Interview: Owl City on collaborations, EDM and his new record
One of the most fascinating things about OWL CITY’s rise to the top of the pop charts was ADAM YOUNG’s independent mindset. A self-proclaimed introvert, Young had been wary of letting outside songwriters and producers meddle with his craft. He’s changed his tune on The Midsummer Station, due out in August. Featuring songs written with everyone from Stargate (Rihanna, Katy Perry) to Relient K's Matt Thiessen and guest appearances from Carly Rae Jepsen and Mark Hoppus, Young’s third album is perhaps poised to be his biggest yet. AP caught up with Young from his home in Minnesota to discuss how The Midsummer Station marks new change, preparing fans for a musical shift and how he partnered with Top 40 queen Jepsen to create a summer anthem.
INTERVIEW: Evan Lucy
The Midsummer Station marks the first time you’ve really worked with outside collaborators, something you’d been against in the past. What changed your mind?
Adam Young: I remember sitting down with my manager and label last December. I’d only ever made records a certain way, which was completely on my own in my own headspace. I was looking to create some other type of magic with other people and get myself out of my own comfort zone. It’s crazy for me to want to do that. [Laughs.] Everyone was into it, and they put together a list of people they thought might work well with me—co-writers and producers. I ended up going to New York and Los Angeles with just huge, big eyes meeting with all these different folks. Some of them worked out better than others. But it was great; I’m really glad I did it. I think the result of the album is a lot different than it would have been had I done it on my own. As scary as it was for in terms of comfort zone, but I feel really good about it.
Were there any songs that really took new life once you got in with a team of writers or producers?
Yeah, there’s a song on the record called “Shooting Star.” I had written the intro and part of the bridge for Ocean Eyes. It was a random idea from four years ago that didn’t make the cut. It was really middle-of-the-road; there were some really badly programmed drum samples on it. I took this minute-and-a-half demo idea into a session with Stargate and asked if they thought it was anything. They said, “We agree it’s kind of middle-of-the-road, but let’s see if we can connect the dots and take it to the next level.” I still have the old demo, and when I go back and listen it’s crazy to see how far that once-dead end song came to life.
When you’re the only one involved in the creation of your music, all the pressure is on you to succeed. Does collaborating take some of that pressure away or add even more?
In a weird way, I think it does both. You’ll be working on a new song in the studio, and people are coming in—your friends, A&R and whatnot—it’s like, look what we did, me and this other writer and producer sitting next to me at the desk. If the song is bad, they’re going to talk bad about both of us and say mean things behind our backs. [Laughs.] But once the record comes out, no one really notices. Unless you actually buy the record or pore over the digital liner notes on iTunes, you don’t really realize more than one guy wrote it. I think my fans are a little younger and don’t really know what goes into it. So I’m ultimately the one who has to answer for it once the record comes out.
You’ve definitely adopted a different lyrical style on this album. Things aren’t as based on imagery and hyperbole; they’re a bit more grounded. Why did you change it up?
When you get into a room with different writers and collaborators, you’re not going to share the same interests. Especially with me, this super weird, quirky guy. You all kind of have to meet in the middle. The other half of it was... this past year, there’s something that’s been really compelling to me as a writer in figuring out how to make this three-minute song stirring and moving—even if it’s about having a good time or a softer topic. How can I make people feel something and connect with the idea? There’s something about limiting yourself in that way that makes you think outside the box even when you’re inside the box. There’s something really fun about that; you’re not so limitless with what you’re trying to sing about that you sing about a billion different things in the same song. I’ve been guilty of that. My older approach was, whatever pours out of my fingertips as I’m typing makes it in the song. It was a cool challenge.