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The imagination of Owl City's Adam Young runs wild, right up the charts



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Owl City auteur Adam Young prefers e-mail interviews " emblematic of his musical oeuvre and style.

His reliance on computers is reflected in the burbling electronic backdrops of his songs, which he creates alone in a home studio, first in his parents' basement, and now in his Minnesota apartment. The colder, impersonal sonics act as a counterweight for tunes that bubble over with fantastical imagery and upbeat, if somewhat cloying, sentiments, exemplified on his No. 1 Billboard hit, "Fireflies."

"I get a thousand hugs / From 10,000 lightning bugs," Young sings over synthesized strings. "To 10 million fireflies, I'm weird 'cause I hate goodbyes / I got misty eyes as they said farewell."
An only child, Young spent countless hours by himself whiling away his time, not with TV, but books and video games. This spurred his imagination, which comes out in highly metaphoric tracks such as "Vanilla Twilight," where stars lean down to kiss you, and the jangly love song which imagines their relationship as "The Bird and The Worm."

The band was inspired by the video game "Wave Race 64," which has a level dubbed Dolphin Park, which Young wishes he could live in, explaining that the "aesthetic/mood/feel looks like the way I want Owl City to sound."

"I daydream a lot, and one of the reasons I started writing music was because I wanted to have something to 'show' for my whimsical dreams and imaginings that I could physically take in," he said. "I think the idea that really intrigued me so much about starting an electronica project, was the idea of singing songs about really random, weird concepts and ideas, ones that don't even make sense " combined with dreamy, surreal, optimistic music.

"I think the quirky 'dreaminess' that often embodies electronica is what interests me the most and, as a solo artist, I feel it's a genre with endless possibilities because it relies so heavily on computers and hardware and circuits rather than other musicians. You can be an orchestra conductor without a symphony."

Young was influenced by instrumental artists such Boards of Canada, Unwed Sailor and Hammock, and claims a real affection for "experimental abstract music."

Owl City started in 2007 when he alleviated insomnia by making music in his parents' basement. He posted some of the material on MySpace, and the positive response led to him self-releasing the "Of June" EP. It features the viral sensation, "Hello Seattle," which struck Young " who had never traveled far from his home at the time " as an exotic locale.

He followed that in 2008 with his debut, "Maybe I'm Dreaming," which climbed into the top ranks of Billboard's electronic-music charts with no record label backing. Young signed with Universal Republic last year and released the similarly searching "Ocean Eyes," recorded in his home studio just as he always has, despite the greater resources at his disposal. The label's support helped "Fireflies" light up the top chart spot in November.

But despite the unprecedented success, Young claims things haven't changed much.

"The response has been incredible and unexpected, but my view hasn't changed," he said. "Owl City has always been something very specific in my head " an idea with a vivid vision" and no amount of unearned 'success' will change the way I approach the concept. I couldn't be happier about what has happened this past year, but that doesn't change the mission I'm out to accomplish: creating."

Backed by a quintet of musicians adding everything from piano, cello and violin, Young's set about finding a way to bring the same creativity to live performances as he has to writing and recording the music. It's a challenge, but he's up for it.

"There are thousands of ways to take written material from the studio to the stage, and it's been tricky sifting through all of them," he said. "It's still evolving, but that challenge is something that's grown me as an artist.""Chris Parker

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