Making Music in a Silent City
Rapper SwoozyDolphin talks his Detroit upbringing and how his background in jazz informs his sound.
By Deshia Dunn, Central Michigan University
I had the opportunity to talk to Swoozy about the mechanics behind his music, as well as his future aspirations.
Deshia Dunn: How long has Captwolf been together?
SwoozyDolphin: It’s been about two years, since summer of 2015.
DD: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from a musical aspect, business aspect and having to collaborate?
SWD: The most important thing I’ve learned from a musical aspect is probably how to create a space for a song to live in. Anyone can make a beat, but creating a song is the music, plus the mix of the substance of it. From a business standpoint, I’ve learned to just keep going. There’s a lot of drawbacks but you just have to keep trying. And with collaboration, I’ve learned to give ideas air.
DD: What do you mean by give ideas air?
SWD: Instead of being so quick to judge an idea, think about it, listen to it, try it out for a little bit and try seeing it from their perspective. I’m not saying you’re going agree with the idea anymore then, but there’s a possibility.
DD: Do you find it hard to go to school and do music?
SWD: It’s hard to be creative because I’m so busy all the time.
DD: Does the fact that you get to learn about art in your classes help elevate the creativity within your music?
SWD: Definitely. It gives me a new perspective to consider when I critique myself. Instead of just critiquing myself by the music I listen to and contrasting what I like and don’t like, I can critique myself by what I was trying to accomplish, what I was referencing and how I can get a specific type of experience out of the listener.
DD: Do you know a lot about the mechanics behind music theory?
SWD: I started out being trained to play jazz when I was 12-years-old, and I played that for a long time. Then, when I got to high school, I was in orchestra. I can read bass cleft really well, but I’m not that good with treble cleft. And I understand music theory; I’m just trying to get better with implementing it in my own music.
DD: How important do you think it is to have that technical understanding of music? I feel like a lot of musicians today, the ones that are emerging right now as our peers, don’t have that in-depth type of an understanding.
SWD: I think it’s really important because that’s the backbone. You don’t have to be a genius, but you have to know a little bit about what you’re doing so that you’re not just banging on a keyboard, although I do feel like a lot of people have an innate understanding of music. It obviously could be honed in more because with anybody, anything could be better. I’m still working on my own skills. But if anyone thinks they’re going to make music without trying, they’re deluding themselves. It takes work.
DD: What type of music do you reference when you think about making your own music? Or what type of things, if it’s not just music.
SWD: I always think about high philosophy, because I’m always thinking about some heavy shit, and I guess that’s kind of why my lyrics suck. It sounds like some emo shit and I hate it. I’m not good at songwriting. Musically, I listen to a lot of jazz, afro-beats, Migos and trap music. This past weekend I was listening to a lot of post-punk and some dance-hall music.
DD: Is there anything in particular about Detroit’s environment that has played a significant role in developing your sound?
SWD: Probably the fact that there’s no music like that coming from Detroit. You’re pretty free to make whatever you want, because the idea of what a Detroit sound is, is pretty wide. There’s street rap, but if you’re not trying to do street rap, you can basically do whatever you want, because nobody has a specific assertion of what the sound is. I think it makes it easier for artists from Detroit to make what they think feels right.
DD: What do you think it is about your sound in particular that appeals to the people that listen to your music?
SWD: I have no idea. I don’t know why people like our music. Maybe it’s the heart on-your-sleeve type shit. Like I said, we just put music out. We weren’t thinking too much about it. We just made something that felt right.
DD: How would you describe the process that it took to build the foundation of Captwolf?
SWD: It’s an ongoing process, because we’re trying to build careers. I took the reigns as manager in the beginning to make sure that we were on the right track, so a lot of work was being done to make sure everyone was educated about the industry. We had to make sure everything was in order in terms of copyright, publishing, learning the financial ropes, how much a music feature should cost, how we should book shows, talk to venues—stuff like that.
DD: What is the most overlooked element of putting all of this together?
SWD: Probably making everything go smoothly, because a lot of the time, shit could be falling apart and I have to make sure that it doesn’t. And, because it doesn’t fall apart, nobody knows that it was going to fall apart in the first place. So the person in that position is really stressed out, but other people don’t necessarily know that or get to see it.
DD: Since it’s so stressful, what is the main thing that motivates you to keep going?
SWD: I can’t get a real job. Like, I could, but I would hate it. Also, I love art and I love music. I love how it feels when everything works out and I’ve been doing this since I was a 12-years-old, so I kind of resign myself to it.
DD: As for the new music that you’re going to come out with, what are your expectations for it and how would you want it to compare to the last few projects you came out with?
SWD: Well I can’t use samples anymore because I don’t want to get sued. My computer got stolen back in October, so I lost all five hundred and something of the beats that I had made and other things I was working on, so I had to start from the drawing block.
The music is going to be different, but I think it’s a good thing. I’d rather be like David Bowie or Radiohead: One of those types of dudes whose sound is always changing. As for expectations, I hope people like it. I’m ready to get out of Detroit, I’m ready for our Jesus piece, I’m ready for people to pay for it. And I hope it shifts the culture. I want to pull some Chance the Rapper shit, get Detroit thinking about some other shit besides killing people and violence.
DD: What would you like your music to provide Detroit that it doesn’t have right now?
SWD: A different viewpoint. I want to provide music for the kids that feel like they’re not represented in Detroit music, perhaps because they’re interested in other shit. I want them to be able to listen to the music and feel like they’re cool as hell. I just want the city to be able to have variety. And of course, I want to buy back the block and put books in every kid’s hand and shit—that type of stuff.