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Swimming With Dolphins

Biography

It’s been some time coming, but Austin Tofte finally has a new record to share, after two-plus years of intense work and exhaustive soul-searching partially undertaken amid the snows of a Minnesota winter. The digi-centric singer/songwriter, who popularly composes under the moniker Swimming With Dolphins, completed a debut full-length, Water Colours, this March, and apparently spent much of his time dreaming up ways to take his exciting brand of contemporary synth-pop into even broader, grander directions.

From its heartfelt lyrics to its vibrant sonic palette, Water Colours marks a creative milestone for Tofte, and is his richest, most organic work to date. With a host of collaborators, co-producers and instrumentalists all pitching in, the record bears an endearingly human quality that is all too often lacking within the genre. For Tofte, it’s the culmination of a very long two-plus years.

“I feel like the story of this record is 'challenge,' right down to the lyrics and content, up to the actual release. We're pushing every button we can,” says Tofte, happy that the toughest part is behind him, for now. “It's been an awesome ride, but I'm so ready to have it out and be able to look back and say, 'Man, that was a heck of an effort.'”

Swimming With Dolphins began in 2008 when Tofte teamed with friend Adam Young on a side project to Young’s Owl City band (which Tofte was also playing in, before opting to make Dolphins his main focus). Owl City eventually dominated Young’s time, but Tofte continued, and in late 2008 SWD released a debut EP, Ambient Blue. In the ensuing years Tofte continued to write, tour and promote his music, while also seeking a record label, and in 2010 this groundwork bore fruit when respected imprint Tooth & Nail offered a contract. Tofte, a long-time fan of many T&N artists, was eager to sign, and set out to thereafter to finish conjuring up his debut.

Spanning 10 tracks, Water Colours represents the two-plus years Tofte has spent writing since releasing Ambient Blue; the locations where it was written and/or recorded range from random places on the road, to urban Minneapolis, to the Minnesota countryside, chronicling multiple stages of Tofte’s personal life along the way. It’s so deep and sublimely arranged, it sounds like Tofte almost had a little too much time to work his magic.

“It was just a long process, and quite honestly, probably longer than it should have been. You start second-guessing things you have too much time to work on,” he reflects. “I'm not going to lie—some days are really trying times where you just want to pull the plug—but you just have to keep positive and say, ‘This is going to get done.' I have an awesome family, friends and fans that really kept it alive; the days you feel like you're not going to have the energy to finish it, you get that message you need or a phone call that can really help you pull through. Despite being stranded in a cabin by yourself, it was still an interactive, intimate experience as much as it could be, and I think that's just what I needed.”

Secluded at his father’s home in northern Minnesota, Tofte escaped the distractions of the Twin Cities and the accumulating snow outside by pouring his energy into Water Colours. He says that because of the more rural surroundings, he found himself harkening back to the classic rock that has inspired him over the years, especially one of his great loves—Van Morrison, whose “gypsy soul” works its way into SWDs’ aural landscape. The presence of organic instruments like genuine, non-sampled guitar, drums and piano give Water Colours a much more traditional feel than SWD’s past work.

“My neighbors have horses, and you get roosters crowing in the morning, so it’s a different dynamic completely, and I think it helped in a lot of ways for sure,” Tofte explains. “I think being outside the realm of people who are only making digital music—not that it's bad—made me listen to some of my favorite rock albums and incorporate influence through that.”

Lyrically, Tofte digs deep for Water Colours, painting life and love with a truly insightful brush, even amid some emotionally turbulent subject matter. “There's a lot more tribulation in this record that inspired lyrics. There's a long relationship throughout half the process that those songs are about—the different phases of the relationship,” he says. “It is a really relational record, and pretty intimate and revealing of my emotions and the things I was going through. I love poppy, toe-tapping stuff, but I don't really find myself writing a lot of lyrics that just put the cherry on top of that.”

But as Water Colours illustrates, sometimes it’s the contrast between aspects of a song that make it so compelling. For Tofte, some of the most unforgettable moments are achieved when the songwriter applies a melancholic lyric to a sweet, soothing musical passage. All of the tenets of a great pop song are met, while the singer still manages to exercise personal demons and seek catharsis through expression.

“I think it's interesting, having that clash where you're writing poppy music, but it's not always the happiest thing in the world. Somehow, personally I find a balance with that; it gives me peace,” Tofte opines. “I want to be real with people. A record encapsulates a period of time in your life, and that's just what this was, really. It's not a super happy record in terms of lyrics, but it sounds happy.”

All told, it’s actually the multiple textures that make the record so addicting. Fans will revel in the kinetic ‘90s pop of “Watercolors,” or find themselves hopelessly bouncing to closer “Good Times,” featuring a verse by hip-hop comer ModSun. Opener “Holiday” features a smooth male-female duet over synth plucked straight from a John Hughes flick, while second-to-last track “Happiness” pulses with a much darker, more somber energy.

“That's kind of a darker element to this record, and not in a bad way, but it definitely doesn't sound like all the other songs,” says Tofte, regarding the cut. “The rhythm carries the song; I felt like the record needed one track like that, to keep everybody awake and on their toes.”

After all those months snowed in, much to Tofte’s delight “awake” is definitely the operative word, as SWD have a jam-packed spring and summer planned in conjunction with Water Colours’ May 17 release, including a spring run with Family Force Five, and performances at both Creation Festival Northeast and Northwest, with cross-country dates connecting the two events in June and July. And that’s just the beginning—with his initial growing pains behind him, Tofte is ready to pursue SWD full blast, with a strong label to back him and a touring band primed to bring the record to life on stages everywhere.

“I'm ready to be on the road. I've spent a lot of time writing and in the studio, and I've got a band now, and we're all excited about it. It's awesome,” says Tofte. “I feel like we're going to have fun on this record, for a while, and it's been a long time coming. It feels like a new chapter.”

Swimming With Dolphins
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Quick Bio

It’s been some time coming, but Austin Tofte finally has a new record to share, after two-plus years of intense work and exhaustive soul-searching partially undertaken amid the snows of a Minnesota winter. The digi-centric singer/songwriter, who popularly composes under the moniker Swimming With Dolphins, completed a debut full-length, Water Colours, this March, and apparently spent much of his time dreaming up ways to take his exciting brand of contemporary synth-pop into even broader, grander directions.

Read the full Biography

Line-Up

Austin Tofte – Vocals, Synths, Programming