Following the success of his massively popular album Ocean Eyes, Adam Young's Owl City released his sophomore record with Universal Republic, All Things Bright and Beautiful, in June. In the middle of touring to support the record, Young took a few minutes of his evening to speak with Jesusfreakhideout's Scott Fryberger about the record, other projects, and inspirations...
This interview took place on: July 19, 2011
Jesus freak Hideout (Scott Fryberger): With [All Things Bright and Beautiful] coming out just over a month ago, what kind of feedback have you gotten on it?
Owl City (Adam Young):
So far, so good. It's been really positive. The critics tend to hate what I do, which is always kinda entertaining. I feel like it's this pitchfork in general; they wanna get their hands on my throat, and try to kill me. But that's okay. As far as reception at shows, it's been really cool to see that almost every night, some of the people are starting to learn the newer songs. But yeah, all around, I'm just very very pleased.
JFH (Scott): That's good. I enjoyed the album very much. One of the songs, "Alligator Sky," had a different version that was leaked. I prefer the version with Shawn Chrystopher, and I'm glad you picked that one. But what made you go with that version of the song for the album?
That was actually the initial vision for the song, to just try to experiment with something new. I really love what hip hop has made, being really beat-heavy with lots of drum loops and stuff. So that was initial intent, to experiment and actually find and feature a rapper on a couple of verses. And early on, when we decided to kinda go with that for the first single, we thought it would be a fair shot to have kind of a rapless version for alternative radio and different places that don't play rap. So that was kind of the challenge, and it was fun. But both versions kinda have their own sparkle to them.
JFH (Scott): And how did you come across Shawn Chrystopher?
Adam: He was a name that came up - I think he was like a friend of a friend of a friend of a publisher. I think one of our publishing guys from L.A. knew him or knew of him and his name came up, and Shawn was gracious enough to do a demo for us. And it was like the right vision and the right aesthetic. And we just passed files back and forth over the internet, and that was it. It was easy!
JFH (Scott): So do you listen to a lot of hip hop?
Adam: A little bit of some of the more obscure stuff. I'm really into this guy called DJ Cam. He does a lot of dirty drum loops and a lot of this vinyl-y, motown drumming on the samples and stuff. And I'm really into the whole A Tribe Called Quest stuff from the 90s. And if it's like really ghetto and gangster, I'm not into it, but if it's based around really interesting vinyl-y loops and stuff...yeah, I guess if the drums are really interesting, I'm into it. If not, meh.
JFH (Scott): I think a lot of people tend to think that artists only listen to the genre that they play. So it's kinda cool to know that you have a wider taste in music like that.
JFH (Scott): What else do you like to listen to?
Adam: I'm really into like film scores, actually. And I love listening to soundtracks to movies that I've never seen, ironically. Cause it's kinda interesting when you play back a soundtrack or a score written for something, and you're kinda taking it in and listening to it as it was not intended. That's really interesting because it kinda defies the preconceived parameters set by the composer. I like a lot of Alan Sylestri, Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, John Williams... kinda the classic movie score composers. Thomas Newman is a big one.
JFH (Scott): And what are some of your favorite songs from All Things Bright and Beautiful to perform live?
Adam: Um, let's see...I guess track one - it's called "The Real World." That one's kinda fun, just cause we start it off at the top of the set with this extended drum duo intro for it, where it's myself and our other drummer on two different drum sets just going back and forth. It sounds cheesy, but it's really fun. Yeah, they kinda all have those little special moments for me. I guess it's kinda hard to pick one that I love already. But yeah, maybe that one.
JFH (Scott): If you could pick any bands to go on tour with that you haven't played with before, who would you pick?
Adam: Maybe Sufjan Stevens. That would be kinda fun. I caught one of his shows recently, and it was way more electronic than I imagined. It was like all these neon colors and bright lights, and sensory overload. And he had dancers with him, and all kinds of synthesizers and drum machines. That would be really cool. If I could do it, I'd pick him.
JFH (Scott): In addition to Owl City, I've seen a gigantic list of other musical projects that you're a part of. And I think it was a Port Blue song you guys are doing on this tour, but do you ever incorporate any of those other projects into an Owl City show?
Adam: You know, of the few tours that we've done, I tried to work in like one song from some of the other projects. Outside of Owl City, Port Blue is like the main one. But yeah, I'll try to work in a random Port Blue song - just to kinda break it up and add variety. And I love playing instrumental music more than I like playing very wordy music, cause it's kinda easier for me to get lost in the music and let it carry me away when I'm not focusing on what the next line is. The way my mind works, I tend to latch onto melody and the overall vibe of the song versus lyrics. I can probably remember a given vocal melody until I'm ninety years old, but if I had to remember those exact lyrics, I'd forget them all next week. *laughter* But yeah, it's always fun, it makes it interesting and adds variety.
JFH (Scott): What was the first musical project you ever worked on?
Adam: Back in high school, I played drums in this super heavy doom metal band from South Dakota. We were called Isle. I didn't really love the music to death, cause it wasn't quite as techy and nasty the way I enjoy playing as far as drums. But yeah, that was the first band I was ever apart of. Just playing drums and doing the whole hardcore, metal thing. Yeah, it was something else.
JFH (Scott): A little more of a serious question for you. Your fame rose almost instantaneously when you put out your last album. How has that affected your relationship with Christ, if at all?
Adam: You know that's really grown me up in a lot of great ways. Just looking back on the past two years, God's really used that to draw me nearer to Him. There are so many temptations out on the road, and despite the crazy whirlwind of it all, God's used it to draw me nearer to Him. And throughout all the craziness that nobody expected, He's certainly done amazing things in my life and around my life, like with my parents and close friends. So it's been really cool to kinda witness the way He works, and I never imagined myself in this position, doing this crazy lifestyle. Just all the more reason to praise the Lord, cause it was none of my doing.
JFH (Scott): What have you been reading from the Bible lately?
Adam: I've actually been going through the Books of Timothy. I think they're super encouraging. There's something about the books I really enjoy. I've actually been reading this book called Desiring God by John Piper, which is very cool as well.
JFH (Scott): Do you read a lot of books in your spare time?
Adam: Yeah, I try to keep lots of books around on the road, and I guess at home too. It just kinda keeps my mind working and keeps me sane, and outside of reading, there's not much else I really do, except for music. But it's nice to get away from the music for a little bit. So yeah, reading is where I kinda turn to for that.
JFH (Scott): Has there ever been a book that you've read that inspired you to make more music?
Adam: Probably the book that is super inspiring is a book called Watership Down by Richard Adams. It's from the late 70s, about talking rabbits, and it's a very grounded-in-reality book. It's not a kids' book, but it has to do with these talking rabbits and their adventure, and there's a lot of metaphors and crazy stuff. And that's always been a very inspiring thing. If ever I'm feeling dry, or going through writer's block or something, I just even leaf through some pages of that book and I'm like "Whoa, I have to go make music!"
Owl City's new project, All Things Bright and Beautiful, is available now!