Mike Ragogna: Okay, "Fireflies" was a major hit for a certain group we like to call Owl City except the group is a "he" named Adam Young. Fair introduction?
Adam Young: That was good, yeah, that was. It was one of a kind, but it was wonderful.
MR: (laughs) So, Adam Young of Owl City or just plain Owl City or Adam Young, can you fill in the audience about your new DVD Live from Los Angeles, what that tour was about, your history and like five other questions I haven't asked yet?
AY: Sure, sure. The DVD was really just a fun way to capture what has become such a big thing, at least for me, in terms of where I came from, you know, where I grew up, my roots as sort of an aspiring musician. So, just this last year, filming this DVD in LA was really kind of a culmination to date of this tiny little project by this one, solitary, shy kid from Minnesota. All of a sudden, three years later, here we are in LA filming our first DVD. It was just kind of a fun way to capture the moment and really see it as a tangible thing. But certainly for me, starting out as a musician, it was very much the introverted shy kid from a very small town, the only child, just started to write music for fun, just as an escape, really, just to get out of the everyday mundane life. Music has always been my vehicle to sort of get out of myself, so that's how it started. It's crazy because never in a million years would I have ever thought that I'd be here where I am. So, I am very, very thrilled to be able to do what I love.
MR: This concert was filmed at the Nokia. How incredible was that venue?
AY: It's incredible, it's amazing. It's like a giant, giant recording studio. I mean, it's this amazing room with just incredible acoustics and everything's treated. You know how everything in LA is like 10% better in video and audio and everything technological. It was a huge honor to play there.
MR: How would you describe your music?
AY: I think it's very much in the pop umbrella but it is very much electronic by nature, and certainly, that kind of pop-electronic hybrid is something I've always been really interested in because it allows the memorable polished pop melodies that stick in your head, music to sing along with. I think the electronic nature of it, since I'm kind of a quirky guy, really allows me to be a passionate artist with a paintbrush and a blank canvas. It's like you can do anything, and suddenly it's one kid, a producer, alone in his bedroom on his computer. I can suddenly be a conductor in front of a symphony and it's just endless, and that's what I really
love about it.
MR: You have the studio part down, obviously, and that's comfortable. But how would you describe your relationship with an audience in a live setting?
AY: You know, for me, it's always kind of changing, certainly for the better. When I started playing live on the road and started touring about two years ago, I realized that performing in front of people was just the tip of the iceberg for me. There is a sort of irony that I was never in a band or choir or orchestra growing up. I never sang in church, my parents weren't really musicians or even music consumers at all, so the idea of standing up in front of people and performing or speaking or anything with people watching was pretty scary. So, two years ago, I was just kind of this evil genius mad scientist off stage just behind his laptop hiding behind screens and his computer. It was a challenge to bring that sense of quirkiness and that pop sensibility that appears on the record and blow that up bigger than life and bring it to the stage and make it fun and make it big and make it interesting because it is so different. It's not just based on guitar, drums and keyboards. It's got more to it on the record and that was a fun challenge. That connection to the audience, I think, having gone through the change has only grown. It's a lot easier now for me to be the front man and to connect with the audience and that's a big part of the show. That's important.
MR: When you're recording your studio albums, do you have a sense of what you're going to present live? Or might it be vice-versa, live affecting your studio recording process?
AY: Having been on the road nonstop for the last few years, being on the road six months of the year the last few years, it certainly influences how I go back into the studio because I'm thinking that live performances sort of influence a lot of things like what key is the song going to be because if I'm going to sing the intro down an octave, so how can I arrange the song? Or, what key should it be in so I can sing it full voice in a live setting, which is very much different given the energy and everybody in the room, than just by yourself in the vocal booth in the studio. So, yeah, things like that certainly influence it. That's what I love about it. If I was just a studio guy--and I do love everything about the studio--but certainly the music would be in a very different place if the touring was not in the picture. It's really fun how both parts of it really influence each other and really steer the music into really interesting directions to follow. It's always evolving and I love that.
MR: Adam, you're a strong Christian. Do those topics often come into your material? Are you often categorized as a "Christian" act in addition to being a pop or electronic artist?
