Doctoral student Zachary Schwartz is the voice behind folk-rock act The Hollow Ends
It’s tempting to assume a political science student would lean on his academic interests for material, considering the long tradition of politically active folk singer-songwriters from Woody Guthrie to Billy Bragg.
However, Zachary Schwartz keeps that part of his life separate from his art.
In addition to playing with the St. Louis folk rock quintet Amen Lucy, Amen and serving as the creative force behind his solo act, The Hollow Ends, Schwartz is finishing a doctoral program in political science at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
He’s currently in the middle of writing his dissertation, which focuses on public opinion related to President Donald Trump, while teaching as an adjunct instructor.
“I’m looking at whether racial resentment and anti-immigrant resentment drives Trump voters to support him and whether sympathy toward those groups drives non-Trump voters to oppose him,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from UMSL, though it was his second take at undergrad. He first had what he described as his “National Lampoons” college experience at the University of Central Missouri.
A few years after graduating from UCM, he went back to school at UMSL with the idea of possibly pursuing a graduate program in political science.
“I’ve always been interested in politics and political systems,” Schwartz said. “The conversations that I would have with friends over beers often went the political route in some way. It turned out you could make a career out of talking about politics, and you could also get students in a room to listen to you go on about politics.”
A yearlong stretch teaching English in South Korea after earning his second bachelor’s degree confirmed his decision to apply to UMSL’s doctoral program. It also revealed a growing fondness for teaching.
“I had no intention of being a teacher going into academia until I went and did that,” Schwartz said. “I went to wild places I never thought I would end up going, particularly the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea. It was one of the craziest, most overwhelming things I’ve ever seen.
“I never particularly had an interest in teaching, but toward the end of my year there I started really loving it. The fog cleared a little bit.”
While Schwartz followed his academic interests at UMSL, he was also feeding his creativity by songwriting. His interest in music started as a kid, watching the high school pep band play while his dad coached the basketball team. His mom bought him a drum set at the age of 10 to encourage the interest.
Schwartz started to experiment with playing guitar and writing songs as he got older but joked that for a musician he came to performing late – not singing in front of an audience of strangers until he was 26 years old.
“I was just absolutely terrified,” he added. “I had the worst stage fright.”
After his first open mic, Schwartz kept getting on stage until performing became second nature. He then connected with four friends who were also making music, forming Amen Lucy, Amen.
“That was my first real effort to make something other people would want to listen to in the St. Louis music scene,” he said. “That band was together for about a year, and we made a full-length record that I think we’re all still really proud of. We did a little tour around the east half of the country, and it didn’t end up working out. But it was fun while it lasted, and I learned a lot while I did it.”
The experience sparked a desire to tour more, but that was looking less and less likely with the other band members’ schedules.
“In order for me to tour more and be more active with my music, I had to be the leader of things,” Schwartz said. “That’s what The Hollow Ends became.”
The solo project has spawned two EPs – 2015’s “The Ep” and 2019’s “EP II” – and a full-length album, “Bears in Mind,” released in 2018. The music is primarily folk rock, but it’s also influenced by the punk rock of Schwartz’s youth.
Many of the songs on “Bears in Mind” deal with mental health and the anxiety that started to manifest as Schwartz turned 30.
“I’ve also written about mortality, about relationships,” he said. “Anything that feels worthy of a song – that I can paint a picture of that sparks interest.”
“City Lights” is a song that sticks out of The Hollow Ends catalog for Schwartz. It’s about the romanticism of touring, and fittingly, members of Amen Lucy, Amen contributed haunting backup vocals and a violin part to it.
“The theme of ‘City Lights’ is when you drive into a new city to play show, especially if you’ve never been to that city before, and the possibilities of what might be,” he said.
Those possibilities have been limited lately due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely curtailed live music performances.
“It’s strange,” Schwartz said. “I’ve been trying to take the opportunity to write more music. Although I’ve heard this from other musician friends, if all you do is sit in your apartment, you have this limited existence while being socially distant. You run out of things to write about, and you see inspiration fade over time. I’ve heard that from a lot of friends who are feeling unproductive creatively.”
While Schwartz keeps his studies separate from his music, ironically, it might be the circumstances of his music that help him finish his dissertation.
“I had planned on taking time off, anyway, to get my dissertation going,” he said.
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