Lots of kids hammer out music on a computer in their parents’ basement, but 23-year-old Adam Young—a.k.a. Owl City—is probably the first to come out with a Hot 100 chart-topper. The Minnesota native did just that with his smash hit “Fireflies.”
“I must confess ‘Fireflies’ basically wrote itself, but I do remember sitting on the floor of my basement bedroom with headphones on and a synth on my lap witnessing it all fall together,” Young recalls. “I’ve heard it said that a great song is never written intentionally but rather ‘caught’ the same way one would stand on the shore like a sweet ‘woodsman of the world’ and suddenly catch a fish. Similarly, I think a great song is never truly ‘finished’ but rather abandoned.”
“Fireflies” is the first single from Owl City’s third album, Ocean Eyes, released last July. The single originally picked up spins on such tastemaker stations as KROQ in SoCal and K-ROCK in NYC and got the digital nod as an iTunes Single of the Week. The synth-pop hit soon crossed over to mainstream radio and even jumped the pond to top the charts in the U.K., Australia and elsewhere. Ironically, though, the song that awoke a music career is actually inspired by an inability to sleep.
“I have terrible insomnia and you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to fall asleep,” says Young. “I mean, you could try, and I would certainly try, but it just wouldn’t work. I’ve fought with it for years and the only thing I’ve learned is that I need background noise to feel drowsy so sometimes I leave the vacuum running in my bedroom all night long. In so many words, ‘Fireflies’ is about the irony of feeling the most inspired on such nights when sleep and I cannot bring ourselves to meet.”
Matt Thiessen, singer for the immensely popular Christian rock band Relient K, assisted on the single with background vocals. Young says they met through a series of “unfortunate events” that includes a runaway canoe, 10 frostbitten fingers and extreme bouts of physical overexertion. Another bond they share, however, is openness about their faith.
“My faith is the reason I do what I do, it drives me, it even fuels my imagination,” Young admits. “Allow me to say that I’m not out on a do-or-die mission to punch huge wads of fire and brimstone down everyone’s throats, but I do acknowledge what’s going on behind the scenes and wholeheartedly thank God for allowing me the time I’ve been given and certainly for the incredible opportunities I’ve been blessed with along the way.”
And the latest opportunity involves national tours. Owl City previously cracked the Billboard charts with an indie EP and album, but Young had only performed about six or eight shows by the time “Fireflies” lit up the airwaves. With a full band now in place, Owl City did its first national tour over the winter selling out every show, and they’ve just set out on a coast-to-coast spring tour. As one might imagine, the live show is coming along fast.
“It has really grown by leaps and bounds,” he admits. “When I remember the way it started off, my cheeks very nearly turn red and I almost blush out of nervous embarrassment. But such is life. And such is progress. The show is almost like an orchestra concert in a way because it can work in ‘listening rooms’ just as well as the typical rock venue. I have the best friends/players a shy boy from Minnesota could ever ask for and I wouldn’t want to tour without them.”
And as far as coming to SoCal this week, Young laughs, “Indeed, I prefer lying shirtless on my back on the occasional sun-bleached sandy California beach rather than the icy frozen concrete tundra that is my Minnesota driveway.”
Owl City w/ Light, Paper Route at the Fox Theater, 301 S. Garey Ave., Pomona, www.foxpomona.com, www.owlcitymusic.com; Wed, Apr. 7. Doors open at 6PM. $20.