't stopped since. It's been a year since the release of his debut album, Ocean Eyes and Adam has just released another album from his project Sky Sailing. With a tour with Maroon 5 and John Mayer covering the next couple months, Adam seems to be just fine staying busy.
First off, how and where are you?
Right now I'm sitting on my Mom's futon in an unbelievable amount of pain. I have a kidney stone. The doc keeps telling me to pound the liquids and I keep writhing around on the floor in excruciating pain like a wuss. I'm not really getting anywhere but I'm determined to pass this rock and hit the thing so far out of the park, it'll make Mark McGwire blush with envy. They say kidney stones are the male equivalent to childbirth, which is ironic because I'm not married and I'm certainly not ready to be a father yet. However, all things considered, I'm doing alright.
The new sky Sailing album just dropped, how does it feel to have it out to the public?
It's a really rewarding feeling for me. First of all, it's an old record, the songs on it were recorded three years ago or so... but it's been incredible to watch the whole thing fall into place. I wrote twelve acoustic songs on my uncle's old Alvarez while I was loading trucks for Coca-Cola, I finished the record, hid it away for a rainy day and before I could dig it out again, Owl City happened. I've just now found the time to release the record. I knew this summer I'd be in studio working on new Owl City material, so I pitched the idea of releasing the Sky Sailing record to Universal and they were incredibly supportive. They basically said "let us know what you have in mind and we'll follow your lead." Some of the songs on the Sky Sailing record were milestones for me at the time the album was put together, for instance, the song entitled Sailboats was the first song I'd ever written lyrics for. I began writing as a solo instrumentalist, and wanted nothing to do with lyrical music so it was a huge first step. Little things like that add up and truly make An Airplane Carried Me To Bed a kind of sentimental journey for me. There's a captured degree of antiquated innocence, a dusty naivety if you will, and thus, an honest aesthetic that would've been lost, had I re-recorded the record right before releasing. I basically fell in love with the mistakes I originally made because it gave the record so much character.
How would you say that this material differs from Owl City? Obviously it's older and more acoustic based, but in your own words what would you say is the biggest difference?
From purely mechanics, the Sky Sailing record is all done with acoustic instruments, aside from some simple drum programming, and it's far more "analog" than anything I've done with Owl City. It's a bit lachrymose, the lyrics are darker and the whole thing has a little more mystery than Owl City. To a greater degree however, I think there's a true innocent and honest character captured within the Sky Sailing recordings that truly makes the record what it is and disconnects it even further from Owl City. For instance, An Airplane Carried Me To Bed embodies a much more unpolished, "raw" character, down to little things like bad fret noise, off beat vocal inhales, a guitar part detuned a few cents sharp, etc. Things like that I would've greatly cleaned up if it were an Owl City record, and thus, sets the two projects apart even more.
What is it like for you to decide what songs go to what projects? Do you sit down and say this is going to an Owl City Song and this will be a Sky Sailing song and so on. Or do you make the decision once the song in motion or is completed?
I know pretty early on what kind of a song I want to write, so I'll sit down with an acoustic and come up with a weird tuning, write a few layered parts and move on from there. The process is pretty intuitive from the beginning.
Will we see any official releases from your other side projects like Port Blue example? It doesn't have the mainstream appeal with it being an instrumental project, but I feel that fans would like it if it was presented to them.
Ironically, Port Blue is where my heart and soul are truly at. The absence of lyrics, to me, allows listeners to go anywhere or do anything, so as the creator or writer, it means I can be both artist and audience and the sky is the limit. I'm a huge experimental instrumental music fan and that's really where I draw most of my musical inspiration from. Bands like Saxon Shore, Unwed Sailor, Helios, Boards of Canada, The Album Leaf. Can't get enough of stuff like that.
Also speaking of another side project, your buddy Austin in Swimming With Dolphins just signed to Tooth and Nail records. That must be awesome seeing a friend make it. Can we expect you to do work on his new album and maybe even do some vocals or what?