AY: You know, that's something I've always been interested to watch from the sidelines and to kind of see where people inherently categorize me as an artist. I've never wanted to go out and say, "Here's where I belong and here's where my music should be categorized along these other artists," or in whatever circles. I've always tried to make sure that my faith was part of the music writing and I was never sort of putting on a mask or trying to be somebody I wasn't. But given that the songs are certainly very honest and up front and maybe kind of brave in that respect. I'm certainly not opposed to people filing the project name amongst other things that are similar as far as content. It's always interesting to see what's going on without having a specific say. I think a lot of times people are looking to the artist to say, "Are you calling yourself a Christian band or not? Give us something we can run with," and when the artist is silent, it's interesting to see where culture or the industry as a standard will place you. So, it's been cool seeing me placed in the Christian world and sometimes not and sometimes in between, and it's always been really compelling to watch when it happens.
MR: You've had huge success, especially with the song "Fireflies." But after watching Live from Los Angeles, which of these performances do you look at and you go, "Wow, I really like that"?
AY: You know, it's a chain reaction thing. The intro dips down in the middle and just kind of pulls out. It's just solo voice and piano. Then, at the end, it just ramps back up. The few times when I've watched it all of the way through, I think I've always been really inwardly proud where it's like, "Wow, at the end, I actually pulled it off and I actually did it and here's this nobody from nowhere." Suddenly, I can watch this DVD--that's been the last 3 or 4 years--of a lot of hard work, energy and time, blood, sweat, and tears all in this tangible performance. Once I get to the end of this, it's like one of those rides, like a rollercoaster.
MR: Let's talk about your influences. One of them is seems Thomas Newman, of course, from the Newman dynasty that includes Randy, Alfred and Lionel. How did Thomas influence you?
AY: Growing up, I was always a big fan of the Pixar films. Thomas Newman was very influential on me because of the films Finding Nemo and Wall-E. He did most of the scores for those. He's done endless film scores that have been wonderful. I've always connected with him more than any other film composer. There's some quality to what he does and it's amazing. You can play the first few seconds of any of his pieces and you know right away that it's him because it sounds like nobody else. I think that's sort of what it means to be an artist. I think it's inherently interesting to be recognized that way.
MR: Can you go into your humble origins, which has something to do with Coca-Cola, right?
AY: Yeah, it does. About three or four years ago, I was living in my hometown of about 20,000 people and I was working for Coca-Cola doing the warehouse job thing. I wasn't going to college and I was looking for the next break. It didn't seem to be on the horizon at all, so I was very much stuck at work everyday. I really didn't like it. So, because of this mundane world that I was stuck in, I started creating, started dreaming and started writing. Suddenly, I could sort of escape from where I was, suddenly I could see the world or go anywhere and do anything or be anybody through writing and through lyrics and through
music. I wasn't really a guy with a plan to make records, put out records, write songs, do music videos or tour or all of the things I've been blessed with the last few years because it really came out of nowhere for me.
MR: What advice would you have for new artists?
AY: I would say I've never been incredible with advice. But to somebody making music on their own, my advice is to just make sure that whatever you're creating is very much pure and very much heartfelt so at the end of the day, you would be just as happy if the song were to get finished. And if it goes to number one or if no one else in the world hears it, you feel just as proud either way because you created it. What the song is saying and what it means to you, I think that is the test. You're not writing for the radio, the charts, or for Billboard, you're just doing what you're passionate about, and I think that's the heart of it.
MR: Adam, lately, you've been performing a song called "I Hope You Think of Me," which is a precursor to your fourth studio album, which will be released later this year. Can you give us any hints about it?
AY: Yeah, I'm actually really hard at work hoping for a release this summer. I'm just grinding away, just trying to create a lot of new material. I feel like a lot of the new songs are very much more dance-oriented. I've always been influenced by European trance music, a lot of the Dutch DJs have always been very influential on me. Yeah, it's coming along, 10-12 songs written, so it's just that middle phase, so it's really exciting.
MR: You'll be touring.
AY: Yeah, we're shooting for August/September in North America and hopefully, winding up the rest later this year.
MR: OK, speaking of winding up, I've had a very generous amount of your time and I really appreciate it. Any words of wisdom from Adam Young aka Owl City?
AY: I guess I've never been that philosophical or anything. As far as moving forward, as my crazy journey has taught me, live every moment as if it's your last, because it really is true that you never know what you have until it's gone. So, really just try to hang on to every moment and cherish it.
