Teddy Swims: Soul Man Displays His Strength of Character
Teddy Swims is a multi-genre musical artist who is taking the world by storm by staying true to his own distinctive self and southern roots – tattoos and all.
For most young kids growing up, we’re not expecting a time or a moment which will influence the course of our lives, certainly not in our early teenage years — and least of all coming from the father of our best friend. When any of our pals’ fathers came home at the end of the day from their jobs in insurance or banking or wherever adults actually went during the day, it was time to get our feet off the coffee table, turn down the television, suffer through a few dad jokes and then resume our clever and absolutely riveting chatter about girls, teachers, movies, sports stars or superheroes.
Not so for 13-year-old Jaten Collin Dimsdale, now known by his stage name, Teddy Swims, and as one of the fastest-rising American singer- songwriters, blending genres including R&B, soul, country and pop.
Swims remembers the exact place and moment music entered his life. “I was 13 or 14 and in the eighth grade,” recalled Swims in a recent exclusive interview with Dolce. He was in the basement of the house of his best buddy, Jesse Hampton (who still plays guitar in Swims’ band today) in Conyers, Georgia, his suburban hometown 40 kilometres east of downtown Atlanta, when his friend’s father came home. “Jesse’s dad, Rodney Hampton, played guitar and played in bands and he was the first person I ever met who played guitar and sang. He played ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ by Bon Jovi right there in their basement and I was, like, ‘Man, your dad is so cool! We gotta be like your dad!’ I just fell in love with it — I wanted to be like that. I can actually recall the moment, it just really hit me. Rodney Hampton is my favourite singer and guitar player and, still to this day, comes to our shows. And he is so proud of us … he’s the best!”
That thunderstruck moment of epiphany led to Swims’ meteoric rise in music — compared to other artists, not more than an instant. From releasing his debut major-label single in January 2020 to his cover of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” in October 2022 (which, to date, has attracted almost 148 million views) to now, Swims has branched out from cover songs to his own original tracks, and continually garners millions of views as one of music’s most popular digital stars.
Growing up in Georgia, Swims was introduced by his father to soul music at an early age to classic artists such as Al Green, the magical Stevie Wonder and the ever-so-smooth Marvin Gaye. Is there a better anthem for soul music than Gaye’s “What’s Going On”? But growing up in Georgia, a state where football is almost a religion, also meant that the Dimsdale family were crazy about that sport. Swims had already played football for ten years when one of his teachers suggested he and a few of his teammates sign up for a musical theatre class and also join the chorus.
“I WOULD SAY MY INSPIRATION COMES FROM THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT IN LIFE AS WELL AS CERTAIN SITUATIONS FROM MY LIFE.”
At first, his mother, Glenna Fox, was unconvinced her son should be in the theatre class. Ever the realist and a smart, grounded kid, Jaten told his mother that given his height (he’s now about 1.67 metres tall), he was more likely to get a theatre scholarship than have any future in football.
Swims’ passion for performance and music was stimulated by that high-school theatre experience. He performed in musicals including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and in Shakespearean plays — once again proving that early exposure to the drama, diction and storytelling of the Bard can have a lasting impact on any artist’s creativity.
Encouraged by his theatre experience and no doubt by his best friend’s father, the young Dimsdale began watching YouTube videos of singers to help him develop his vocal technique and accompanying himself on the piano and ukulele. He began his music career modestly, joining a variety of Atlanta-based alternative and post-hardcore rock bands as well as hair-metal cover bands — and, of course, bands specializing in his cherished soul music. Teddy Swims was on his way.
Ah yes, that name. Probably a good time for an explanation.
In early 2019, Dimsdale’s friend Addy Maxwell invited him to rap over some beats he had made, which earned the pair an opening slot on a U.S. tour with Tyler Carter. It was on this tour that Dimsdale began performing under “Teddy Swims” — the name a combination of a childhood nickname that referenced his size and an Internet-speak acronym for “someone who isn’t me sometimes,” a nod to the idea of integrating different parts of his personality.
Warm, welcoming, engaging and affable, Swims has a ready smile and easy laugh that exemplifies country hospitality. It was easy to quickly note that he is very genuine, has a passion for his craft, and that words and music are indeed his guiding stars. True to his country roots, he uses his heart and soul as his inspiration for his songs, along with his talent for not taking himself too seriously.
He laughs when asked where the inspiration for his music comes from. “Usually ex-girlfriends or current girlfriends,” he says. “But I would say my inspiration also comes from things that are important in life as well as certain situations from my life. It’s just being honest and speaking from my heart.”
Following that early tour, Swims continued to experiment with covers on YouTube. He posted his first-ever cover performance in mid- 2019, Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” and continued posting covers thereafter of artists as diverse as Amy Winehouse, Lewis Capaldi, Chris Stapleton and H.E.R. Swims had found a niche, a place for his voice and talent, and his videos accumulated millions of views. After releasing one single independently, “Night Off,” he signed a record deal with Warner Records in December 2019.