It's incredible and I couldn't be more happy for Austin. He's put a ton of thought, time and energy into the project so he certainly deserves the good fortune. I'm super excited to hear the new record; the huge bummer is that our schedules are so different, usually completely opposite of each other, so that makes it pretty difficult to get together, let alone work on music.
I also read online that when you are a fan of Botch, that seems a little different especially for the music that you make. What kind of role do you feel a heavy band like them play on your music? Do you think you will ever try out heavier music or are you going to stick to the softer stuff for now?
I used to play drums in a heavy band called Isle, largely influence by stuff like Botch, Pelican, Neurosis, Isis. Even though bands like that are generally on the opposite side of the spectrum from the music I put out, I think the thing that inspires me still comes though -- the idea of becoming completely lost in the sound. The idea that imagery can be merely suggestive but not so subjective as to tell you how or what to think. It's far more about what the music says to you rather than somebody telling you how to feel. That's really interesting to me.
What's your favorite song off, We Are The Romans?
"To Our Friends In The Great White North."
You also have listed Mogwai as a musical influence, which shows that you are into a wide array of musical tastes. Do you feel like people overlook that based on your music output?
It's funny how a lot of people might assume a given artist only listens to the kind of music he/she creates. That certainly may be the case for some, but for me, it's nearly the opposite. I have a hard time truly enjoying anything I hear on pop radio, or even pop music in general. It's always been tough for me to draw any kind of inspiration from "conventional" music so to speak. Blame it on the stuff I listened to in high school, but for some reason bands like Mogwai or Rachel's or Telefon Tel Aviv are just way more interesting. They payoff is greater. Their songs hold a mystique that three and a half minute radio singles, in my opinion, often tend to lack. Therein was an exciting challenge when I began creating music for Owl City. It was pop music. I'd never made pop music before, I didn't even listen to it, but I wanted to create it because it was new.
You also have a tour coming up with Maroon 5 in about a week, and then John Mayer after that. How excited are you for that?
It'll be new territory and I'm excited to see how touring works at that level. I don't know much about either band but I'm looking forward to the tour to say the least.
Personally, John Mayer is one of my biggest musical idols, is touring with him something that you ever in your wildest dreams ever imagined?
To be honest, I've never really caught myself imaging what it would be like to tour with big artists, because I've never been that musically inspired or into huge mainstream acts. There again, it'll be new territory and I know it's going to be a lot of fun.
What can we expect on the tour? Will you be playing Sky Sailing songs or will it strictly be Owl City?
Just Owl City songs this tour. Thinking about planning a Sky Sailing tour sometime next spring. Just another creative outlet, a new lineup, different instruments, etc.
For someone who has never been to one of your shows before, what can they expect? I know that it's a lot more involved and I guess you could say theatrical. How would you explain it?
I suppose more than anything, it's just all about the music. I don't say much, I'm not really up there to talk and tell jokes and try to act outgoing. For me, a show is an hour and a half each night that allows me to get completely lost in the music, totally swept away, and if it allows other people to do the same, it's a rewarding honor without rival. The show is like an orchestra rehearsal in a listening room, but it still demands your attention, audibly and visually, more than an orchestra concert might. It's kind of a hybrid.
What are your plans after this long tour? And can we expect a new Owl City out sometime next year?
This fall, I'll be back in studio putting the finishing touches on the new record. No release date has been set as of yet but we're hoping for early to mid spring of 2011. Super excited about this one.
I wish he actually answered the question about Port Blue. It's my favorite of his projects, too. I like his other songs like "Blue and Red" and "Meteor Shower" that carry that Port Blue aesthetic. I really hope he doesn't abandon that project. I hope he goes with his real passion, which fuels me too.
Sky Sailing exceeded all my expectations. Best material he's ever put out, IMO. Stoked at the prospect of a tour for it. As for the rest of the interview, very interesting stuff, especially the Botch question. Who knew? A little shocked he doesn't know much about John Mayer. Dude's been inescapable this past decade, on and off radio. Still, I can relate to writing music that doesn't emulate anything you listen to. I think it's a greater credit to the songwriter, in fact. Shows you're not so much of a biter.