Self-described introvert Adam Young finds chart success
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
Adam Young, aka Owl City, on stage at
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, on 10th September 2011
"I am a Christian of faith, that is so important to me, and rather than go out and try to preach to anybody, I've always felt that if I were to hide that fact it would be a crime, because I would probably be leaving out a big factor of why I do what I do," Young said during an interview for The Daily Yomiuri over the phone from his home in Owatonna, Minn., last month.
While Young's Christianity may not be overtly reflected in his lyrics, his clean-cut image and declarations of faith on his Web site suggest that he is deeply committed. This may explain why his recent London show attracted a large number of well-dressed youngsters, with more than a few preteens accompanied by parents no doubt relieved that their offspring had chosen Owl City over someone like, uh, The Offspring.
"I think there's something about what I do that connects specifically to [15 to 30 year olds] and whatnot. It's always been interesting to see but, then again, I'm very, very grateful just to have fans at all in a time where the industry is as shaky as it is," Young said.
A self-described introvert, it seems appropriate that Young should opt to perform under a pseudonym but where, exactly, did the name come from?
"That's a good question, [but] it doesn't have the most eloquent answer to go with it. I guess the bottom line is I wanted a bit of a quirky name that would invoke this surreal, dreamy kind of quirky sense of something that allows the listener to create his own place in their head, so the name honestly doesn't mean anything, it's designed as an aesthetic thing," he said.
Owl City started life four years ago when Young, an insomniac living with his parents, would relieve sleepless nights making music in the basement. After releasing an EP and album independently, he made his U.S. major-label album debut with Ocean Eyes in July 2009, though iTunes had already chosen one of its tracks, "Fireflies," as Single of the Week earlier in the month, resulting in more than half a million downloads.
One of the standout tracks on Ocean Eyes is "Hello Seattle." So, after a paean to the city of baseball star Ichiro Suzuki, is Young ready to put pen to paper in praise of Tokyo?
"I would love to write a song about Tokyo, I'd have to sit down and think about it, but it would probably be something along the same lines as proclaiming my love for it, beyond anything else, because I am very enchanted by Tokyo, so it's definitely on my list someday," he said.
Following the Top 10 success of Ocean Eyes in Britain and the United States, its follow-up, All Things Bright and Beautiful, came out earlier this year, with the title's evocation of a well-known hymn only part of the story behind the naming of the album.
"That's about 50 percent of where it came from, but also there's a book by an author, James Herriott, who wrote this book in the '70s about the life of a veterinarian, and he titled it All Things Bright and Beautiful. I remember growing up with that book. That was where it came from initially, but I'm definitely aware of the hymn, so it's kind of a mix of both," he explained.
One of the standout numbers on the album, "Kamikaze," with its catchy tune and sweeping keyboards middle eight, was inspired by a much more contemporary form of pop culture.
"I just got done watching the 'Bourne' trilogy, [The] Bourne Identity, [The] Bourne Supremacy, [The] Bourne Ultimatum films, with Matt Damon, and I remember thinking, 'I want to write a song that would capture something like that aesthetic, that sort of vibe in his movies, a little bit more raw, a little bit more aggressive, a song that sounds like it could be in a heist movie.' I wanted something that would tie together with that, so I've always had the word kamikaze floating around in my head and I wanted to bring that into a song, so that's where it ended up," he said.
When it comes to another Japanese word beginning with the letter K, however, Young admitted to being a reluctant karaoke crooner.
"I'm always too shy," he said with a laugh, adding that one particular rock anthem, with an appropriate title for someone with Young's beliefs, took his fancy. "Oh dear, I can't think of anything off the top of my head, maybe an old fun classic that would make everybody laugh, like 'Living On A Prayer' by Bon Jovi, something like that. It would have to be deliberately awkward, just to get a laugh out of everybody, 'cause I am very introverted, very shy, so I would like that."
Owl City will play at 7 p.m. on Oct. 20 at Big Cat in Osaka, (06) 6535-5569; at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21 at Club Quattro in Nagoya, (052) 264-8211, and at 7 p.m. on Oct. 22 at the Stellar Ball in Shinagawa, Tokyo, (03) 3444-6751. For more information, visit http://smash-jpn.com.
(Oct. 7, 2011)