The Cleveland native is drawing on similar mellow sounds and thought-provoking lyrics that made singer-songwriters Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Elliot Smith legendary musicians who helped shape a generation and define the meaning of “cool.”
Dooley, a cool, calm and collected musician, recently gave up his day job to pursue a full-time career in entertainment. Currently he can be seen performing weekdays at the BCM Coffee House at 1475 Norman Chapel Road, across from Cleveland State Community College, and Papa’s Italian Bistro, at 3375 Waterlevel Highway, on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
The 29-year-old musician plays the guitar and a mean harmonica, but admits there are struggles when any artist quits his job to follow his dreams down the road less traveled.
“It’s more than a full-time job sometimes,” Dooley admits. “When I stepped out in June to do this full time I realized — when you have a regular job you don’t have to worry where your money is coming from every week. You do your task and get a paycheck on Friday.
“With this, every morning I have to wake up and make something happen. If I don’t, I don’t get paid. I won’t have money for bills. I have to make sure I have my own jobs and be my own secretary. It’s been a little bit of work (laughing). There are moments when I question if it’s worth it, but at the end of the day — I still love it.”
Dooley, best known by his stage name “J. Swan,” is taking his passion for playing music and enhancing the image of folk pop music with his “3-D” hybrid creation of art music entertainment.
By using the depth of his lyrics against a backdrop of musical arrangements created by his guitar and harmonica, Dooley seems performance-driven in giving his listeners an added dimension in mental visualization and emotional perception.
“In a way I feel like my music is three dimensional,” Dooley said. “It’s up close and personal but I think it has a depth in its musical dimension. It works on several levels. I want it to reach out and touch others. That would give me a lot of fulfillment.”
By blending a familiar genre of folk pop with his haunting lyrics and spell-binding tempo, Dooley comes up with an easy-listening sound that elicits reactions of nodding heads, couples sitting closer and faces lost in a moment of nostalgic bliss.
“The older I get the more I like things that are quieter,” Dooley confessed. “I don’t know if that’s natural or if I’m just getting older. Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Elliott Smith have been big influences on the way I write music. I also like Cat Stevens a lot. Those are just a few.”
The evocative artist said he gravitates toward older music “because people spent time perfecting their craft.”
“I think in popular music you find it less. You have to really search for it to find it in this day and time,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I hate modern music. I just love old music — even the stuff that’s meaningless and fun.”
The singer-songwriter has just come out with his latest CD, titled “A Handshake Away,” in which he captures a mellow mood reminiscent of the sounds of the 1970s when peace, hope and love were prominent musical themes.
“It has some elements of folk but it definitely has elements of pop,” said Dooley, who writes from his own experiences. “Even if it doesn’t sound like it, I always write what I know.”
In keeping with his original style, Dooley created an original package for his new CD, featuring 11 original songs.
“I asked myself, how do I package something that makes people excited about what I’m trying to sell? I’ve always done music and I’ve always done handmade crafts. This was the first time I thought to combine the two,” he said.
Instead of paying someone to package his CD, Dooley created his CD cover in the image of a 3-D View Master. The innovative artist has designed close to 40 so far, but supply and demand may make it impossible for him to continue making his own covers if people develop a taste for his flavor of music.
Dooley laughs at the idea that one day his limited supply of CD covers might become a collector’s item, but his introduction into music as a teenager was also deemed a novel idea at the beginning.
“I come from a family of self-taught musicians,” he said. “My father spent a lot of money giving my three sisters lessons — piano, guitar and vocals. But it just wasn’t their interest.”
When he asked his father about taking lessons, Dooley was not taken seriously until weeks later his father heard him playing the guitar in his room, learning on his own. With the talent and interest already there, Dooley’s father, also a musician, took him under his wing.
“I started playing the guitar when I was 13,” Dooley said. “I started writing songs when I was 14. My dad pushed me. I didn’t want to write songs.
“But he told me that songwriting — being creative and doing your own thing — is more important than learning everyone else’s songs. He said you can learn from other people’s songs, but there’s nothing like writing your own material.”
Dooley discovered his father Leonard was right. He concluded, “Music to me is a way to express myself. It’s an outlet. It’s a way to express things you don’t normally say. I think it’s a very spiritual thing. Music set the mood for how you feel.
“That’s really the way I go about writing. I write different pieces of music and they all have different moods — almost like a picture — like you’re capturing a moment in your life. I’ll write the music first, then I’ll take a piece of my life that fits with that mood and add the lyrics. I’ve watched it touch people’s lives. There’s something very mysterious about it.”
Dooley, whose father is from Oklahoma and mother is from Thailand, said his music is written to inspire hope, but made it clear that “Everything I write is not positive, but that too is life. There has always been repetitive cycles.”
“There are times when things go down and you don’t have hope. But it always goes back up if you give it time. I hope people will try to live out their dreams. I am.”
While most of his performances are regional, Dooley has agreed to do a show in Cincinnati and is open to traveling across the country to sing. For further information visit, jswandooley.tumblr.com. To contact J. Swan Dooley call 423-716-1564 or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.