“At the time this started to catch fire, I hadn’t really done anything to prepare for what was to come,” he answers down the line from his hometown of Owatonna, Minnesota, where he found success writing songs in his folks’ basement. “I did play in a handful of local bands in high school in people’s basements and coffee shops, but that was about the only experience I’d had performing.”
Young adds that he was the least likely of candidates for a whirlwind pop career. “I am a very introverted, homebody of a guy,” he says. “The first time I flew on an airplane was when I went to New York. But the first show I played as Owl City, I showed up at a sold-out room of about 700 people and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, despite it being terrifying, that was so much fun.’ I called my manager and told him, ‘if there is a way, I want to keep doing this.’”
As small as his ambitions may have initially been, Young’s songs had the effortlessly catchy hooks, the clever, idiosyncratic lyrics, and easily digestible electronic pop signatures—he cites US band The Postal Service and Europop as influences—that allowed them to resonate worldwide.
What he did need was an avenue to reach beyond rural Minnesota—something that MySpace provided in spades at the time of its peak penetration around 2007. “When the music started to connect with people,” he says about nights spent uploading songs after finishing his day job loading Coke onto trucks, “I thought, ‘I am going to do everything I can to make this music thing work for as long as I can, because I really don’t love the whole warehouse lifestyle.’”
With this sudden success, Young moved out of his folks’ place—but he decided to stick with his hometown. “It feels so right for me that I never found myself entertaining the thought of moving anywhere else,” he says. “Whenever I’m in a big city on tour—a place like New York or LA—it just feels too big. My hometown really is just a perfect match.”
Young returns for a second tour of Japan with his new album All Things Bright and Beautiful, the follow-up to his 2009 smash Ocean Eyes. While not charting as consistently, it’s still generating millions of views on YouTube.
Among its songs is the upbeat and overtly religious “Galaxies.” Young’s Christianity is likely lost on Japanese listeners, but it’s something he doesn’t attempt to hide. “For me, the fact is that I’m a person of faith and that my faith has always been very influential in my life,” he explains. “I feel like if I were ever to mask that fact, it would be almost a crime. It’s never been something that I’ve wanted to go out and preach to somebody, but for me it’s always been influential on the art I create.”
What words of advice does one of the early social networking stars have for those who would follow in his footsteps? “I would say make sure that you are creating the sort of music you want to hear both as an artist and as the audience,” he answers.
“I’ve tried to make sure I’m writing heartfelt and pure songs, regardless of whether radio stations or record labels are into them.”
Stellar Ball, Oct 22 (listing).