By CODY McDEVITT
When Mary Jo Swank started writing songs in third grade, they tended to be love ballads that were, as she describes them, “cheesy.”
Not too many of them were about things that had happened to her personally. That’s no longer the case.
“Songs I write now are about real-life experiences,” she said. “A lot of them are about insecurities. There are also a lot of songs about believing in yourself. I hope to bring people up in the future, too. I still write some love songs, some of which are from my own experiences and some from people I know.”
Swank, 14, of Boswell, is a freshman at Meyersdale Area High School. She has performed the national anthem at the Jennerstown Speedway, at a Johnstown Tomahawks game and at a performance by the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra.
Pop star Demi Lovato is her primary influence. Swank was inspired by her work because it dealt with insecurities and struggles related to her time in high school. She also counts Whitney Houston as another person she emulated.
Swank has exhibited range on her upcoming album, which will be released on an undetermined date in the near future. She has gospel on it, as well as urban hip-hop. There is one song that has a bit of a country sound. She will eventually settle on one of those genres when she gets a record deal.
“Part of the goal of this album is to get a record deal,” Swank said. “So it’s sort of an audition. If they see how many I do, they’ll say I do those ones real well. My producer says I have to do what I like to do.”
Her producer, Aubrey Stanley, owner of Speed Ridah Productions in Lansdowne, has been working with Swank for about a year. He praised her talent.
“She’s able to capture what someone else is doing or what is going on around her and put it in a song,” Stanley said. “She is one of the few people who can tap into the emotion of a song without necessarily being tied to the song. That’s hard for an artist to do.”
Her father, Mike Swank, has seen the transformative impact music has had on his daughter.
“Her mother and I support her 100 percent,” he said. “We’ve seen how music has changed her life. She works extremely hard at it. Whether it’s with her voice coach. Whatever it is, she’s done it.”
Her mother, Laura Swank, echoed the sentiment.
“I’m really proud of her,” Laura Swank said. “She has a goal and a dream. And I enjoy watching her go for that dream.”
The young lady from Boswell hopes to become like her hero, Demi Lovato. She wants to do for others what Lovato did for her.
“I always tell people that in the future that I hope to inspire other people through my music,” Swank said. “I don’t want to do it for the money and the fame. I’m going to need money to do it all, but a lot of it I want to do it from the goodness of my heart.”