Adam Young Of Sky Sailing And Owl City: The Idolator Interview

Becky Bain | August 11, 2010 10:00 am

Take away Adam Young’s synthesizer and hand him a guitar, and you’ve got the difference between the 24-year old singer’s two most prominent solo projects. While Young’s voice is tucked under layers of synths in his bedroom pop outfit Owl City, his smooth vocals are able to breathe and float through the melodies of his side project, Sky Sailing.

Sky Sailing’s songs, featured on the recently released An Airplane Carried Me To Bed and described by Young himself as “organic, innocent, even naive”, were actually written over three years ago, only to eventually be unshelved by Young while prepping his Ocean Eyes follow-up.

Young cheerfully indulged us with an e-mail interview, letting us in on his creative process, what he’s got in store for the future of Owl City, and what the deal is with all his various band names. Jump below for our one-on-one!

Idolator: You wrote the songs on An Airplane Carried Me To Bed over three years ago. How much did the songs change from when you first wrote them? Were they all re-recorded for the 2010 release?

Adam Young: I wrote and recorded the record over the course of several months in 2007, mastered it and put it in the can. Between then and now, Owl City began to take off and I’ve only just found time to dig the Sky Sailing record out again and haul it up from the basement into the light of day. Aside from some mixing work and a couple vocal overdubs, An Airplane Carried Me to Bed is exactly the way it was when it was first completed over three years ago.


Have you changed as an artist in between the time you wrote songs as Sky Sailing and writing Ocean Eyes as Owl City?

Definitely, although I find the process of “time” really interesting, that by leaving a finished song or an entire record alone for a long time, almost forgetting all about it, and then returning to it months or years later with fresh ears… there’s something really pure about going back and hearing what you did a long time ago largely because the creative growth and process, as engineer, producer and mixer, is always changing, and by leaps and bounds. The thing that struck me when I went back and listened to Airplane after a couple years was how organic, innocent, even naive it was. It has a really transparent, honest quality to it and I wanted to shed light on that and I’m so thankful I had a shot at doing so.

Besides focusing on more acoustics than synths, Sky Sailing doesn’t seem far off from your sound as Owl City. Why release this record under an alternate band name?

I knew early on that Sky Sailing would be its own thing, and anything I made that veered off in a different direction would be categorized under another project. It’s strange to a lot of people because both “bands” embody material written and record by the same guy, everything in Sky Sailing and Owl City is imagined by the same mind, therefore giving the two bands similar qualities (obviously the same voice is featured in both projects, thus drawing further connections between the two) but I think both endeavors are disconnected enough from each other, both in aesthetic, direction, message, and certainly by general mechanics to ultimately consistently embody their own identities. As a writer, I’ve wanted to explore countless genres over the course of my career, and having separate entities allows me to do that, rather than try to force all content into one mold.

Sky Sailing – “Brielle”

There’s a lot of dream imagery in your songs—daydreaming about exploring the world (“Take Me Somewhere Nice”) and returning back home (“Alaska”), for example, or fantasizing about a dreamgirl (“Brielle”). What inspires so much fantasy in your lyrics?

I haven’t been a lot of places, seen a great deal of the world, or experienced a lot of things due to my shyness, and thus it’s allowed me to wonder what it’s all really like, putting a bit of an escapist, imaginative twist on it. One of the things I love the most about daydreaming is that it never lets the daydreamer down. Daydreams are not disappointing like life so often is, and I find that tremendously inspiring musically.

What musical direction do you want Owl City to go into? Do you ever imagine your music going to a darker place?

It’s hard to eloquently put into words, but Owl City kind of does its own thing in terms of writing. When I sit down to write something new, I have an idea of the direction I want to head in, but what ultimately results is usually, if not always, extremely different than the vision I initially intended. It’s a wonderful process and I love watching it happen right in front of me. It’s like the songs almost write themselves and I just happen to be there.

Do you have any collaborations coming up on your Ocean Eyes follow-up?

Lots of ideas swirling around. However, I’m just taking it a day at a time.

Does your faith as a Christian influence how you write your music or what you write about, or do you keep those two parts of yourself separate?

My faith definitely plays a massive role in the way I write, the content within my music and what drives me to do what I do. My faith is such a large part of who I am, if I tried to keep it separate from me, it would be like cutting off a hand. I don’t think I could write, or be motivated whatsoever without it. It’s truly the reason I do what I do.

You actually have a ton of side projects with various band names, even if each band only has a handful of songs each: Port Blue, Aquarium, Insect Airport, The Grizzly, Dolphin Park, just to name a few. Why do you feel the need to give each specific sound a different name? And how do you come up with all these band names? Are they all random words that sound good together, or do they all mean something?

Haha. A lot of them were beginnings of ideas I started in high school. Some of them are parodies, others are meant to be taken seriously. The true projects I put energy into are Owl City, Sky Sailing and Port Blue. The titles of each are merely two words put together that, to me, conjure up a great deal of imagery and thus, are inspiring in and of themselves.

What are you looking forward to most touring with Maroon 5 and Kris Allen?

The pizza.

You write about dreaming a lot, so we have to ask—did you see Inception?

Me and my dad went to see it. He thought it was stupid and I thought it was great, though I think one of the things that is so likable about it is the ambiguity. It’s designed to be likable without being overtly obvious, and that I enjoy.

Whose dreams would you love to invade?

If I could invade anyone’s dreams it would be Hulk Hogan.

Head on over to Owl City’s official website to hear more of Adam’s tunes, and pick up Sky Sailing’s An Airplane Carried Me To Bed, out now.