Q&A: Owl City's Adam Young on New Album, Loving Hanson and That Time Taylor Swift Wrote a Song About Him

by Sophie Schillaci 11:26 AM PDT, July 09, 2015
Photo: Pamela Littky

He's brought "Fireflies" all over the globe and had a "Good Time" with Carly Rae Jepsen, now Owl City is back with a new album and plenty of collaborations.

Hanson, Jake Owen, Aloe Blacc, Sarah Russell and Britt Nicole all feature on Mobile Orchestra, out July 10, but Owl City mastermind Adam Young is still known to many for one high-profile, unofficial collaboration – as the inspiration behind Taylor Swift's 2010 song "Enchanted."

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While the country-turned-pop star has been known to turn a scathing rhyme on her exes, a long-ago friendly encounter with Young led to a sweet song about budding romance.

"It's an honor," Young tells ETonline. "To have a song that is indirectly about me on her album is so cool. To know that somebody went out of their way to do that, and it's such a respectful song -- I think that's the right word -- it's a great song."

Mobile Orchestra is full of great songs, including the nostalgia-centric "Unbelievable" featuring '90s icon Hanson. Though they've yet to meet in person, recording the track in different parts of the country, Young and the family trio will say their in-person "Hellos" just before performing together on Today next Tuesday.

For more on how they're prepping for the show and what separates Mobile Orchestra from Owl City's last albums, read on.

Tell me about creating this album. What makes it different from your past efforts?

I think the word that sums it up is diverse, at least that's my hope. In terms of comparing it with earlier records, I sat down to try to make an album that from one song to the next feels like different snapshots that all feel cohesive under the same umbrella, but still stand apart as their own pieces in the puzzle. Earlier albums, I kind of envisioned being these fluid storyline albums that you start at the top and have to play it from top to bottom to get the whole picture. Like a stream of consciousness kinda thing. I wanted to create separate identities per song, and a big part of that was being able to work with different features and collaborators on the album.

There are great collaborations on this album. How did you and Jake Owen get in touch?

I've been a huge fan of Jake's for a long time. Something a lot of people don't know about me is I'm a big country fan, I love Brad Paisley and Jake Owen. I had written "Back Home" and I had made working demo of it that I remember thinking, I looked in the mirror and went, 'Whoa, what if I gave this to Jake Owen, and what if he was into it?' I was kinda dreaming at that point. I couldn't shake that feeling, so I went out on a limb and sent him the demo and introduced myself, 'You probably have no idea who I am, but I'm a huge fan. Here's a demo I think you'd be perfect for it. No pressure at all, but if you're feelin' it, I'd love to collaborate.' He replied and said that he was into my music, which further blew my mind. We couldn't make our schedules work so we were in the same studio, so we recorded in different places at different times -- God bless the Internet.

Did you have to do any convincing to get him on board with doing a pop song?

No, actually. I think one of the big indicators for him is he put out a new single that's more pop-y, it's got a '90s, Sugar Ray vibe. We hadn't talked about it or anything, but my guess is that's where he's been wanting to experiment, as well.

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And I love the Hanson collaboration. How did that come together?

That was spontaneous in the same way. I had been in the eleventh hour of writing 'Unbelievable' and it just made sense to reach out to Hanson. We're the same age, born in the same era. We grew up with the same things, the same technology, which is cool. Some of those things are funny to look back on and remember. It was fun to connect with Hanson. I sent them the demo and went out on a limb and crossed my fingers. They were super gracious, super kind, and so easy to work with. We also recorded in different places, but we're going to play the song on the Today show next week.

Have you met the guys yet?

I have not met them yet.

Are you nervous to be performing on national television right off the bat the first time you meet?

Not really. The trick is, I think myself and my live musicians, there's four of us and those three guys, we've all been talking to each other like, 'Here's the game plan, here's what we're gonna do: let's come in to rehearsal knowing the song front to back. ' We'll be ready.

Were you a big Hanson fan back in the day?

Oh, yeah. 'MMMBop' came out and I was sold. It's so good, I was in fourth grade and that was all the rage. Now, here I am putting out my new album -- it literally just got back from the press, hot off the presses -- it's so hard to believe that it's my work and to hear all these artists blending their talents to what I do.

WATCH: It’s an ‘MMMBop’ Flashback!

It's not a traditional collaboration, but you did have a little musical back-and-forth with Taylor Swift. Would you want work with her in an official capacity?

Yeah, I'm all about the music and the song or whatever it is. If there was a song that was kicking around on her side or my side and felt like the right move to make, definitely. I love her music and I love the direction she's gone with pop, she's pretty diverse, as well. I love how she picks a game-plan and just goes for it. That, I really admire.

I have to wonder, given how huge of a star she's become over the years, how does it feel today to be able to say that she wrote a song about you?

Really cool. It's an honor. As much as I know about Taylor, she has the same tendency that I have -- she prefers to write songs about life or write music about specific stuff in order to deal with things. I'm a huge believer in that. The best way I know how to deal with things is not to talk to people, it's to write a song about it. To have a song that is indirectly about me on her album, is so cool. To know that somebody went out of their way to do that and it's such a respectful song -- I think that's the right word -- it's a great song.

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Your album is coming out on the first Global Release Date. As an artist, does this change have any impact on you?

Not incredibly. I'm excited about it. I love that it's on Friday, July 10th. It's been a couple years since my last album, and this is the first record that's taken me song long to make because of everybody's different schedules. It's finally here! I'm so thrilled for the fans to hear it. I feel really proud of it in a way, I hope that the fans feel like I did a great job at keeping what they love about the early stuff and hopefully it catches the ear of somebody new, as well.

You've written for a few films before [Wreck It Ralph, Minions], anything coming up?

Nothing on the books yet but I'm definitely on the scout for the next movie. I'm a big animation movie fan so I just saw Inside Out, which blew my mind. I loved it. Anything like that, Disney/Pixar, I wanna see what's out there and hopefully find a new home for a new song.

What's left on the bucket list for you?

That's a great question and it's almost an ironic question, because I feel like looking back I've checked off so many more things than I ever imagined I'd be able to. It's hard to imagine something new -- I've been to so many different countries and toured cities. But going back to the music and film idea, I would love someday to be able to write the soundtrack, the score -- orchestral music -- to a movie. Not necessarily animation, but I listen to a lot of soundtracks as a fan. Someday if it was the right movie and I felt like I could serve the story and the picture, I would love to score a film.

What's your favorite film score?

Jurassic Park, the original, is such a classic. That's one of my favorites. And I love the score for Finding Nemo. There's beautifully sad moments in that movie, the few moments that are chill and sad, the music under that is the ultimate. I could play that any time, night or day.

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