Owl City: ‘Darkness’ lit up by Fireflies and fans’ voices

LSY! college reporter Narmeen Karzoun interviews Adam Young, whose life was transformed by his Owl City project. (Photo by Michelle Montana)

LSY! college reporter Narmeen Karzoun interviews Adam Young, whose life was transformed by his Owl City project. (Photo by Michelle Montana)

By Narmeen Karzoun

As the lights on stage softened, the infectious electronic melody that once topped the Billboard Hot 100 began to play through the speakers.

Immediately, the audience roared with excitement.

Adam Young threw his right arm, microphone in hand, into the air, extending the power of the music to the crowd. And they responded, singing the words that echoed off the walls:

You would not believe your eyes

If ten million fireflies

Lit up the world as I fell asleep…

The song “Fireflies” not only offers a mixture of upbeat lyrics and contagious rhythms, but for its composer and singer Adam Young – better known as Owl City – it offered a chance to escape from an unhappy reality.

And escape he did, through his love of creating music and the birth of his second Owl City album, Ocean Eyes. Instantaneously, “Fireflies” propelled Adam into the spotlight, solidifying his place in music.

To get a deeper understanding of Adam’s rapid rise to fame and passion for music, I caught up with him on tour for his fourth album, The Midsummer Station.

He greeted me like an old friend – warm and engaging – and began to explain how out-of-the-blue his music stardom really was.

“Having the amount of success that I’ve been lucky to have was so unexpected,” he says, flashing a soft smile. “I was never daydreaming about it, it was so far out of my reach and then it happened to me. I was like, ‘This is crazy, I have to take this a day at a time.’ But I’m so blessed and grateful to have this opportunity.”

“It happened to me…”

Instantly I’m taken back to three years ago when I first heard the song “Fireflies.” I originally discovered it playing one evening in the SUNY Buffalo State student union. The infectious lyrics quickly captivated me – never had I heard anything like it before. Soon after, every pop station I turned to began playing the song as well. Then seemingly overnight, the song’s popularity grew – making it a worldwide hit.

But before the rapid success of Ocean Eyes, Adam says, he was trapped in a dead-end job, wasting time going to school for nothing in particular. It was there in his parents’ Minnesota basement, while he struggled to overcome insomnia and deal with his everyday life, that the Owl City project was born.

“If it wasn’t for music, if it wasn’t for this project taking off, I would probably be back home, working at a job I hate, going to school for nothing, trying to figure things out,” he said. “I would probably be back at my old job, working for UPS, loading trucks. It would be pretty sad. I’m very grateful.”

Adam Young, better known as Owl City, performs at WKSE-FM's Kissmass Bash. (Photo by Tim O'Shei)

Adam Young, better known as Owl City, performs at WKSE-FM’s Kissmass Bash. (Photo by Tim O’Shei)

One thing that hasn’t changed since the start of Owl City is Adam’s ability to deal with an often-dark, introspective reality through his upbeat music.

“Maybe people think I’m this incredibly bubbly, happy guy with no problems and it’s pretty much the opposite – not that I’m a dark guy,” he said, laughing to himself. “My music sounds particularly optimistic because I am sort of a quiet, reserved, really introverted guy who has a lot of darkness behind it. That’s my way of tapping into that and dealing with life. I like to think of music as a way of escaping from reality, so the opposite of my reality is this beautiful place. I like to go there, and come back from there.”

Something else that hasn’t changed much since the beginning is Adam’s vast appreciation toward his fans. I immediately recall him on stage clapping for the audience members, thanking them for being at the concert and believing in a “Minnesota boy who had nothing.”

For a musician like Adam, fans are what make this type of career worth having.

“It’s those moments that I really live for when I say to the crowd, ‘You guys sing this part!’ and just listen to a few hundred or thousand people sing a handful of lyrics that I wrote in my parents’ basement,” he said. “That to me is what it’s all about. It’s so moving to hear that. It makes you want to keep pressing on.”

As the interview comes to an end, I find myself thinking about the different places our interests unexpectedly lead us. Adam is undeniable proof that when you follow your passion, anything is possible.

Narmeen Karzoun is a journalism major at SUNY Buffalo State who graduates next month.

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