He calls himself swelo. He’s talented, witty, good-looking, and just might be your kid’s math teacher. Escalator Music, swelo’s debut album, immediately gained viral status on the internet, earning the one-man-band not only a five-figure salary, but also a headlining slot at the House of Blues and a quizzical look painted on the face of anyone who has ever held a guitar or a microphone. On October 17, swelo will take the stage for the first time in his life (well, besides that party in college) on Decatur Street.
He gained a following quite possibly because of internet hype. As a matter of fact, his full-length album recorded on a budget of less than $150. He’s just that talented.
“I think the low budget actually allowed me to be more creative,” swelo told me as we sat in his recording studio — excuse me — living room. “I had to go online to teach myself the tricks, so I gained a deeper understanding of the software program I was working with. That ended up making each song a little bit richer because I could layer it more effectively and do more than I would have been able to do if I was working with a producer.”
The solo approach, particularly for an electronic artist like swelo, permits a new depth of imagination that just isn’t possible with a full band. Ever had the best idea while you were falling asleep? swelo, a local public high school teacher, did, too. He wrote and recorded Escalator Music late at night in his bedroom.
The intimacy of his mind, which he evokes in his music, creates a unique fluency throughout the entire album, despite the unusual diversity of his style.
“I started recording music in college,” swelo says as he rests his feet on the coffee table beside the weathered MacBook he used to produce Escalator Music. “But I wasn’t serious about it until about a year ago, and I only really decided to go for a full-length album in May. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to release the album until two weeks before I actually did. It’s just a very personal thing to release your work to the world, even if you don’t know who is going to listen. It’s scary putting yourself out there and bracing yourself for rejection.”
As far as assigning swelo a musical style, forget about it. The album is just as nostalgic for Madonna as it is for contemporary rhythms, like that of Daft Punk. Expect the audience to be anyone willing to, as the lyrics declare, “put your hands up”: young professionals, college students with their moms, and anyone curious enough to venture to the French Quarter.
So what’s it like being a teacher who rocks?
As it happens, swelo’s live band will be rounded out by three other young teachers-turned-musicians.
As for the swelo’s students: “Some of my kids know [I’m a musician]. Some students are sort of incredulous and don’t believe the kids who do know. I present myself as a very nerdy teacher at school, which is not untrue, [laughs] but it makes it even more ridiculous to the kids — at least in their minds — that I could possibly be someone who is playing at the House of Blues and is heavily influenced by hip hop.”
Students or no students, the Thursday crowd will witness the final chapter of swelo’s assault on independent musicianship or, at the very least, four nerdy rookies on the big stage upending the classic music paradigm, ready to leave you with a giddy grin.