When Steve Bursky started managing Adam Young at the end of 2008, the mastermind behind synth-pop act Owl City played him a handful of acoustic songs from his hard drive. He told Bursky that he hoped the unrefined tracks, which were recorded in the summer of 2007 before he began making music as Owl City, would someday be released.
"The feel was different than Owl City," Bursky says. "It was the same voice and aesthetic, but the songs were very stripped-down and more vulnerable."
In fact, Young felt so strongly about the songs that he insisted they be released under a different name, Sky Sailing.
"It was clear early on that it needed to be separate from Owl City," Young says. "Overall, this piece is disconnected enough to be its own thing." The album, "An Airplane Carried Me to Bed," will be released July 13 on Universal Republic.
And while many might balk at giving up the cachet of the Owl City name, including a No. 1 single ("Fireflies") and a top 20 album ("Ocean Eyes"), Bursky says the new moniker will make things clearer for fans. He notes that the Sky Sailing name allows a prolific artist like Young to experiment with multiple genres and avoid misleading his Owl City fans. In addition to "Airplane," Young is working on an album of trance music that may come out later this year.
"If one artist puts out five different CDs with five totally different sounds under one name, it would be utterly confusing to people," Bursky says. "We want to open people's eyes to Adam as an artist instead of Adam as Owl City."
After deciding to return to the material late last year, Young began polishing the tracks on his laptop in between Owl City shows last spring.
"It's ironic, because these songs took a back seat to Owl City, but then a little lull in [recording as] Owl City gave me the opportunity to come back to them," Young says.
Because the singer/songwriter's knowledge of production techniques grew while recording "Ocean Eyes," Young says he's excited about how the 12 tracks have improved since their inception.
Young describes the sound of "Airplane," including the wistful "I Live Alone" and pop-leaning "Steady As She Goes," as "more organic and even a little darker in places."
A MySpace page for Sky Sailing was set up in May, and to ensure that Owl City fans are aware of the release of "Airplane," Young has posted a letter online explaining his involvement with the project. The gentle ballad "Brielle" will be serviced to triple A and hot AC radio formats, and a preorder campaign for the album launched June 29.
Universal Republic also plans on partnering with iTunes for the release of "Airplane." The store will exclusively sell the album for its first two weeks of release before physical copies are available July 27.
"iTunes has been a very important partner to Owl City," says Universal Republic Records co-president Avery Lipman, who points out that "Fireflies" was chosen as iTunes' Single of the Week last July before becoming a smash success. "The idea was to do a lot of direct-to-consumer marketing to reach Adam's dedicated online fans."
Young won't be able to promote "Airplane" due to other commitments. First, he's recording a new Owl City album throughout the summer and early fall. And second, as Owl City, he will support Maroon 5 on tour beginning Aug. 4 and John Mayer beginning Aug. 18. While there aren't any plans for Young to tour behind the music of "Airplane," Lipman says he might perform some of the material on the upcoming tours.
Despite the lack of the artist's involvement in publicity for Sky Sailing, Lipman views the project as a perfect stopgap between "Ocean Eyes" and the next Owl City record, which the label hopes to issue by the end of the year. Lipman also believes "Airplane" will go a long way toward establishing Young's longevity.
"This reinforces the idea that Adam won't just have one song and go away," Lipman says. "He's a real artist for the future with a ton of ideas."