Steinway Artist Feature: Night Owl Adam Young Takes Flight
It’s the kind of success story many young artists dream of: a shy insomniac, lugging boxes and loading trucks by day, then whittling away the long nights making music in the basement of his parents’ home. Alone but focused, he reaches out to connect with an audience through social media—posting his musical compositions on MySpace and YouTube and watching in amazement as his exposure and his fan base skyrocket overnight. Then come the record deals. The tours. The dream collaborations with musicians and artists he’d once admired only from afar.
Meet Steinway Artist Adam Young, known to many of his fans as the electronic musical venture Owl City. Though he’s largely recognized for his electronic pop oeuvre and his experiments in “laptronica,” Young is also a diverse instrumentalist with a deep affinity for the classical sound and aesthetic of the acoustic piano.
Young’s ascension to stardom was a meteoric rise he’s described as “zero to sixty in one second.” To put the time frame in perspective, consider that Owl City hit the music scene right about the same time Steve Jobs was introducing the first iPhone. And thanks to the Platinum-selling 2009 single “Fireflies” from Young’s second album Ocean Eyes and the 2012 summer smash “Good Time” duet with Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen, the electronic energies of Owl City are now almost as ubiquitous as the iPhone itself.
Young admits it’s been a wild ride. “It was tough to process at first,” he says. He’s had to work at finding ways to stay grounded, to stay focused on the music while the trappings of stardom whirl around him. One way he’s succeeded is by staying close to family and friends in his hometown of Owatonna, Minnesota. Another way is by beginning all of his musical compositions in an unlikely place for a young electronic pop artist: seated at an antique Steinway Model L grand piano.
“My Steinway,” he begins, then stops, begins again—“It’s…it’s…I love it so much.” He laughs. His energy is infectious, the aura of a person whose thoughts are firing on a level that outpaces his ability to articulate them. “It gives me so much inspiration,” he says.
Even though Young, born in 1986, is “young” indeed, in relation to the venerable piano manufacturer that will soon celebrate its 160th anniversary, he clearly remembers his introduction to the brand. “Back when I was nine or ten, I used to go into my church in Owatonna, where there was a Steinway Model D. I’d slip in on a weekday when there was nobody there and just fiddle around on the piano. It had such a magical quality to it.”
Young’s career, especially through the work he’s completed as Owl City, has taken him in a decidedly electronic direction. But he’s never moved far from the acoustic piano roots that drove his early composing efforts. “I’m very interested in the marriage between electronic music and acoustic instruments,” he says, “so I love featuring acoustic pianos in some of the dance music I produce. As an electronic-oriented artist there is something so fulfilling, so amazing, so inspiring about the acoustic piano. There are no electronics to it—it’s wood and wires. That’s so cool to me. There’s no editing and there’s no sequencing. The piano is designed to just feel. And you do. You feel so much more sitting at it than you do working with a synthesizer plug in, looking at a screen on an airplane or wherever you may be.”
But what about creating that “feeling” on the road? Young laughs. “Well, here’s the bummer,” he says. “I wish I could take my Steinway everywhere I go out on the road. I love it that much. I’m that attached to it. I write all my music, from the first note to the last, sitting at my Steinway in my house.”
So he’s developed a strategy for bringing some of the inspiration of his Steinway along for the ride, even when the ride is on an airplane or a tour bus. “What I do is record and sample tracks when I’m at home, working at the piano,” he says. “I compile music files. Then I bring those files with me on the road. A lot of times those clips, those simple piano recordings will be all the inspiration I need to create a new track. So the Steinway still has a presence in my music, even on the road.”
On the road indeed. As the summer winds to a close and the fall revs up, Young has dates booked all over the United States and Europe, not to mention Japan, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. He admits it’s going to be a very busy year, and that he’s still a little stunned by the pace of success.
“This was unexpected. This level of performing, of making music—it was something I didn’t think I’d be able to do. So the next step is to keep it going; to keep doing what I love and keep trying new things,” he says. “I’m so blessed to be here.”
About Adam Young
Singer-songwriter and instrumentalist Adam Young is widely known for his work with Platinum-selling electronic music project Owl City, which he created in 2007 in his hometown of Owatonna, Minnesota. Prior to signing with Universal Republic records, Young self-released 2007’s EP Of June and 2008’s album Maybe I’m Dreaming, both of which reached the Top 20 on Billboard’s Electronic Albums chart. Young’s second album, Ocean Eyes, featured the smash hit “Fireflies,” which went to #1 in 24 countries including the U.S., where it hit the top spot twice, and sold more than 12 million downloads worldwide. Owl City released its third studio album All Things Bright and Beautiful in 2011 and its fourth, The Midsummer Station, in August 2012. The latest album features a collaboration with Carly Rae Jepson for the single “Good Time.” Of Young’s eclectic approach to both classical and electronic styles, The New York Times wrote it is “a textbook illustration of how the music business needs new and old forms of media to make an artist a star.” In addition to his recording and performance work, Young is the founder of Sky Harbor Studios, where he provides remixing and production for artists including Dispatch, John Mayer, Relient K and Armin van Buuren. www.ayoungmusic.com and www.owlcitymusic.com.