Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: Mark Schwaber’s ‘White Flood’

  • Mark Schwaber Ada Langford

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

“Without beating around any bushes, I died from drinking. For twelve seconds. My heart stopped. Five years ago.”

Singer-songwriter Mark Schwaber had met me at Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton for an interview after his daily workout, earphones draped around his neck, sweatbands on his wrists, a smile, a handshake, a sunny afternoon. But my first question, asking the meaning of the title of his new album, “White Flood,” brought up that intense memory. “I remember things being very white instead of black… this flood of white came over me.”

The record is Schwaber’s first in eight years, and he’ll celebrate with a solo show at the Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton on Thursday, June 1 at 7:45 p.m. (Also appearing that night are Of Artemis at 7 p.m., and a full-band Matt Hebert set at 8:45 p.m.).

He shared a second, equally true origin story for the title — a much lighter one.

“The phrase comes from talking to [musician friend] Mike Flood on Facebook when I was [on tour] in France. I was in my hotel room on a day off, desperately homesick. Mike Flood’s online, I drop him a line… remember that ‘80s ad campaign for pork, ‘The Other White Meat’? I referred to Mike as ‘The Other White Flood,’ because of [his brother] Terry [guitarist for The Stuntmen]. I think it’s because I saw Mike less. So I kept that [phrase] around in my head. There’s gotta be some humor in everything that I do.”

The ten songs on “White Flood” swirl together beauty and melancholy. Phrases like “stay strong” and “hold on” appear in the lyrics; one of the tracks is called “Build/Heal.” Schwaber, who played nearly everything on the record, stays stark at times with a mesmerizing pulse of strummed nylon string classical guitar (“Someone”), but even when he creates a full-band sound, there’s a soothing warmth to the amplified rock. Like “The Last Illumination,” which begins with a faraway roar of guitar that sounds like a vast church organ in a reverberant cathedral, and ends with Schwaber harmonizing like a one-man choir.

But few makers of such pretty music can lay into an F-word in their lyrics with such unflinching enunciation.

“I think that’s the hardcore ethos,” Schwaber said, explaining how listening to bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains as a teenager shaped who he was.

“Hardcore is very similar to folk music, strangely enough, because it has this lyrical immediacy. I don’t think that ever left me. I try to keep [my songs] relatable.”

Schwaber said that one of the album’s songs, “Armory and Liberty,” is about his first time in rehab (at the Hope Center, near the corner of Armory and Liberty streets in Springfield).

“I think it’s important to be open about it, because of the pandemic that’s happening right now with people dying from this opioid thing. That wasn’t my story, but if I’d decided to do that, that would have been my story. It’s important to talk about it publicly and say that you can survive, and things can still be beautiful, and you can still have amazing things in your life if you stay away from that world.”

Schwaber works as an addictions counselor at The Opportunity House in Springfield.

“It’s so fulfilling. I was on a mountain today with 14 guys from the House that I work for, and a lot of them had never even seen the view from Mount Skinner, or any view like that anywhere. They know streets; that’s their jungle. To see them light up, smiling ear to ear, ‘I’d never thought I’d see anything like this.’ It makes you just appreciate everything you have even more.”

“White Flood” was recorded and produced by Schwaber’s good friend Joel Stroetzel (from the band Killswitch Engage) in a spare room in his house from 2013 to 2016.

“He knows my aesthetic,” Schwaber said, trying to explain how well the two connect. “I think I could come to him and say ‘I’m going to make a polka dance record’ and somehow it would work. I don’t know if I started calling him ‘my other little brother,’ or if he started calling me ‘big brother’ first, but that’s what we call each other. We don’t call each other anything else. He’s been there for me through really, really dark times and nothing in him has ever changed.”

“I was really happy with the whole process, for the first time ever, maybe, because it was really intimate. It was just me and Joel in his room,” Schwaber said. “It’s almost like it’s taken me 25 years to bring everything full circle. I started writing and playing guitar in my room by myself really nervously, and now I’m all the way back, after these really grand scopes of things, to writing and playing songs in a room with my friend, without any nerves.”