Adam Young could not sleep, and to this day, the Minnesota native has taken up seemingly permanent residence in Owl City, that nocturnal place where an electro-pop career was born. While most people with sleep disorders lie on their sides and stare at a glowing clock, Young spent many wide-eyed nights chasing "Fireflies,” the Owl City single that took him to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in November. During those long nights, Young would go downstairs to his parents’ basement in rural Owatonna, Minn., where an array of computers and musical instruments helped him pass the hours. But not long after uploading some of his compositions onto his MySpace page, Young found that he had become part of a purely 21st-century musical phenomenon. A few dozen listens became a few hundred, then a couple of thousand, then millions. As of this month, "Fireflies” has received more than 25 million plays on his page. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think the effort would result in anything other than a handful of songs sitting on my computer, unheard by everyone but my close friends,” said Young, who performs tonight at the Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S Eastern. "It’s incredibly surreal at how far the project has gone. I couldn’t be more grateful for being allowed to do this with my life.” And even with the success, Young still only sleeps when his body gives out. "I do have clinically diagnosed insomnia,” he said. "And unfortunately, it has yet to go away.” Young, 23, said he writes in bursts of activity, creating each song instrumentally until he believes it can stand on its own, words or no words. At that point, he sets the music aside and begins working on lyrics and a vocal melody. In the case of "Hello Seattle,” a propulsive Auto-Tune anthem in which people, objects and animals offer odes to the Emerald City, the entire song was constructed furiously, as if he were preprogrammed to do so, after waking up from a rare visit to dreamland. "I woke up on a Saturday morning,” Young said. "I sat down at my keyboard, played a bunch of notes, programmed a bunch of drums, wrote a bunch of lyrics, pressed a bunch of buttons, sang a bunch of words into a microphone, uploaded the song onto MySpace, then went back to sleep.” Owl City released two discs, "Maybe I’m Dreaming” and "Of June,” before "Ocean Eyes” hit iTunes in July 2009, powered by several songs from those two discs and the ubiquitous "Fireflies.” Almost immediately, critics and bloggers pointed out Owl City’s unmistakable similarity to The Postal Service, the 2003 side project from Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, Young owned up to the comparison and offered something of a justification. "They released a record in 2003, and that was it,” he said in the Times interview. "There was really nothing to compare it to until someone else came along and wrote the next chapter. Maybe that’s this record. Maybe that’s this band.” And this band is packing venues. Not only is Owl City’s show at the Diamond Ballroom sold out, but there are no tickets available for any Owl City show through February. Young said translating his self-built music to a live setting was not easy, but he’s not losing sleep over it — that was already part of the bargain. "Performing electronica live is harder than I imagined it being because the nature of the way the music is made, along with the idea that so much of it is prepared beforehand, making touring a hefty challenge,” he said. "You have to re-create sometimes 40-plus layers of audio that took a few days and a lot of experimentation to create via one solo artist with a handful of people and instruments on a stage. That said, it’s been a tricky row to hoe, and I’m the farthest thing from a farmer, although I confess I occasionally have overall problems.”
Owl City→With: Lights and Deas Vail. →When: Doors open at 6:30 tonight. →Where: Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S Eastern. →Tickets: Sold out. →Information: www.dcfconcerts.com.