Owl City: Driving DeLorean from 'Back to the Future' Was 'A Dream Come True'

Owl City's Adam Young
Owl City's Adam Young
 Pamela Littky

For a guy who’s toured with Maroon 5 and topped the pop the charts in over ten countries (including the U.S.), Owl City, aka Adam Young, hasn’t had a lot of luck getting on the radio or scoring a much-coveted slot on late night television.

But that’s about to change as Young makes his late-night debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live this Wednesday.

“TV stuff has always been scary to me,” the Minnesota resident said last week in between dates on a busy U.S. tour. “Owl City live is a lot less ‘intimate’ in the sense of whispery molasses-sweet vocals and delicate synth filaments, so I'm sure the loud rock element [on Kimmel’s stage] will suit me just fine.”

Young’s surprising success is now something of legend in the indie rock world.  The 25-year-old first found fans on Myspace circa 2006. Despite the fact he had no record label at the time, the purveyor of bedroom electronica along the lines of acts such as The Postal Service managed to crack the upper echelons of Billboard’s Dance/Electonica album chart with his debut Of June back in 2007.

Since then, Owl City’s career has been on a skyward trajectory, with several notable stops on his way up (signing with Universal Republic, platinum certification for his 2009 release Ocean Eyes, and inclusion of that record’s surprise smash “Fireflies” on a commercial for Sony).

As of late last month, Ocean Eyes has sold 1,036,000 albums and 6,298,000 digital songs -- a staggering number considering many American music fans over 30 haven’t even heard of Owl City.

Yet Young isn’t ready to rest until even more are won over by his breezy brand of electro-pop. He still tours as if he’s an indie artist attempting to woo new fans. “I live in a small town in Minnesota so I love traveling and seeing the world,” he says. “The shows [this summer] have been a blast and the new songs have been going over really well. I'm so thankful I get to tour the world during a time when the music industry is as shaky as it is.”

This month, Owl City continues his U.S. trek (he plays July 21 at Los Angeles' Club Nokia) before heading abroad next month and into the fall, where he will morph into true popstar mode, playing dates in cities such as Osaka, Auckland, Sydney, London, Paris and even Jakarta, Indonesia.

“Outside the States, the band is absolutely massive in Indonesia and the Philippines. For a small-town boy, it's crazy,” he says. “Every night it seems more and more people are singing the words along with me,” he says of the current tour. “I love performing a new song and watching the reactions on people's faces. Some listen intently, others don't know what to do, and some just grin the entire time. It makes me happy.”

A growing part of Young’s success in reaching new fans is his collection of clips that remain hot on You Tube. Late last month, the artist dropped his latest video for “Deer in the Headlights,” which is already at nearly a million streams.
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“It was a collaborative idea between my director and myself,” Young said of the clip, which seems ripped from the script of Back to the Future. “We came up with some incredible concepts, pulling from Back to the Future and the 80s in general. Shooting the video was a blast and I can't believe I got to drive the actual DeLorean from the old films. As a big fan of the trilogy, it was kind of a dream come true. I texted my friends and made them quite jealous.”

So how does the singer, which still texts his pals in the Midwest, feel about never leaving the tiny Minnesota town where he grew up in, despite major label success? One might think at this point it’s becoming harder to stay the same person, after world tours and television appearances, but Young says not much has changed and that he prefers to stay in Owatonna.

“I love my little hometown and I wouldn't live anywhere else if I had all the money in the world,” he said. “It's familiar, comfortable, friendly, unpretentious, safe and secure... basically the furthest thing from LA or NYC. I enjoy visiting big cities whenever I'm out on the road but you couldn't pay me to live in any of them. There's just nothing there for me. I love the woods, the meadows, the open fields, the rolling hills and no amount of sushi bars or hipster boutiques could replace them,” he adds.

Tantalizingly, Young told THR last month he writes in [dance music production software program] Logic and that in the future he may offer up a few tracks that veer more in a traditional dance music vein.

“My favorite DJ in the entire world is Armin van Buuren and I'd love to work with him again. He and I wrote a song from his current record Mirage and it was a total dream come true for me,” he said. “I'd love to do more stuff with trance DJs in general because I'm absolutely crazy about how beautifully epic and progressive trance often is. I write a lot of big sweeping DJ/dance tracks in Logic and it's a world I'd love to immerse myself in.”
 

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