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A conversation with Owl City’s Adam Young, Part 1

If you want to be a successful recording artist in the post-millennial era, look no further than the seemingly overnight rise to fame of Adam Young for inspiration. While working at Coca-Cola and taking college courses (all the while living with his parents in Owatonna, Minn.), Young experimented with music in the basement and created what the world now knows as Owl City, a platinum-selling act with the massive hit single “Fireflies” as proof of his melody making genius.

Owl City recently released its Universal Republic followup All Things Bright And Beautiful and is currently touring to support the new songs. In this first part of a two-part interview, Young took some time out of his busy schedule to have a conversation with Whole Notes where we talked about his quick rise to fame, his self-described “anti-social ways” and how his Christian faith influences his music:

Bonham: Did you ever envision you’d be experiencing this level of success so quickly?

Adam Young of Owl City

Young: Where I am right now is so far out from anything I ever imagined. It’s so far out of my imagination’s reach. The Coca-Cola thing was who I was and what I did two and a half years ago. (Laughs) That was my entire world for what it was worth. Needless to say, never did I think that things would happen and people would start to connect with what I was doing in such a great way. I’m just trying to hang on for dear life and really take in everything in the crazy whirlwind because it’s such a huge blessing and one that I never envisioned myself being a part of in any way.

Bonham: Is it true that you weren’t a very outgoing person before all of this happened? And if so, has all of the attention and the opportunity to impact the masses changed that?

Young: That’s absolutely correct and it’s still the same way today. I’m still very introverted, very shy. Ironically, big groups of people are not my favorite thing in the world (laughs), but there’s something about playing shows and there’s this kind of crazy, bizarre moment before we walk out on stage where all the butterflies kind of go away. It’s just me, and the rest of the band, and the music in the room. It just feels like it’s supposed to be that way. Despite my anti-social ways, it really is a perfect match, this whole music thing that I’ve been called to do.

Bonham: Would you agree that you’ve become somewhat of a poster boy for the new way of doing things in the music business?

Young: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s pretty accurate. I think ultimately my story really just is all credit to the Internet and definitely social networking. I was kind of in the right place at the right time, especially when Myspace was really booming and it was a popular place online. But beyond that, I guess this new way of climbing my way to the top was never something I envisioned let alone really wanted. It just kind of happened. I feel like I didn’t really work at it in terms of getting actual music to the consumers. They kind of found me and then I found myself quitting my job at Coca-Cola and it all just fell into place.

Bonham: As an outspoken Christian, do you feel blessed to have such a large platform in the general market?

Adam Young of Owl City

Young: Yeah, I do. I do feel that. The mere fact is that my faith is fuel on the fire in terms of my inspiration, in terms of my writing and songwriting and kind of why I get out of bed every morning. If I was to hide that fact, I think it would be a crime, although it’s never been, on the other side of the coin, my ultimate goal to go out and preach to people. As a Christian human being, I hope that I am really, really transparent and really in the right place with my Creator, with my Savior. Beyond that, my prayer is that He would use whatever kind of results from me as an artist creating art and take that art to whatever capacity that He might choose. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s any of my business to classify what I do as Christian music or get into that whole argument. That’s missing the point.

Bonham: But interestingly, you’re now getting a lot of love from the Christian industry and finding your music being played on Christian radio and being invited to play Christian festivals. How have you navigated that process?

Young: Ultimately, I just kind of try to stay out of it (laughs) in that respect. I try not to let myself get involved with publicly saying, “This is what this music has to be and this is where it has to go!” I just want to make sure that the music is truly genuine and truly from the heart. Wherever it connects, wherever God chooses to use that, it’s like, all praise to Him. I just try to stay out of the way.

Bonham: Tell me about your faith story. Were you raised in a Christian home? Did you have a spiritual epiphany or defining moment that brought you to this point?

Young: My story isn’t too epic. It’s pretty low-key. There was no epiphany. I was raised in a Christian home with two wonderful parents who have been married for 35 years now. Whenever the doors were open at church, we were there, but it didn’t really sink in. It’s the same way it is with a lot of Christians. I kind of went through the motions early on and through high school. I guess after high school, I remember thinking, “What now?” And maybe that was the thing that drove me to a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the Lord. No car wreck. No crazy thing that I can point to on a certain date, but I just kind of felt God calling me. So many of my friends at the time had fallen away. It was pretty disheartening in that respect. I didn’t really know what I was doing or where I was going. I was working for Coke and I hated my job. I was going to school for nothing and I was really headed toward a dead end. So maybe that’s what really made me truly latch on to the Lord. And that’s what led to me writing music and I remember thinking, “I’ve got to be okay with the Lord if I’m going to do this.” It’s got to be what I’m called to do.

Click here for part two of this interview with Owl City’s Adam Young where he talks about the new record, dealing with critics and more.

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