He doesn't drink. He cites God and Disney movies as inspiration. Up until last summer, he still lived at home with his parents in Owatonna, where he would stay up late at night recording music in the basement on his computer.
A year later, Adam Young, 23, has earned the envy of every young musician with a home-recording program -- and the attention of the music industry, which is still learning how to break new artists like him in the digital age.
The clean-cut Baptist musician's first airplane ride was last summer to New York City to meet with executives from Universal Records. They scooped him up into a deal over the sweet synth-pop songs he self-recorded under a nom de digi-pop, Owl City, which had already racked up a million-plus listens on MySpace and tens of thousands of purchased downloads.
And that was just the start.
As of yesterday, Young's Owl City album ranked No. 14 on iTunes, sandwiched between Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Black Eyed Peas. He has sold nearly 400,000 song downloads in the past two months. Three of his tracks are now up over 6 million listens apiece on MySpace.
So what did the gawky, polite, tassel-haired whiz-kid go out and buy for his first big purchase as a rock star? A house in Owatonna, close to Mom and Dad.
"I like that there's not a million things to do there," Young said, giving his first face-to-face interview before hitting the road earlier this month. The kid who had never left the Midwest as of last summer will have criss-crossed the country about four times by year's end.
His hometown's lack of entertainment-- plus a bit of insomnia -- inspired Young to try home-recording in the first place. An only child, he said, "I had no one to talk to or nothing to do after my parents went to bed."
After dropping out of Riverland Community College and hitting a rut in his future plans, he turned to music. He began writing his electronica-style pop songs using a ProTools-like program called Reason.
Everything on his album save for some string parts was recorded in the unfinished, cavernous basement of the 109-year-old Victorian house owned by his parents, a mechanic and an English-as-second-language teacher.
Daydreaming at night
The lyrics Young wrote were even more escapist than the act of recording.
"Having never really traveled, the unknown was a pretty big inspiration to me," he said.
Hence songs such as "Hello Seattle" and "Fireflies," which include pure-fantasy odes to oceans, subways and sea islands from a songwriter who had never seen such things, wrapped around swooningly romantic lyrics. Sample lines include, "I am a cold seahorse/ Feeling warm in your sand," and, "I think dreamy things as I'm waving goodbye/ So I'll spread out my wings and fly."
Rolling Stone described the lyrics as "serious mush, like an amorous e-mail you'll regret in the morning." Even Entertainment Weekly's favorable B+ review said, "Such innocence will surely get beaten out of him in a back alley one day."
Clearly, though, that innocence is part of the attraction for younger listeners.
"It's the kind of stuff teenage girls alone in their bedroom like to listen to," said Ken Abdo, the Minneapolis entertainment attorney who helped get Jonny Lang signed in a bygone era of the record industry and now represents Young.
"He's not all that different from the Beatles and Elvis Presley," Abdo added. "We're back to having young girls telling the music industry what the next big thing is."
Another old-is-new-again scenario: Young's deal with Universal revolves more around singles sales than albums, Abdo said -- except "single" obviously means four megabytes, not 45-rpm vinyl.
rehearsed with his new band at the Varsity for his first-ever tour
Before Universal came aboard, the one outlet that electrified Young's career was the teen-centric networking website MySpace, where bands can post songs and videos for free. His success there led fans to buy songs online via iTunes or Amazon.
"I didn't really do anything other than record [seven] songs and then put them online," Young recalled. "Things spread completely virally.
"It was slow at first, but I was surprised to see the responses that did start to come back. Kids were telling other friends about it, saying they were dying for more music."
Amazingly, Young had yet to play a live show before he signed to Universal. His new manager, Steve Bursky of New York, marveled over his stage debut at Minneapolis' Varsity Theater in February, which sold out weeks in advance.
"These kids who seem to come out of nowhere were suddenly singing back all his lyrics to him," Bursky said. "Seeing a reaction online is one thing. Seeing it in the flesh was another."
What Young remembered about it: "I was pretty petrified backstage before going on."
At least for the next year or so, Young will spend most of his time getting used to performing. He returns from his second nationwide tour -- with most of the shows sold-out -- to play only his third concert in Minnesota next Saturday.
Instead of the Varsity, Young has moved up to the Cabooze, a bigger venue that even he admitted is an ironic choice for a musician who's so wholesome, he hired his four similarly aged bandmates (including two string players) in part for their clean-living attitudes.
Owl City keyboardist/singer Breanne Duren, who knew Young pre-MySpace fame, said, "It's amazing how little he has changed through all this."
"So far, I haven't run into any trouble on the road," said Young, who doesn't write overtly Christian lyrics but said, "My faith is a big factor behind the music."
Instead of the stereotypical rock 'n' roll adventures, Young said, "I'm a total tourist on the road. Every place we go is someplace I've never been before, so I'm always taking pictures and doing nerdy stuff."
That's the only part of this budding star's career so far that you might call boring.