Dylan Swinson knows the importance of keeping your head up and trying to stay positive, even in bleak times.
Granted, when Swinson wrote and recorded his cheekily named debut, Self-Titled, he wasn't aware it would be released in the midst of a global health crisis. But here he is, ready to send as much positive energy into Charlestonians' speakers and headphones as he possibly can.
"I sing a lot about going for what you want," he says. "You know things like, 'Don't be with that person that treats you horribly' and, 'Know that somebody is there for you.' If you want there to be someone in the world who represents what you believe in, you can be that person. It's a poppy record so there's some feel good songs and some that are about making a change in your life."
Swinson specializes in making radio-ready pop-rock songs. While he hasn't played many shows around Charleston, the songs on Self-Titled are produced for stadiums. His previous EPs, 2015's Freedom & Solitude and 2017's Prove 'em Wrong Kid, were full of solid acoustic rock songs, but were small budget coffee shop-type releases. You can tell from the start of Self-Titled, amidst the thunderous full band sound of "Run With Me," that Swinson's ready for the spotlight.
"I hope it will take people my age back to the early 2000s," Swinson says when describing his album. "It's the kind of music that I grew up listening to, and I want people to look back to a time when things felt much simpler." Listeners can hear an early 2000s pop-punk influence in the song compositions and Swinson's energy, though Self-Titled does swing far more pop than punk.
Swinson has lived in Summerville and the Charleston area his entire life, except for an excursion to Delaware as a teenager. "If you're on the highway going towards Dover, there's a blue 'attractions' sign, like you see all over the interstate, and that one is completely blank," Swinson says. Needless to say, he didn't see a future for himself in the First State, moving back to the Charleston area the day after he graduated high school in 2012. "There weren't nearly as many opportunities for things like open mics that I could go to or that were all ages," Swinson says.
Self-Titled may be Swinson's first proper album debut, but he has played shows in Charleston and released music since 2015. "My first big step into this big Charleston music scene was when Tabbuli had all ages 'emerging artists' nights where I met people like Tyler Boone and the band South Street. And I finally had a place to craft and try out new songs. It was a different world where I felt like I belonged."
His last EP, Prove 'em Wrong Kid, was built around the single "Playing for Keeps" which was something of a turning point for Swinson's musical career. "It was my first song to get played on 105.5 [The Bridge] and it was my first song to break 1,000 listens on Spotify, so we constructed this whole EP around it. That EP then led to me playing the Charleston Music Confab in 2017 and through that I met DJ Edwards who has now put me on Real South Records."
Swinson's story from the past few years spent in Charleston is pretty emblematic of how tight knit the city's music community is. Swinson's truly a believer in the potential of the arts here and is undoubtedly grateful for what Charleston has given him. In fact, the very first words he sings on Self-Titled are "The Holy City is sinning tonight."
"I would just like people to enjoy the music and connect with it, even if it's just one song," he says. "I want people to remember that there is positivity in the world."
Dylan Swinson's Self-Titled is available now on Spotify and Apple Music.