Teddy Swims’ debut album is powered by toxic relationships and heartbreak

NEW YORK (AP) — If you feel emotionally drained after listening to Teddy Swims’ debut album, “I’ve Tried Everything But Therapy (Part 1),” don’t worry — he understands.

“I’m sure for anyone that’s not heartbroken, it’s probably exhausting. But there’s still upbeat and there’s fun (songs) — but everything that is also upbeat and fun is still very, very sad,” laughed the soulful singer, confirming it’s “absolutely” a heartbreak album. “But it’s helping me heal through a lot of things.”

Irony has visited the 31-year-old during a time that should be among the most monumental of his life; Swims, who gained popularity by posting unique cover songs on YouTube, never imagined he’d be engulfed in a relationship severance while celebrating the release of his breakup-themed debut.

“Our lives were very intertwined. And so, it’s quite nuts to have this come out at the same time this is all happening, and it’s all even more real to me now than it was when I was writing it, which is quite insane,” remarked Swims, who helped pen all but one song. “We weren’t great together…toxic sh–, substance abuse and alcohol. So, it’s a lot of my journey through that, and my journey to also recover (from) how I treated myself and (how I) felt like I was unlovable.”

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The DNA of the 10-track album, which boasts production and writing from Julian Bunetta (One Direction, Chris Brown), John Ryan (Maroon 5, Harry Styles) and Ammo (Beyoncé, Britney Spears), reflects Swims’ personal sonic makeup, featuring R&B, country, pop and light rock. With a musical palette as eclectic as his fashion style, the balladeer cites a wide range of influences from Otis Redding to Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Alan Stone, Thomas Rhett, Jessie J and Circa Survive.

The album title reflects a promise that Swims, who’s previously collaborated with Meghan Trainor, Illenium, Armin van Buuren and Matoma, made to himself: seek professional therapy after the project’s release.

Led by the soulful, country-tinged single “Lose Control,” the project landed higher than expected at #61 on the Billboard 200 last week.

On the foot-tapping “The Door,” Swims — an acronym for Someone Who Isn’t Me Sometimes — pointing to personal evolution, sings, “I said I would die for you baby/But I can’t take this pain no mo’/I thought I was willing/but tonight I saved my life when I showed you the door.”

Swims said his creative team was “slammed on tequila” while crafting the song.

“There’s someone in my past that’s held their life over my head and been in a spot where (she said) ’I’m not going to make it if you leave… It’s hard to have this situation with someone because you don’t feel like there’s a way out of it,” said Swims. “When I finally found the other side of that situation and I had to let it go, it truly is the thing that saved my life.”

The groovy “What More Can I Say” was inspired by a very modern 21st-century technological conundrum: sending nudes. Swims said he thought he deleted intimate images of past lovers from his phone but did not know they weren’t permanently erased from his iCloud. His girlfriend discovered them.

“She had gone through my phone one time and found like three ex-girlfriends (worth) of photos and videos and things that I won’t get too into detail (about). It really shattered our relationship in a lot of ways,” said Swims bashfully, noting he didn’t want to release the song, but his team pushed for it. “I was like, ’Dude this was kind of a diary for me. I can’t have this conversation with her and say, ‘Hey, so I wrote a song about this, basically telling you ‘f you’’…I think song’s great because it’s from that honest place.”

And on one of the rare heart-warming songs, “You Still Get to Me,” Swims reminisces on tender moments with past loves.

“I had this ex of mine and we used to play the song “Roses” by Mac Ayers…I shared this song with her and then it ended up becoming our song,” said the heavily tattooed Swims, who has said his body art is inspired by his love of rap superstar Lil Wayne. “But there’s still something about when that song comes on that still gets to me, and it brings all that stuff back — and it’s songs (like) that I love that I can’t listen to anymore.”

Swims, who says there are plans for a “Part 2” follow-up, was raised in Rockdale County, Georgia, with dreams of becoming a football star until musical theater stole his heart in 11th grade. (He pointed out there aren’t that many 5-foot-7-inch defensive tackles that made it to the NFL.)

Since 2021, he’s released four EPs, including a Christmas project, but he first gained notice online after releasing a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” in 2019. After his rendition quickly gained popularity, he made more, including Mario’s R&B classic, “Let Me Love You” which sits at 100 million YouTube views, and Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One,” which racked up 143 million plays and earned a shoutout from the country star.

While thankful for the success of his cover songs, Swims says he hopes fans embrace his original material birthed from such a deep, vulnerable space of pain — and hopefully growth.

“I learned a lot from (the covers), not only how to be a better writer, but also not compare myself to songs I write having to be to that caliber….I felt like I set myself up for failure in a lot of ways doing that,” Swims said. “A lot of people can get stuck in that world of covers. And I feel like I’m very, very fortunate that people have attached themselves to me and my heart. And I feel that people will go on any journey with me, and I couldn’t be happier about that.”

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Follow Associated Press journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton at @GaryGHamilton on all his social media platforms.

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