CONSWANK // Low Point Retreat

On Low Point Retreat, Conswank takes us on an intimate journey down to the depths of addiction and up the road of recovery. The breezy, jazz-inspired project marks his solo debut coming off a period of breakout success with the Vermont-based artists collective, 99 Neighbors. Clocking in at just over twenty minutes, the album is an easy listen with smooth, summery production and slick, precise flows. Swank describes the sound as “laid-back, morning blunt music to listen to in the sunshine.” But don’t be fooled by the easy-going vibes, Low Point Retreat is raw with emotional vulnerability. It’s a deeply personal tour of the lowest of lows with addiction and mental health struggles. Coming out of rehab, he used this project as a creative outlet to process his battle with addiction and speak candidly about his life’s journey. I spoke with Conswank virtually to dive deeper into the powerful story behind the album. 

“Sometimes, all you need is for your voice to be heard, an ear to listen. I want people to know that through my music, you’re not alone”

Connor Stankevich, 27, was born in New Orleans (where he says his jazz influence originated) but grew up in the sleepy town of Williston, Vermont, right outside of Burlington. He first got into hip-hop as an avid basketball fan and sneakerhead. He cites the Brooklyn rap collective Pro Era, Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, and Tom Misch’s beat tapes as his biggest early influences. In eighth grade, he started making music on his iPod Touch with the “I Am T-Pain” autotune app. From freestyling with his friends in the basement to eventually getting a cheap mic from Guitar Center, Swank’s music career started with humble beginnings. He played saxophone for eight years, a big influence on his artistic style. While in college outside of Boston, Stankevich got into music journalism and borrowed equipment to continue making tracks. Eventually, he returned to his Vermont roots and teamed up with HANKNATIVE, Sam Paulino (Maari), Nadia, Juju, Somba, and Jared Fier to form 99 Neighbors. The collective rapidly broke onto the scene with their freshman album, Television, before signing to Warner Records for their next album. 

“Going from fighting for who gets to sleep on the couch in Jared’s apartment to dealing with suits in unknown places that we don’t know how to navigate was a lot for all of us to handle—it took its toll,” Stankevich commented earnestly. Around the start of 99 Neighbor’s tour for their sophomore album, Wherever You’re Going I Hope It’s Great, Swank was just leaving rehab. Choosing to focus on his health, the decided to step away from the chaos of tour life and moved out to LA to work on his solo debut. “99 is still very much family,” Stankevich told me, “but this felt like the right time to start working on my own shit.” When he wasn’t babysitting and booking shows with Breaking Sound, Stankevich was busy collaborating with artists and producers to experiment with his sound. For the opening track “Good Morning,” Conswank recruited Dutch producer ZEP to create a stunningly lush jazz beat that he raps over with relentless intensity. He also tapped the the rising Boston artist Chase Murphy and long-time friends from Vermont like Maari, North Ave Jax, and PhiloSofie on the project.

Conswank envisioned his debut album as “a journal entry, an introduction to who I am.” He describes Low Point Retreat as “a sad project but a hopeful one too. I mean, the point of a rehab retreat is so you come out better. The beginning sucks! You’re usually at the lowest point of your life. Then, you have to restart your life with total strangers. The outcome is to be in a better place, but the whole retreat itself is a learning process where you have to make sure you are alright.”

He continued, “It’s a really special feeling knowing you’re not alone, and that’s something that was a huge goal of mine [with Low Point Retreat]. Through the darkness, everyone can be together. It’s corny, but we got each other. I’m here to talk with anyone who wants to chat. I want to be able to help people who aren’t in a good situation. Sometimes, all you need is for your voice to be heard, an ear to listen. I want people to know that through my music, you’re not alone. If you are going through it, I’m here with you. Through the years of being addicted, I’ve been able to find happiness in music.” 

Stankevich describes himself as a “minimalist person” now, comfortable in his cozy, one-bedroom apartment. “All that matters is that I have food on my plate, a roof over my head, and a few friends around me that care about me. I need to get a cat soon, ” he jokes. “I just want to be as healthy as I can be, the best person I can be. I want to be a part of the community and give back. I want to do anything I can because I know there’s no worse feeling than having nobody to talk to or rely on. When you can only escape to your head, it’s horrible. It’s really important to have someone to talk to because when you’re going through mental illness and addiction, there’s nothing worse than being alone. The point of this project is to be vulnerable and let people know that we’re all out here, you know?”

At this point in our conversation, I asked Swank what he thinks people who have never experienced addiction misunderstand about it. “What do you wish people knew about addiction who haven’t struggled with it,” I questioned.

“Damn bro, that’s a good ass question,” he laughed and thought for a moment. “I would say that anyone who is addicted doesn’t want to be an addict. It’s not something we’re proud of. If I relapse, I am probably at my lowest point. It’s very hard for family and friends to understand that. Sometimes, all you need is someone who will listen. Lowkey, just a hug! Instead of the anger, you know? That’s the last thing they need. You have to understand that the person who has unfortunately relapsed needs love because often, they’re lacking it.”

He elaborated further: “Addiction is a disease—I’ll fight you if you don’t think so. I was born an addict, it was in my genes. Obviously, there are ways around it but it takes a lot of strength to put the drugs down. I respect anyone who does so. We’re trying. That’s what I think people don’t know. Anyone who is going through addiction, regardless of their background, is struggling to get out of it. We are very fragile, you know? Hostility just makes it worse, but you also can’t fault them for how they react.

Narcotics Anonymous meetings were essential for Stankevich’s recovery. The tight-knit and accepting NA community allowed him to be vulnerable when he was going through rough patches. He encouraged the loved ones of addicts to attend Al-Anon and NA Family Groups where you can ask questions and learn. “You are allowed to say like, ‘I don’t know how to support my friend.’ That is entirely okay! You can ask for help. There are plenty of resources out there, and if you care, you will make the effort.” 

Now, Conswank has tunnel vision on a better and brighter future. Using his past experiences as motivation to continue evolving as an artist, he’s psyched to continue exploring his sound and venture into new styles. He intends to go down the single route, releasing regularly as an independent artist. He also hopes to expand further into music videos and release a live recording of the album. “There’s plenty more in store with 99 too,” Swank added, “we’re in a phase right now of developing our own crafts before going back to group music. Hank, Sam, Nadia, Somba, Juju—everyone’s got solo projects in the works.” Eventually, he hopes to move out to Los Angeles or Europe to pursue his career further. But for now, with his laptop screen broken, he’s cooking up tracks on his TV with an elaborate HDMI set-up. 

Listen to Conswank’s debut album, Low Point Retreat, available now on all music platforms.


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