By Crystal Harrell
Established in 2014, Within & Without is a solo music project spanning nearly a decade of trial and error from songwriter and Coachella Valley-raised musician Kurt Schawacker. Having just released his new full-length metal record, Hymns of a Dying World, to all music streaming platforms, Kurt brings audiences heavy riffs, soaring melodies, and sonic energy that metamorphosizes into a driving call to action felt in today’s turbulent political, economic, and environmental landscape. Coachella Valley Weekly got the chance to talk with Kurt about his new music release and the inspiration behind the tracks.
CV Weekly: So what got you into music in the first place?
Kurt: I grew up in a musical family. My grandfather was a music teacher and both of my grandparents on my mother’s side played music in church. They taught their kids, my mom and my dad, to love and appreciate music. My parents then taught my brother and I to play music as well, so it runs in the family.
CV Weekly: What inspired the creation of your solo project?
Kurt: I’ve always enjoyed making music, but I started Within & Without back in 2014 when I began college, just so I had a name to make music with. Then I started a career in event production, and for about 7 years, I didn’t record anything. I just wrote a riff here, memorized a melody there, but never sat down and mixed a whole album—until 2020 when everything slowed to a crawl. I finally found time to really think about writing and recording music again, eventually resulting in this debut release.
CV Weekly: And where does the name Within & Without come from?
Kurt: That actually came from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby, out of a monologue that one of the characters has about midway through the story. The character is reflecting on and observing his personal self and the state of the world around him—within and without—which is a similar process to how I write music and this new album.
CV Weekly: How long did it take you to complete this record?
Kurt: This record took about three years to complete, with so many lessons about music production along the way. It’s just cool how crazy far home music production as come even since I started recording demos in my parent’s garage with borrowed old audio equipment and laptops.
CV Weekly: And what is the creative process like for you? What comes first—the music or the lyrics?
Kurt: Almost always for me, it starts with a melody or fun groove in my head and gets written on guitar before expanding out to drums or bass. Lyrics were originally an afterthought, but as I got further into concept for the album, I started to focus a little more on that as well.
CV Weekly: And in working on this for three years, did the vision of the record change over time, or has it remained consistent from start to finish?
Kurt: The themes that were picked for each song kind of encompassed the overarching theme of the album, Hymns of a Dying World, as little reflections of each of these topics—from rampant consumerism, or the way that we treat our planet or each other—through religion, economics or governance.
CV Weekly: Do you have a favorite track from the record?
Kurt: That’s hard to pick. I try to write music that I would enjoy listening to, so it kind of depends. The title track “Hymns of a Dying World” is my favorite instrumentally, and I think a lot of people are really going to enjoy that one the most as well, but it’s the farthest from the norm on the album. It’s the softest track, whereas the rest of the album is a bit more aggressive. But it’s definitely the prettiest, and I enjoy that as much as I enjoy the heavy breakdowns of everything else.
CV Weekly: How do you describe your album to those who’ve never heard it?
Kurt: Oh, I would say it’s metal, but it’s groovy. I can’t really get more specific than that because, there’s a lot more melodies than you’d hear in hardcore bands and there’s a lot more aggression than a lot of metalcore bands… I try not to stick to any one subgenres of metal when I write because I kind of pick and choose from all over the place—depending on what I’m going for in the songs.
CV Weekly: Do you have any musical influences for this album?
Kurt: After listening back to music I record, that’s when I think about influences. When you’re in the middle of writing a song, sometimes you think like, ‘oh, I want to do a track like this band or that band.’And for me, it always morphs and changes into just writing stuff that speaks to me and seeing where it leads. So it was after, that I realized a lot of it sounds like Parkway Drive or Killswitch Engage on the heavier stuff. There’s also definitely some goth influence of HIM and Depeche Mode, especially with the melodies and some of the hooks.
CV Weekly: How would you persuade someone who’s never listened to metal music to try it out?
Kurt: Find a playlist and just browse. There’re so many subgenres of heavy music these days that I guarantee you will find something you like. It may not always be something you could play in every setting, but there’s something for everybody out there in metal.
CV Weekly: Do you have any future plans for Within & Without?
Kurt: Yes, we just shot a music video for “Hymns of a Dying World” that got accepted into the Yucca Valley Film Festival. And then there are other singles that I’m working on that may eventually get added to an album or may stand alone on their own. I would like to try and stick with larger releases to set themes or vibes. And if the singles that I have coming up happen to fit that, cool. If they don’t, cool. It’s just really whatever the thesis of the album calls for.
CV Weekly: So the music video that got selected as part of the Yucca Valley Film Festival, what was your reaction when you found out about that?
Kurt: I was thrilled. I know the desert doesn’t see a whole lot of really heavy acts. I know in the past, there have been a few, and we’ve got Queens of the Stone Age and House of Broken Promises, but there isn’t a whole lot of heavy metal acts in the desert. So for a film festival to take interest in my work, in this community’s work, is really cool. I hope people enjoy it and I’m really excited to see what it looks like up on a big screen.
CV Weekly: Will there be any live shows?
Kurt: This is primarily a creative outlet for myself. I have no plans to play shows in the future because it’s just me, filling the role of five people. Finding people to play with and practice with is hard, especially when you’ve written everything and you’re asking other people just to play it. If I was going to play with a group of folks, I’d like the writing process to be collaborative. So this is selfishly a little for me, but I hope the art that I do put out is something that other people enjoy, and that’s the other half of why I do it. No, there will be no live shows, but there will be a lot of releases and music videos, and just fun stuff to enjoy and share with others no matter where you are.
CV Weekly: What other creative art forms do you implement within your music career?
Kurt: I have a degree from College of the Desert for Digital Production and Design. I spent the seven years that I wasn’t seriously writing music, recording music videos for other local artists like Instigator and Krystofer Do, among others. I hope that I’ve taken that knowledge and applied it to the music that I’m making now to augment the experience for the audience, or capture some of the feelings and tones that I was working with when I was writing the songs.
CV Weekly: Has the Coachella Valley influenced your music in any way growing up?
Kurt: I’ve learned to appreciate not just what we have here in the Valley, but also what makes it special and conducive for writing heavy music, especially… Yes, it’s isolated. It means you can focus on writing music. You also have this impending, impenetrable force of heat and frustration that the summer brings with harsh brutality. And at the same time, this place has all sorts of beauty when you stop, collect yourself and take it in. Wild and brutal at the same time, trying to capture that elsewhere I don’t think would be as easy. I think that’s the advantage a lot of metalheads in the desert have; this is a brutal environment sometimes, and other times, it’s the most beautiful place in the world.
Hymns of a Dying World is available on all music streaming platforms. Follow Within & Without on Facebook and Instagram @withinandwithout_band.