Owl City creator Adam Young is out on the Verge of the rest of his life, pulsating and lifting to new heights on his forthcoming new full player titled Mobile Orchestra (out July 10). As the title suggests, the mastermind concocts a melting pot of sonic experiences so wholly unique that it could only come from a willingness to explore and observe the world in a new way. Jumping on a phone call recently with Popdust, Young discusses how the record was sewn together from his travels around the world the past few years. "It’s a melting pot of different cities. They all kind of run together," he shares with us exclusively. "Although, a lot of the music was conceptualized in Asia. There’s a lot of stuff I remember beginning in Japan when I was there, like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya. Those are the three cities I always try to visit when I tour over there. Seoul, South Korea; Jakarta, Indonesia; Manila, Philippines, too."
The album's lead single, the Aloe Blacc-assisted Verge, proclaims "ain't too sure what I believe in, but I believe in what I see" in it's opening moment. For Young's stake in the track, he relates how that specific lyric informs the rest of the collection. "It was definitely a process from beginning to end. I think that line in particular speaks to the idea that for me I have to get into this mindset and erase everything (in my mind) I’ve built up before in my work. Mentally, I try to clear the palette and look at what’s there in front of me. I really can only believe in what’s right there in front of my eyes. I don’t want to draw too much on the past bodies of work, and certainly, I don’t want to repeat myself. Aloe wrote that line, but that’s what happened in my mind when I hear it."
He continues, detailing the direction the song itself took early on: "The concept of the song was the idea that everybody has some kind of event in their lives that signifies one close of a chapter and a whole new beginning of another. It’s about a whole new story, basically. That transition between eras is what I wanted to capture. Maybe that could be like a wedding or (in the case of the music video) a graduation or a even new job...or anything that signifies a change in gears. It was my own personal transition between my quitting my day job back in the day and beginning to focus on writing music as my career. That was very sudden for me and so cool. It’s still one of the coolest times in my life. The beauty of it is this song speaks to each individual, wherever they are in their own lives. Hopefully, it’s a suggestion for them and to be an encouragement, too, over anything."
Stylistically, Young wanted to capture the essence of what he has accomplished to this point, but venture into an exciting new direction. "My approach was to try to retain what was familiar about this running thread that’s recognizable as my sound," he says. "I try not to over think it. I wanted to carry that thread. My sound has these sonic motors, I like to call them. There are these little synthesizers and patches and different elements that propel the music. A lot of the time, they remind me of something U2 would do on guitar. The opening intro on ‘Verge’ has this motorized sound. In that case, it is a guitar. That’s the kind of thing I try to keep as a sonic element continuing through my records. Beyond that, anything goes for me. I like to have those motors, though, to make it all recognizable."
With only 10 tracks to unfold Young's new musical tale, the album involves far more than just his pounding, explosive upheaval. Fans will be able to dig into jazz, country and even rock, at times. "I really wanted every song to stand apart from the rest. That approach is a lot different than how I approached my earlier records, which is to have every song flow into the next and have this recurring theme throughout. This time, I wanted to turn that upside down and hopefully have each song feel a little bit different than the rest, in terms of sonic palette," he shares. "There are songs inspired from rock music. My love of Blink-182 and Green Day came out in a song called ‘Bird with a Broken Wing.’ There’s the dance-EDM vibe in ‘Verge.’ There’s a song called ‘Can’t Live Without You’ that is sort of more of the ballad, acoustic-based. There’s another called ‘My Everything’ [above] and ‘You’re Not Alone.’ I tried to hit everything across the board."
On another song called Back Home, Young basks in the relief his hometown brings every time he travels back from a long stint of touring. "It’s actually been kind of a long-running inspiration since I began. [The song] really is so literal in the sense that whenever I come home from a long tour, I drive home on the same freeway. I take the same turns, and I pass the same stuff on the way home. It’s a sense of accomplishment and relief. I’m from a small town in Minnesota. It’s the polar opposite from a place like Tokyo or Beijing. When I come home, I always feel this total sense of release. I wanted to capture that (finally) on this record. I’ve been feeling that for so many years now. Because I spent so much time away, especially in Asia, on the other side of the planet, I wanted to pay respect to that feeling of finally going home."