MR: Beautiful, very nicely said. All the best with everything, Adam. As far as that fourth studio album, we'll be waiting with bated breath, whatever that means.
AY: OK, I really appreciate it.
Transcribed by Brian O'Neal
TRAMPLED BY TURTLES - STARS AND SATELLITES
Been Trampled By Turtles lately? Here's your chance, with their new video, The Making of Stars And Satellites, the album to be released on April 10. This HuffPost exclusive features the songs "Keys to Paradise," "Widower's Heart" and "Midnight on the Interstate" from the new album.
A Conversation with moe.'s Chuck Garvey
Mike Ragogna: So? What happened to the La Las?
Chuck Garvey: They temporarily went "bye bye," then we got sad and asked them to come back. They were in the outro of "Suck A Lemon." When John Travis, who produced/mixed, took them out of the first mix of the song, Rob asked where they went. It was funny and then it stuck!
MR: You're familiar with the group The LAs? Was this also some sort of unconscious tribute to them as well?
CG: Not at all. Nothing against them, it just came from the silly la la chorus...
MR: How did it feel having a producer helm this one?
CG: Great! We needed someone else to bounce everything off of...and to mix. We know how to do all this stuff, but having that objective, capable outsider to help get something new, while taking over the workload that "producing" entails, let us just be musicians and work on our immediate tasks. Creativity in the studio can get steamrollered by the technical workload, scheduling, etc. He really enabled us to get it done quickly and keep the quality high.
MR: Let's get into some of the songs on What Happened To The LA LA's. Your song "Suck A Lemon" has something to do with Halloween. Can you go into that?
CG: We asked our fans to come up with a theme for our Halloween show two years ago. They ultimately voted in favor of "The Electric Lemoe.nade Acid Test," one of many submissions. We said that each band member would write a song specifically for this show, so I wrote "Suck A Lemon." It went over ok, I guess! I like the newer, heavy treatment we came up with in the studio.
MR: Lyrically, Al Schnier's song "Downward Facing Dog" is a very personal song. What's the story behind that one?
CG: He has said that it has a lot to do with his ties to family, having parents as well as being one. Realizing his place in a continuum, perhaps? I also get a sense of mortality that is maybe fleeting, but also rewarding.
MR: You've been performing "Bones Of Lazarus" for like ten years. What's the story behind "Lazarus"'s studio resurrection?
CG: It started out life as "Lazarus," then Rob's brother John wrote a story called "The Bones Of Lazarus." After the new arrangement for this album, Rob brought out the new title. This new version has an added verse, as well as a section of an instrumental segue we call "Ricky Martin" grafted in.
MR: How would you describe moe.'s sound these days?
CG: We have resurrected our own straight up rock sound for many songs, but there are always a bunch of tricks up our sleeves. Plus Jim plays xylophone, vibes, and other crazy synth sounds and samples that can easily help alter the overall personality of any song! No one stays in one spot for very long...
MR: Are there any bands out there that moe. feels most akin with and why?
CG: Hmmm...that's tough. We haven't reinvented the wheel, by any means, but it definitely has a unique, funky-ass Mad Max spinning rim on it! I guess there are touches of Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead, but with King Crimson, The Who, Kiss, and Gram Parsons mixed in. I am fulla s**t. Really, I think we are just trying to condense a lot of influences and forebears--too many to really acknowledge--and have distinctive, unique voices as instrumentalists and vocalists. It's not easy! We are all a bit schizophrenic, so sometimes the result is anarchic, but pleasant.
MR: WIll the LA LAs really ever come back?
CG: They are back, baby!
MR: Chuck, what advice do you have for new artists?
CG: You can do it all yourself, but you have to put in the time, tour a lot and build your fans one at a time. It's hard work, but it will last longer than if you get there through false hype.
A Conversation with Wounded Warriors During Grammy Rehearsals
During Grammy rehearsals, I had the privilege of interviewing four veterans who were at the event courtesy of the Wounded Warriors organization, their host being Annie Nelson from American Soldier Network. Here is our conversation on February 11, 2011. FYI, we were informed that Whitney Houston died just minutes after the interview concluded.
L-R: Richard Gonzales, Jake Henry, Sara Bryant, Chairperson Annie Nelson, Ryan Seacrest, and Blake Bibbins / photo credit: Mike Ragogna / engineered by Theo Shier