Owl City’s Unlikely Climb: From the basement to the charts.

 

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As musicians, we all start from humble beginnings. In fact, many people begin by making beats in mom’s basement but few of us ever went directly from mom’s basement to the #1 spot on iTunes, deafening internet chatter, and a sold out US concert tour. However for Adam Young, better known to everyone as “Owl City,” that dream has truly become a reality in the last two years.

Adam Young’s transition from working in a Coca-Cola warehouse in Owatonna, Minnesota, to crafting a platinum record a few years later, is one of the biggest musical success stories in recent memory, a Music 2.0 success story. While working each day at a factory warehouse, he was busy leveraging social media sites like MySpace to distribute music direct to fans and hone his song-writing/production skill by getting instant feedback from listeners. Each day, Adam would rush home from the warehouse and sit down to capture whatever melody he had been kicking around all day. When Adam sat down to create music, he launched Reason.

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“I wrote and recorded Ocean Eyes in my parents’ basement,” Young, the voice of Owl City, says, reflecting on the story we’ve now all heard: the basement-trapped kid producing a chart-topping breakout LP with a smash single (“Fireflies”). Things, surprisingly however, didn’t change that much for the recording of his new LP All Things Bright & Beautiful. Despite now recording in his own house, Young couldn’t part with a certain setting. “Still in a basement”. Young says, explaining where he recorded the new album.  This basement did have its perks, though. “It was a bit more isolated in the way that I could just go downstairs and hit record whenever I wanted,” Young says. “I could make as much noise as I wanted to at night and not bother anybody.”

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Young does confess that the recording environment wasn’t the only distinction between Ocean Eyes and All Things Bright And Beautiful. “The biggest difference between these two albums is just the way it’s put together,” he explains. “I spent a lot more time pre-recording All Things Bright And Beautiful, just really polishing what I knew about the gear that I have in the studio, what attack and release time and threshold values on compressors and things that really affect the end result. Thus the new record feels a lot more stitched together and a lot more resolved.”

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From the hip-hop-inflected, electro anthem “Alligator Sky” (which features MC Shawn Chrystopher) to the orchestrally-tinged, club-friendly “Galaxies,” the songs on All Things Bright And Beautiful contain Owl City’s most fully-formed musical ideas to date. “’Alligator Sky’ is kind of a rabbit hole on the record, “Young explains. “It was just a place to create a sore thumb in a likable way. The whole hip-hop thing is something I’ve never experimented with and it was a fun thing to tackle. I’m a big fan of a lot of older hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest and some early pretty legendary hip-hop stuff from the ‘90s. It was kind of my homage to that in an abstract way.”

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All Things Bright And Beautiful also features an appearance from Canadian musician Lights, who lends her vocals to “The Yacht Club.” There was never a doubt who Young wanted on the track. “I knew when I was writing the song that I wanted a female, kind of dreamy, breathy, sort of innocent vocal on this track,” he explains, “and Lights was the first person I thought of. I reached out to her and she was kind enough to oblige.” Even though All Things Bright And Beautiful is a huge progression for Owl City, Young admits he’s still getting used to all of the success he’s experienced over the past few years.

“When I wrote ‘Fireflies’ I never imagined it would resonate with people,” Young admits. “It really blew me away; I don’t think there’s any equation you could really put together to get something as magical as that was.” And while he may still be recording in a basment, once the songwriter steps outside, roaming the streets of Owatonna, it’s certainly a different experience. “When I was growing up in that little town I was kind of a nobody,” he says. ” (But now) people will stop me and say ‘You’re that guy.’”

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