The track features country singer Jake Owen (What We Ain't Got, Real Life), an unlikely collaboration which came about via email. "I’ve been such a huge fan of Jake’s for a few years now. I was so familiar with his work before I wrote that song. The collaboration came about rather spontaneously," Young recalls. "I had written the song, subconsciously inspired by his work. Then, my manager sent me an email and said ‘you should ask him to feature on it. What do you have to lose?’ I thought ‘yea, right. He probably doesn’t know me from anybody.’ I was too starstruck, too scared to ask him, you know?"
"I went out on a limb and sent him this song. I introduced myself. I didn’t really expect to hear back from him. But he wrote back right away. He was like ‘yea, I’m a fan of your work, as well. I’d be thrilled to do this.'"
Musically, the song sits somewhere between Young's "electronic" work and a "country sensibility." "It’s definitely my first experimentation in the more pop-country hybrid sound. I loved working on it. My hope is that it does have this cool cross between the [two]. What I think Jake lent to the song, just vocally, is incredible. That is really half the weight and value of the song right here." Elsewhere, Young enlisted Nineties pop group Hanson on Unbelievable (listen below). He explains how they teamed together to create such a magical strip of music: "I’m a child of the mid- to late-Eighties, so I was in the studio thinking about stuff that isn’t around anymore (like fads or clothing or styles or food, whatever it is) from my childhood. I started to think. I had this whole list of things. I wrote this song based on that nostalgia. Hanson popped into my head right away. Of course, they really paved the way for me when I was in fourth or fifth grade. They really introduced me to my first love of music. They were the first music that I ever really started loving. I noticed that as a kid, too. It was a thing where I cold turkey reached out to them and sent them this song. Again, I didn’t really know what to expect. They were so gracious and so kind and agreed to sing on it. I think it’s way better because of their involvement."
And speaking of fusing together two vastly different sounds, Young shares his thoughts on whether music could ever reach a point where genres no longer exist. "I think a big thing for me and seeing that tendency in myself has definitely been due to how accessible music is now. I open Spotify and I can spend all day exploring and finding stuff I never would have found otherwise. As a songwriter, spending an hour doing that right before I try to write a song of my own, it erases the genre mindset like ‘oh, this won’t work because it should only be under these parameters.’ It’d be amazing if one day those lines were blurred."
Previously, Young teamed up with pop goddess Carly Rae Jepsen on 2012's hit Good Time, featured on his Midsummer Station disc. Following moderate success, they were slapped with a $500,000 lawsuit. Singer-songwriter Allyson Burnett claimed the summer anthem ripped off her own Ah, It's a Love Song. After a lengthy debacle and thorough investigation, her allegations were unfounded and the lawsuits were dropped. A similar copyright infringement lawsuit was forged last year in regards to Robin Thicke, Pharrell and T.I.'s 2013 sultry smash Blurred Lines, by the Marvin Gaye estate. In the initial order, the children of the music legend alleged the song was a replication of Gaye's Got to Give It Up. As a result, the federal court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and a $7.4 million payout. According to an account statement, Blurred Lines racked in a whopping $16.7 million in total profit. But will the final ruling adversely affect content creation, especially in music, going forward? Young gives his thoughts, "I think it could play on influence in the way songs are written. I can definitely envision writers in the studio throwing away ideas, thinking, ‘that’s too close to this song.’"
"When I’m in the room with other writers, and someone comes up with a melody, that’s so powerful," he says. "That’s almost like we have to go with this, and it has to see the light of day. It’s exciting. That overshadows the ‘what if we’re stepping on toes and don’t know it.' Ultimately, there are only 12 notes in the scale. There’s multiple octaves, but you only have 12 to work with. At some point, something is going to sound like something else. As long as you’re honest and not doing the wrong thing, you should be good."
Make sure you grab a copy of Owl City's new single Verge and pre-order Mobile Orchestra on iTunes now!
[PHOTO CREDIT: Pamela Littky]