Q&A: Owl City's Adam Young on Collaborating With Shaquille O'Neal and (Unrelated) Not Soiling His Drawers
Coming across someone like Adam Young isn't the hard part. He's shy, meticulous about his ways, and is always leaving clever notes on your Facebook wall. In most cases, your friend won't have a successful synth pop act called Owl City and several side projects to balance out those lingering questions like "what does he do all day when we're not talking?" For Young, it's writing and programming catchy songs that hang like candy canes over your ears. The latest, depending on how you look at it, is a collection of songs written under the moniker Sky Sailing that actually precedes the Owl City stuff. The main difference is the sound of an omnipresent acoustic guitar, which is unlikely to throw off his already effusive fan base -- including Taylor Swift.
Prior to Owl City's opening slot for John Mayer on Saturday at Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, Young took to his magic laptop computer and dashed off some entertaining replies about this new/old project, and he sets the stage for a collaboration with rapper-athlete Shaquille O'Neal.
New Times: Are you picking up good/bad habits from John Mayer?
Young: The guy is an absolute expert at his instrument, and as far as guitar playing, I'd go so far as to say he's the Stevie Ray Vaughan of our generation. He's brilliant. I stand there and watch his set from side-stage every night and stumble back to the tour bus absolutely blown away. He's an incredibly thoughtful guy, very considerate and neighborly. It's a tremendous honor to be on this tour supporting him, and I often find myself in front of 15,000 people thinking, "Wow, is this real life?" Never thought I'd have the opportunity to play a John Mayer tour, so needless to say, I'm unequivocally thankful. It's been a wonderful blessing.
Your interview techniques seem to be quite different from Mayer -- so far. Are you sticking primarily to email interviews so that your secret, dirty, dark side can come out in a couple of years and be all the more shocking?
Well, I'm better at typing than talking, so maybe that's why I'm drawn to email, but either way, I'm not a particularly verbose person. Let's do another interview in a couple of years and then we can make an executive decision.
How is this experience compared with the dates you did with Maroon 5 earlier this summer?
Same kind of atmosphere, anywhere from 10-20 thousand people per night. It's been really enlightening to see how touring works at this level, and I'm ultimately just trying to be a sponge. My favorite question has since become "Hey, do you know where catering is?" I haven't done a great deal of support tours either, so it's been wonderful to see what they're all about. I've decided I'm really into them.
Have you ever experienced anything more painful than passing a kidney stone? Where is that kidney stone now?
You know, I've talked to several females who've done both of two things: had birth and passed a kidney stone, and they've ALL said they'd take the child over the kidney stone any day. As if a kidney stone is ever a happy decision! They say stones are the male equivalent to child birth, and that's not a very comforting thought when you feel a slight "twinge" in your lower back. It's downright scary.
Your Coca-Cola employee past comes up a lot in conversations. Would you write them a jingle, and if so, what would it be like?
The way I look at it is this: I'm just a normal guy who wrote a song that went number one in 24 countries around the world, but at the end of the day, I'm just a Coca-Cola employee. I live alone, I talk to my houseplants with a megaphone, I prefer nasty sandwiches over NYC gourmet dining, I get supershy around pretty girls. The only way I know how to play the harmonica is to get my car going superfast and stick it out the window.
What do you hope to accomplish during your upcoming time in the studio?
I want to be really intentional about going into the studio with no preconceived notions about being productive. I wanna go in there hoping to accomplish NOTHING and see what happens. I like the idea of songs writing themselves because it's way more exciting to me than having "hit songs" ready to go before going into the studio. That's not really my nature. I just wanna experiment and see where it goes. That, to me, weeds out any predetermined "top 40 gems" that might sneak their way into my creative intentions. I don't wanna write music to score plaques; I just write music to feel alive.
Now that the Sky Sailing stuff is out to the world, are you happy about the decision to release it? Why did you hold onto this material for so long?
I was amazed at how the whole endeavor fell together in such a timeless way. I wrote the Sky Sailing record three years ago on my uncle's old Alvarez, and before I could put it out, Owl City happened. Between record cycles seemed the perfect place to dig it out of the can, and I was blown away by how into the idea Universal Republic was. They were all for it, so it just made a lot of sense to me. I never envisioned those songs being heard by anyone but my parents through the floorboards above, so it feels great to finally have it out in a presentable form.
I hear you're a fan of Chris Carrabba, who is from South Florida. Are you excited for the Further Seems Forever reunion? And what would it mean to perform in front of Chris if he's in the crowd on Saturday?
SO EXCITED! I'm an enormous fan of The Moon Is Down, listen to it constantly, one of my top five records of all time. That record is absolutely brilliant in so many ways; I couldn't be more excited about the reunion. I'm gonna put on a fresh pair of Huggies before the show on Saturday just in case.
If you could join any other band out there as a keyboardist, who would it be?
If Shaquille O'Neal started rapping again (preferably material from Shaq-Fu: Da Return), I'll be the scrawny white kid with the doo-rag playing keyboard like it's going outta business. Plus if he ever forgot the words, I'd be right there to back him up... because I know them all.
It used to be that Owl City was your ticket to see the world outside of Southern Minnesota. Now that you're out, what drives you, and what's your next goal?
Honestly, I just prefer to let the bus drive me while I eat cereal and stare out the window. I'm happy to go wherever the road leads, and I've always considered it a bit premature to have goals in my life. My seventh-grade principal would not be impressed, because our motto that year was "SET SOME GOALS," but I just take things a day at a time, and that's the way I prefer it. It makes the surprises that much more surprising, and it leaves room to be incredibly grateful for the time I've been allotted. I don't wanna show up at the finish line with a disappointed look on my face and say, "That's all?" I wanna show up and look back and smile wide at the things I'm proud to have been blessed with.
John Mayer, with Owl City. 7 p.m. Saturday, September 11, at Cruzan
Ampthitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. Tickets cost
$48.10 to $84.50. Click here.
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