It would be difficult to name another artist who has made it so big so fast in recent years as Teddy Swims. After signing with Warner Records, he embarked on his first headline tour just prior to the pandemic in early 2020, and followed that up with releasing several covers in the ensuing months, including a cover of Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” donating its royalties to the NAACP Legal Defence and Educational Fund.
In February 2021, he released his single “My Bad,” which he performed on The Kelly Clarkson Show, and was named an “Artist You Need to Know” by Rolling Stone magazine. Swims has appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Late Late Show with James Corden, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live!
“I AM TRULY GRATEFUL FOR WHAT SUCCESS I HAVE ACCRUED IN MY TIME, THAT I’VE BEEN ABLE TO PROVIDE OPPORTUNITY FOR OTHER PEOPLE TO SUCCEED.”
After releasing his single “911,” Swims released his six-track EP, Tough Love, in January 2022 and supported that with a three-month headline tour through Europe and North America. He then collaborated with Meghan Trainor on “Bad For Me,” the lead single on her album Takin’ It Back. Other performers were starting to notice his talent and his success. Swims also opened for the rock band Greta Van Fleet on a tour to support their new album, Starcatcher.
Releasing a short performance clip in May 2022, Swims then unveiled a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” that August and performed the song on America’s Got Talent alongside Journey’s founding guitarist, Neal Schon. In November of 2022 he released his EP Sleep is Exhausting. Also that year, he embarked on a seven-week headline tour of the U.S. and collaborated on singles with such artists as Mitchell Tenpenny, Illenium, MK & BURNS and TELYKast. Not bad for a kid from the Atlanta suburbs, but Swims is quick to share his success with others in his band.
“The way I kind of define success in my own words is that you get this opportunity to provide some level of success for somebody else,” he says. “You get to share that success with somebody else, so I am truly grateful for what success I have accrued in my time, that I’ve been able to provide opportunity for other people to succeed as well and watch them to be able to achieve their dreams and allow me to do the same — we’ve been able to build each other up.”
Swims first appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 in June of this year with the release of his single “Lose Control,” which is from his 2023 debut studio album, “I’ve Tried Everything but Therapy (Part 1),” which reached the top five on the charts in both Australia and the U.K. Now an artist with global appeal, he followed up that success with an international headline tour this past summer, which included shows in the U.K., Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.
Success, however, does have its demands and its downsides. As a touring artist, shows, appearances and other obligations do draw you away from the simpler things that mean so much in your personal life. It may appear glamorous from the outside, but there is always a price to pay.
“I think the worst part of everything has been missing things at home,” he reflects. “Everyone is proud — my parents and everyone in my family is very proud as I get to be the hero to some of their kids or my cousins’ kids. But I’ve missed a lot of weddings and funerals and birthdays and births and graduations and events, and that is tough. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but most definitely, that’s the hard part of it.”
Ah yes, and perhaps another explanation is also required. Those tattoos.
The exact number he has is not known, but Swims’ passion for them began at an early age, maybe even earlier than his passion for music. “I’ve been getting tattoos since I was 16. I’ve always wanted to be tattooed,” he admits. “When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say ‘tattooed.’ When I was younger my mom would give me ten dollars at the end of the week for doing our chores and, as we grew up Pentecostal, she wanted us to donate some of that. My brother would give five dollars, which I thought was stupid, as I would give one dollar and still have nine to buy temporary stickers and slap them all over my body. Now, anywhere I am people hit me up and they’ll come and do tattoos on me — whatever design they want. I have a lot of signatures all over my legs. I’m like a little art gallery as I travel across the world. It’s been really cool.”
One of the words he himself chose as a tattoo is “patience.” Patience is a key for Swims as he makes his way through his career. Patience keeps his high-flying career grounded.
“It’s a constant reminder, having that word there,” says Swims. “Everything is coming. I have this thing where I just want everything all at once. I’m very happy where I am in my life and that all of this has happened the way that it’s happened, because if it was to have happened before, I don’t think I would have been ready for it. I think timing is everything, and you have to have patience — it is, indeed, a virtue. Though I probably should have tattooed ‘patience’ backwards so I could read it properly.”
Swims has no hesitation in defining what la dolce vita, the sweet life, means to him, and it is more emotional than material. “I feel like I’m living la dolce vitaI’ve Tried Everything but Therapy (Part 1). Swims is only 31 years old, not even middle-aged yet. Given his immense talent and popularity, we can only imagine, and with great anticipation, what Part 2 might reveal.
PHOTOS BY JESSE MILNS
STYLING BY ASHLEY GALANG
MAKE-UP & HAIR STYLIST TAYLOR CHOUSKY
ARTISTIC DIRECTION BY MICHELLE ZERILLO-SOSA
CINEMATOGRAPHY BY MARTIN PERRY LUTZ
SHOT ON LOCATION AT THE CANOPY BY HILTON TORONTO YORKVILLE